Greta planned to swing by the Perk Up to pick up Eddie’s phoned-in sandwich order, and grab a salad for herself. The Perk Up, known this side of Lake Forest for its steamy coffee brewed to perfection, sumptuous raspberry cream cheese muffins, and delectable ham and cheese frittatas, was a local hot spot. Wes, the fry cook, greeted patrons, despite a flood of orders that would last from sun up to closing at 2 pm. He ran a tight ship in his kitchen, but Greta always thought he had some kind of magic up his sleeve.
By the look of the long faces in every corner, Greta knew she had stumbled into unchartered territory.
One regular customer, a mild-mannered older gentleman, by the name of Sid, looked as if he was going to burst at the seams, seething, sweating, his face beet red. His wife sat next to him, clenching his hand.
A child cried hysterically, “I’m hungry, mom. Where’s my pancake?” as he banged his silverware, throwing his fork into the middle of the aisle, whacking a waitress in the head. The waitress barely noticed, continued on her rapid clip.
“This is not what I ordered,” a man snapped at her.
“I’m so sorry. Let me fix that,” she offered.
The air bubbled in thick layers of stickiness and sweat. No one was eating. Plates were mixed up, incorrectly delivered or not made according to order. Food laid in front of customers untouched, eggs limp and cold.
With every order sent back to the kitchen, Wes wailed, “Damn it! What now?” or “I don’t believe this. What the hell is going on out there?”
New orders were backed up as he had to remake the previous ones. As usual, there was a line out the door, although people had started to leave. The wait staff performed damage control, on edge, their patience pushed beyond what they thought they were capable of.
Reliable, honest Lester, the town’s auto mechanic, got up and left with his coffee, disgusted but relieved to be exiting the building. Clearly, this ship was sinking.
Shelly entered the room with a coffee pot in hand, her skin opaque with her eyes encased in dark circles. Her face revealed a river of spidery veins from her cheeks down to her neck, as if a translucent snake sprawled around her. If Greta didn’t know her sister worked here she would be almost unrecognizable to her. The only thing that jibed correctly was her black hair, albeit dry and frizzy in appearance, and a name tag that read, “Shelly.”
Shaking uncontrollably, her eyes glazed over, Shelly meandered from table to table, randomly tilting the coffee pot at each station, missing each and every cup, spraying splats of brown liquid in every direction. Her customers were transfixed in her madness, startled to be a part of it, but too fearful to move. It was as if she was secretly engaged in some sort of Russian roulette. Who would be the lucky one to receive coffee? No one dared to get up out of their seat, as they could not predict her next direction.
With an ever so slightly upturned grimace, she turned abruptly on her heel and poured coffee on the man’s lap seated in front of her.
“Aagh!,” he bounced off his seat, gasping. “Fuck! Fuck! What the hell are you doing?” his voice pierced the silence.
Shelly had already turned her back on him. The man stumbled after Shelly while another waiter approached with towels, “I want an apology. I’m talking to you.”
Shelly continued to walk away while the man shouted, “You need to be fired! Fired!”
Wes rushed in from the kitchen and the man turned to him, “Fire her. She needs to be fired.”
Greta rushed toward her sister, but Shelly slipped past her falling on her hands and knees, crawling under the bar between two chairs. She sobbed frantically, holding herself and shaking even harder.
“Shelly. Shelly,” Greta whispered. “It’s me. C’mon. Let’s get you out of here.”