They called her Goose because her hair looked like feathers and her skin was soft as down. Pretty as a picture but with this honking laugh that should have belonged to a steel worker or maybe a lumberjack. Some bearded man. She made it like a song.
She had long fingers and I would watch them with a damp cloth wiping down counter tops, nails nipped to the bud. To be that linoleum. To be those jagged nails. She was absent-minded but nobody seemed to mind, it was an excuse to talk to her, to remind her about the coffee you ordered or that you wanted your slab of meat well-done. Rare. She’d laugh and you’d laugh and for a moment it was as though the whole world shrunk down to fit inside the peeling walls of that restaurant.
It’s funny how you make stories up for people. How you edit out the parts that don’t fit. She had a ring on her finger but we didn’t like that so we ignored it. We ignored it so when it disappeared leaving a funny little white line behind we had to ignore that too. She was our sunshine. She was our hour or two of escape. It wasn’t because she was particularly funny or surprisingly kind and if she had brilliant thoughts or opinions she never shared them with us. But, there was something in how she listened, head cocked slightly to the side or chin propped in her hand. Her “mmm hmms” or the way her eyes widened when you got to the good parts. You forgot the roles that were assigned to you, customer or waitress, and you remembered the way it was once–crouched down next to someone, hands cupped around an ear, whispering secrets.
It’s easy to remember what we took from her, what we kept coming back for. The bell on the door and her head popping up to find your eyes, being recognized. I whittled her down into the character I needed her to be and she played the part the way, I suppose, most bartenders or waitresses do.
Still, when she left. Well, she left. They hired someone new. Dora. She was nice enough, she called you Hun and Sweetheart and always remembered your order. She smelled like stale smoke and wore orthopedic shoes for her plantars faciitis, she said, from all those heels she wore when she was my age. She’d laugh and I’d ask for the bill.
I don’t know about anyone else, I never see them anymore, but I stopped going. It broke my heart to see someone else in her apron, someone else chewing on the end of her pen. It wasn’t Dora’s fault but she was just too happy or too plain and no one ever went there for the food.
I walked by it the other day for the first time in years. It had been renovated and had a new sign on the door. Reality offices or some such thing. I’d have to look it up.
I still remember her leaning on the counter staring into space. A far away look in her eyes. I’d say, “Goose.” Sort of softly and only if I needed to be somewhere. She’d smile right away and jump back into character. Never startled or surprised. I think that’s what I liked best. How I knew she was dreaming but I never managed to wake her up. How we all liked to try.