Everyone You Know and Love Will Leave This Place One Day
Jennifer Mayfield. Server. Westfield, New Jersey.
Jennifer is twenty-four when you meet her, with a face like a Renaissance era aristocrat. Her hair curls over her ears like little springs and you constantly have to fight the urge to pull on them the way you used to pull on the curls of your youngest daughter, the one that moved to Virginia a few years back with a man who was formerly her personal trainer. Jennifer reminds you of her; she will get annoying and cry a lot when she makes a mistake but, then again, she doesn’t spend hours talking to you about the powder she puts in her drinks to stay thin and then hang up the phone when you ask her when she’s coming back home. Jennifer is not the first young girl you work with, but she is the first you will remember; she quits after a regular pulls on her curl, not in the motherly way you wanted to, but in the unbecoming way men touch women in public around here. You still miss the way she would laugh at you whenever you spelled words wrong on your dupe pad, her giggles the windchimes that hung over your grandmother’s front porch.
Andrew Webb. Bartender. Edison, New Jersey.
Andrew complains about the traffic, but refuses to leave Edison. You want him to get out of his mother’s house; he is thirty-five, much too old to be burdening his mother like that. He tells you that his mother burdens him, that she was a mean drunk when he was younger and that this is just his form of revenge. But you will always remember the nights that Andrew came into the bar, already tipsy from the flask he kept in his car, and downed vodka tonic after vodka tonic. Sometimes he just started yelling, his words jumbled, his actions jumpy. Other times he started fights, and when he spilled onto the street like a cup of coffee you shook your head and remembered that children always carry something from their parents inside their heart or brain or liver.
Daniella Betten. Bartender. Hillside, New Jersey.
Daniella is brash, and you love that about her. When you were younger, you were shy; older, you are quiet, preferring to tell stories through the expressions on your face. But Daniella talks. She talks to you and to the line cooks and to all the customers. She takes their toddlers in her arms and lets them play with her purple hair or the taps behind the bar. One day she gets caught by the owner and he asks her not to let the kids near the beer; after that, she just colors with the kids at their table while their parents get drunk. One day she asks you if you are afraid of her and you want to tell her that you aren’t, that she may be twenty years younger than you but you want to one day grow into someone like her, that you are afraid of everyone to an extent. But you are sure she won’t care about any of that so you just shake your head and take your drink to your table.
Brad Frank. Server. Clark, New Jersey.
Brad likes to try to take shifts from you. He wants many shifts. He wants all the shifts the restaurant has to offer. He argues that the restaurant is not even that big, that he can handle it. He proves this by jogging around the restaurant and telling you, see, it only took me, like, fifteen seconds, I could work by myself. You get so annoyed with him that you offer him your shift on a Saturday night. Historically, you have given people what they want even when you don’t want to; Brad is no different from your mother or your high school boyfriend. He takes your shift and proudly crosses your name off the schedule and replaces it with his own. On Saturday morning, he calls you and tells you he has a stomach virus.
Fiona McGraw. Server. Livingston, New Jersey.
Fiona told you once that in middle school people called her Fiona Macaw because she laughs like a bird. You secretly think that’s funny because it is very very true; Fiona laughs a lot and laughs loud and her squawk bounces off the thin walls of the restaurant. The men make fun of her but you were always taught that no one gives women permission to just be and so you’re gonna do that, gonna just let her be. Then, one day, you trip when walking to your table and the drinks spill off of your tray. While the bus boy helps you clean it up, Fiona just stands there squawking and you think of the time in your youth when your father shot the mockingbirds in your backyard for making too much noise.
Justina Kane. Server. Lodi, New Jersey.
Justina is interested in multi-level marketing. Actually, she is obsessed with multi-level marketing. The product she sells looks like eyeshadow, but she claims it is perfume. She takes her backpack out of the servers’ storage closet and pulls out several quarter sized containers to show you. The perfume is artificially colored, and the colors don’t even match their supposed scents. They all smell like a vanilla Yankee Candle. In person, she never mentions them again, but she accosts you on Facebook, begging you to join her team. She sends you a message one night telling you that a lonely single mom like you could use the community of sisters that she has found. You block her and get into the bath you just drew for yourself. You think about what might happen if you banged your head on the spout a few times and slid right under.
Vincent Palumbo. Bartender. Clark, New Jersey.
Vincent looks like your ex-husband. You believe them to be around the same age too. He is Italian, a little beefier than most of the men here, with a face that looks like it is pressed up against glass. You ask him after a week if he thinks you should go tanning, and he tells you that the best thing you can do is sit out in the sun for hours until you feel like you might burst into flames. You tell him you’re half Irish – you’d surely get cancer of some kind. You begin to crush on him, which leads you to start fighting with him, so you can hear the way he yells at you. He yells just like your ex-husband did. One day he asks you to go watch a movie with him. You refuse, not because you don’t want to, but because you know you are either too good or not good enough for him, and whichever one it is, you aren’t on his level. It’s never going to work the way you want it to.
Danny Keeter. Server. Columbia, Maryland.
Danny is new to New Jersey, and it shows. He doesn’t know the roads yet; he’s used to the easy straight highways back home and thinks that driving here is much too complicated. He begins dating a regular, a girl named Penny with a Mohawk and a motorcycle. He falls head over heels in love with her, and when she gets a job out in Nevada he agrees to go with her. He tells you he would follow her to the ends of the Earth. This is the benefit of being young and pretty and cool: men will follow you anywhere. Two months after he leaves, you are at QuickChek at one in the morning buying cigarettes and you think you see him over by the sandwich maker, waiting for some food he ordered. You consider saying something but you want to keep the fantasy of love alive so you leave without even glancing at him and call your daughter on your way home.
Kathrine Cole. Bartender. Plainfield, New Jersey.
Katherine firmly believes youth is wasted on the young. She laments her thirty-five years to you as if you weren’t ten years older than you. She has big hair that looks like a pineapple and long nails shaped like little spikes. She claims to be sensible when you first meet her. She wants to be your friend; she invites you out to lunch and to the nail salon and one night, over to her house where she dyes your light blonde hair red like a stop sign. You’re horrified but you secretly like the way you look. Katherine tells you it de-ages you. However, being Katherine’s friend also involves being her ally, a soldier in the war she is waging against those who have wronged her. She talks poorly of her ex-husband, of her teenage son who clearly has a developmental problem. One night, she comes in crying, her eyeliner running down her face, her cheeks stained black. Her son ran away, she explains, to spend time with his father. Everyone she loves has abandoned her. Everyone she loves has betrayed her. She refuses to work, choosing to instead get drunk on shots of Jägermeister. When the owner attempts to throw her out, she tries to kiss him. You find out later that she broke thirteen glasses trying to get her bag out of the storage closet. She texts you the next day and calls you a bad friend. You have no idea what you did to her and you will never find out. You never hear from her again.
Randy Barlett. Chef. New York, New York.
Randy is brought in to help revise the menu and renovate the restaurant. The owner has grown tired of the polyester coverings of the booths, the permanent ringed drink stains on the tables, and the crusted beer on the spouts of the taps. Randy is here to fix these things, to bring the restaurant to a former glory that you suspect it never had. By now you’ve been here eight years and the place has only been open for ten. Is it fair to assume Randy will fix it all? You ask Randy himself if he thinks that it’s fair; he tells you he’s worked as a fixer for years, a Gordon Ramsey type, only with more charisma. You grow close to him because unlike the owner, Randy seems to value you. It changes your life to be recognized. He asks your opinion on his new menu, allowing you to step behind the line and taste the food he has made. Everything tastes buttery and smooth; you wonder how someone could be so skilled at something you always felt was mundane. He shows you drawings he made on napkins and dupe pads of how he wants the restaurant to look. He starts spending more time there than the owner ever did, talking to you and the other staff members, getting you all excited for how things are going to change. One night, you are home, watching television in your room without the lights on. He calls you, sounding panicked, begging you to come to the Ramada he is staying at. Without thinking about it, you drive there, believing him to be in grave danger. When you get to the hotel, he is sitting on the sidewalk in a bathrobe, holding an unlit cigarette. He throws the cigarette onto the ground without lighting it and gets into your car. He smells like beer, sweat, and bleu cheese. He asks you to take him somewhere, but your sudden discomfort prevents you from driving any farther than the end of the block. He asks what happened to your husband. You tell him you don’t want to talk about it. He asks if your husband cheated on you. You tell him again you don’t want to talk about it. He tells you that you’re too pretty to be with someone who cheats on you. You circle the block and ask him to get out of the car. When you’re back in front of the hotel, he unties the tie on his bathrobe and removes the garment halfway, turning his back to you. He asks you to rub his shoulders. He tells you he will tell the owner to fire you if you don’t. You press your thumbs into the muscles underneath the blades and massage him, moving in little circles. You press so hard that your thumbs turn red. He turns around and tries to kiss you. You ask him again to get out of your car. He tries again. Now, you scream at him to get out of your car. He calls you a bitch. You scream some more. Soon, all you are doing is screaming. He has gotten out of the car and is running into the hotel. You watch him scamper away like a coward, then you start the car and drive off. The doors lock by themselves.
Louisa Connelly. Server. Iselin, New Jersey.
Louisa is fresh, with clear skin and kind eyes, frizzy hair and a snaggletooth. You train her diligently, because you know she is there to replace you. You feel for her. You feel for all women, all women in this industry, all women in all industries, even the women who have wronged you, because being a woman is so unnecessarily difficult. You told your daughter this often while you were raising her, so much so that she accused you of believing the world is an evil place. You don’t believe that the world is an evil place. Instead, you just believe in what you’ve seen. You walk out of the bar that night knowing you will never return. You light a cigarette as soon as you get into your house. You lay in bed, phone in your hand, pulling on your cigarette, watching the smoke dissipate into the air. Your daughter used to tell you she was afraid you were going to burn out one day. You won’t burn out, you think. You’ll burn infinitely.
Ceara Masker earned her B.A. in creative writing from Seton Hall University in May of 2019 and was a 2019 recipient of the South Wind Thesis Award for Creative Writing. She was a lead editor of Seton Hall’s literary magazine and is currently attending the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College.
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