Authors: Whitney Boyd
The shades are drawn in the windows, and I’m not sure if the realtor is here already or not. I think I’m a couple minutes early, but I decide to knock anyway, in case she’s waiting for me inside. Nobody comes to the door, so I sit down on a suitcase. I hold my arms away from my sides, enjoying the feel of the slight breeze.
I am so wet. Even the air outside is wet. I have never been this sweaty in my life. And I’m sure the day will only get hotter. Please, please let there be functioning AC in my apartment.
I turn around and see a short woman with a red suit jacket striding toward me. Her skin is wrinkled from too many days spent in the sun and her hair is bleached blonde. She is smoking, but drops her cigarette on the sidewalk and steps on it as she approaches. She holds out her hand and shakes mine.
“I’m Dolores Sherwood. I spoke with you yesterday. You ready to see the apartment?”
I nod immediately. “Yes, thank you. I’m brand new in town and need a place to live.”
“Great!” She takes out a key and unlocks the apartment.
We enter, my eyes watering slightly with the change in light. I blink a few times to adjust my vision. It’s small, the entire apartment could fit into the living room of the condo Todd and I had shared. But it smells nice. Not musty or dank or anything.
And it’s cool!
“So, the AC is working well,” I comment, feeling slightly clammy as my damp clothes cool quickly.
The realtor gives me a strange look. “Yes,” she says, dragging out the word, making it almost a question.
“I’ll take it.”
Dolores raises one eyebrow. “You’ll take it? You haven’t even seen the place yet.”
I shake my head no. “Right, of course. What I meant is, um, I like it. I like having AC.”
“Everywhere in Florida has air conditioning.” She is beginning to sound a little amused, probably laughing at my ignorance. I make a mental note to stop asking stupid questions.
“Right.” I look around. “Shall we see the rest of the place then?”
Dolores leads me from the entranceway into the living room combined with the kitchen. A small counter divides the room into two. The floor is linoleum, faded and worn, and the carpet has definitely seen better days. But it smells clean, so I take that as a positive.
After a quick look, she leads me into the adjacent bedroom. Like the first room, this one is also quite small, big enough for a bed and dresser and that’s about it. But the attached bathroom is nice. A huge mirror dominates one wall, the toilet and sink and shower look clean and shiny.
“What is the crime rate here?” I ask the first question that pops into my head. “I mean, we drove through some pretty rough looking areas on our way over, and it got me worried.” I laugh a little, the way I do when I’m uncomfortable.
Dolores beams. “You have nothing to worry about. I don’t have all the stats on me, but this neighborhood is a nice one. Downtown Kissimmee is just a short walk away and all the nearby houses are home to middle- and upper-class families. Sure, Kissimmee has some less pleasant parts of town, but where can you go that doesn’t?”
Her logic makes me feel a bit better.
We walk out of the bathroom through the bedroom and back into the living room. Dolores pulls back a curtain and displays a sliding glass door. She opens it and we step out onto a tiny balcony with a black, metal fence enclosing it.
“Here is the deck. Not overly large, but perfect for a couple lawn chairs and a barbeque. As you can see, you have a nice view of the street.”
I think the only lawn chairs that would fit on this tiny deck would be those three legged stools my dad used when he went fishing with his buddies. The barbeque would definitely be a miniature one too, and as for the view, you can see the street all right, with a great view of a big, green dumpster. But if I mention any of that, Dolores will probably think I’m Little Johnny Raincloud or something.
“Are there laundry facilities here?”
“You have your own washer and dryer right in this closet.” Dolores walks to the other side of the living room and pulls open a closet door. A washer and dryer sit there mournfully. They’ve seen better days, but at least my clothes shouldn’t get
by being put in them, right?
“The kitchen comes with the microwave, fridge, and stove. They are only asking seven hundred a month plus utilities. A very good deal for this neighborhood.”
I bob my head, glancing around at everything. “I like it.” Then, for the second time in twenty minutes, I say proudly, “I’ll take it.”
I swallow hard. I did it. My very first business transaction in my new life. The first decision I’ve made on my own in a long time.
This is perfect.
And as soon as she leaves, I’m going to go out, find some furniture (somewhere?), and get a job. It’s all coming together.
After signing the papers with my realtor and paying the first month’s rent, I haul my suitcases into the bedroom then lock the door and wander down the front steps, ready to explore my new neighborhood.
I walk two blocks north to the downtown main street, smiling at people passing, shoulders back, and my face in the sun. Even though everything is still sweltering with the added humidity, I feel refreshed and invigorated.
The very first shop I pass is a consignment shop with a gorgeous leather couch in the window. Obviously I have to go inside to check it out. A couch is, after all, a necessity.
Once inside, the craziest thing happens. They have couches! Beds! Dressers! Lamps! Everything I could ever want. Apparently a woman’s house just went into foreclosure, and she was getting rid of a bunch of furniture. I can’t believe my luck!
Five thousand dollars later (plus an extra five hundred for them to deliver), I have completed my second business transaction of the day. Man, I feel so cool and urban! I promise to return in an hour or so with the money and the man who helped me said his guy would deliver all the furniture to my house tonight around seven. When I walk out of the store, I feel awesome.
I have furniture! I have a home! I can’t believe it! Who knew that a thrift store could be such an amazing place to shop?
My apartment is only a short walk away, so I decide to go find some lunch before I head back for the cash. Just down the street I see a little restaurant with
in neon lights. I approach, sniffing the air as I go. If it smells good, it’s bound to taste good.
It smells delicious, like melted butter and fried chicken and all sorts of scrumptious things. I haven’t had fried chicken since my freshman year of college. My sophomore year I turned vegetarian. It seemed the right thing to do. University kids, trying to change the world and be cool by being different. And then when I began hanging out with Todd’s circle of friends, all the women were dieting and either self-diagnosed celiac, proud vegan, or, at the lowest end of the totem pole, merely vegetarian.
Today, however, my seven year stretch of vegetarianism is seriously being tempted.
I push open the diner door and look around. Though dimly lit, the place is clean and comfortable. Booths with plush cushions line the walls, but it’s the smell that has me hypnotized.
“Kin I help ya?” A large African woman with perfectly plucked eyebrows and an ample bosom appears at my left. Her arms are folded and she has the whole Beyonce-attitude thing going on. I am impressed.
“Sure, a table for one, please.”
I’m led to a booth in the corner and sit down, admiring the woman’s self-assuredness. When I’m a waitress, I need to be just like her. In fact, I think with a jolt, I could work here! I could work at Mama’s!
The waitress hands me a menu and I flip it open. She asks if I want a drink, and I order a Sprite. Then, with a forced nonchalance, I say, “So, I don’t suppose you are hiring here, are you?”
The woman appraises me, her eyes looking me up and down. “Ya wanna work here?” The corners of her mouth twitch as if I said something funny.
I shrug, as if it’s no big deal and pick up the napkin on the table, spreading it out over my legs. “Yeah, sure. Are you hiring?”
She laughs loudly, displaying her bright white teeth and says, “You wait here, honey. I’ll go git Mama.”
She turns and walks away, her hips swinging back and forth. She has attitude, she has gumption. I like her.
I sit in my booth, watching people walking in. I am one of the only Caucasians in here, I notice, and feel a little strange about it. I’ve never been a minority before.
A couple of men wearing construction overalls are arguing at the booth beside me, their hands waving. One man spears a piece of fried chicken with a knife and waves it in the air, coming close a few times to taking out his friend’s eye. A mother and two little girls are at a far booth, talking in low voices, but every now and again I hear one of the daughters burst out laughing.
The door chimes and I turn to see three policemen, one female, the other two male, enter. All are in good spirits and the other customers inside smile and wave. There is such a feeling of camaraderie here, I can’t help but feel a little jealous.
A large shadow appears to my left in the corner of my eye and I jump a little.
“You were askin’ ’bout a job?”
It must be Mama. She is beautiful, probably in her forties or fifties and, like the waitress who first greeted me, is very large. Big shoulders, big hips, and big hair. Her eyes are glinting in her ebony face and I can’t help but feel small and very white.
“Um, yes, I was wondering if you’re hiring any waitresses?” In the face of these confident women, I must come across pitiful and insecure.
Come on, sell yourself. I sit up a little straighter in my seat and smile brightly.
“You got any experience?”
My stomach sinks a bit, but I keep smiling. “No, not as a waitress.”
“But you worked in a restaurant?”
I lick my lips and shake my head. Honesty is the best policy, right? “Uh, no, ma’am, but when I was in college I worked at a bowling alley and I’m sure it’s similar. Customer service and all that.”
Sure, I only worked there for a week before the smell of bowling shoes got to me, but I don’t have to get into that.
“Customer service at a bowling alley makes you think you a waitress?” Her voice sounds skeptical and she puts her hands on her hips. “Handing out bowling shoes don’t make you able to wait a table.”
“Of course not, but I know I can do it,” I chuckle, hoping that if I seem to be laughing at myself she’ll think I’m funny and ignore the fact that I have zero experience. “How difficult can it be, really?”
“Right. What if a customer gives you attitude?”
“I would simply ignore it and continue waiting on them to the best of my abilities.” There, that sounds like a good answer.
“You would.” She says it more like a statement than a question.
I nod, feeling stupider by the moment.
“Do you even know what waitresses do?”
I look desperately around, hoping that somewhere in sight will be a waitress doing whatever waitresses do.
“Uh, greet a customer, show them a table, take their order, uh, bring them like a fork and their food and all that?”
Mama laughs as if I am a comedian on
Saturday Night Live
and shakes her head. “I’m sorry, honey. We ain’t hirin’ newbies right now. But you come back on Sunday and I’ll give you a discount on our hash browns, ya hear?”
I am strangely disappointed but try not to show it. “Okay, well thanks anyway.”
Mama leans in closer and whispers, her head just a few inches away from my own, “Next time you apply for a job, don’t tell ’em you ain’t got experience. Tell ’em you’re the best they’ll ever have. Sell it, girl.”
She straightens up and pats my arm. Still chuckling, she walks away, shaking her head and muttering, “Bring them a fork. Ha.”
A few minutes later my waitress returns and hands me my soda. “I think they hirin’ at Maxie’s, by the way. He’s not as picky on quality as Mama. Ya might git on there.”
“Thank you.” Despite the minor jab about me not being ‘quality,’ I feel slightly better. I lean forward and take a sip of my Sprite while perusing the menu. I look for something familiar, anything familiar actually. I read the menu again, now with a bit of panic. Although the restaurant smells delicious, I have no clue what some of these things are listed in the menu. Chitlins? Grits? Bread pudding? Boiled peanuts? Black-eyed pea soup (isn’t that a band?), fried green tomatoes, and fried dill pickles. I have no clue what to eat.
Finally, I decide on a jalapeno grilled cheese sandwich, which should guarantee I won’t be getting a nasty surprise. When it comes a few minutes later, I eagerly sink my teeth into it the moment the waitress’s back is turned. Delicious. Crispy bread, warm, melty cheese, and—holy crap, that’s hot! My tongue, lips, and throat light on fire as I bite into a thick and juicy jalapeno pepper. My eyes water and I frantically grab for my soda on the table. The cool liquid barely registers on my screaming taste buds.
I take another gulp and gaze at the sandwich thoughtfully. It’s delicious, but oh so painful. To eat or not to eat, that is the question.