The Cooks Alphabet by Ken Poyner

I am having my way with the waitress.  Her dress is bunched up about her waist and her panties are dangling at one ankle, not merely twisted to the side.  She is on her back and using her hands to hold herself stable on the table top, wrapping them each under opposite sides of the rectilinear surface, one foot on each of the plastic covered benches that sit bolted to the floor on either side of the counter top style dining plane.

I am as rigid as I have been in two years, maybe three, and I thank God that my shirt is short enough that it does not get in the way.  My pants are lifeless just below my shins and there are absolutely no impediments to my work.  My shoes, even though they have those maddening tubular ties that stubbornly defy effective knots, have yet to come undone and my toes are dug repressively into the insoles.

At the moment, I have her by the hips with both hands, leaving I am sure wonderfully pouting red marks just under the crisp of her bunched uniform; and I am going at our happy collisions not quite as fast as I could, but I think with a rhythm that at this point in her shift will fit best in the long train-passing shadow of her tock filled day.  In a moment, I will send one hand to clutch the fold of cloth that protects her left or right breast, and squeeze like I am trying to empty the last of the ketchup from one of those not-for-retail-sale containers sitting unused on all the other diner tables running in families of five or six both to the left and to the right.

I have not looked closely at her face yet, and it is now tilted back and taunt at the neck, her chin presented upward as the forehead drifts back and the crown rolls under along the table:  but I have the impression that she is passably pretty.  Had I known I was to be so successful in my courtship dance, I would have looked more closely, reconnoitering over the lip of the menu; but I could not know.  She moans and hisses and chops at the air in a way that tells me she is relatively fit, and I can feel with the flat caliper of my palms the ripples of someone perhaps 25 or 30 who has not yet begun to let gravity socialize her.  I am ego driven, with just a little toxic pride in this conquest, to stretch my demanding pauper imaginatively deeper, to be the grand buffoon whoremaster this achievement would have me be.

I wanted poached eggs and a side of cheap steak.  The almost null diner at two thirty-seven on a Wednesday morning seemed alive with its prowling emptiness, and I was sure the grill would be cold enough to cook the steak all the way through as it warmed and stuttered of dusty butter being used as the only non-stick agent this splatter of an American icon would need.  That enabling butter would sit a while unyielding and intact, until the heat would hesitantly gain ground and the ladled butter would then begin to dance and hiss and burn tomorrow’s stains into the service metal.

But there was no cook and the waitress with coffee in hand asked what I would have and what could I be doing out this time of morning and when I told her what I really wanted – a reason to be in a diner at two thirty-eight and maybe even two thirty-nine – I found that is what she wanted as well and I have always had a talent at tying unsequenced needs together into a small sterling nothingness; and so here we are, together.  I am trying to breathe as though it were directly connected to what I am doing.  I am trying to keep her from sliding too far along the well-used table top.

Imagine Mom and Dad and little Billie at Sunday brunch, a Rueben sandwich for Dad, a salad for Mom, and Billie triumphant with burger, fries and a shake.  Chocolate, probably.  All in this booth.  The waitress, perhaps this waitress, bending over them: asking if there are enough napkins; if the mother, consumed with her excited black-hole of a child, would like a fork the dishwasher had done a better job with.  Their pernicious bottoms pressed into the seats where the waitress now presses her shoes for leverage; their meal arranged on the table top in the precise logical order necessary to minimize wasted effort as the food was consumed:  the table top that now the back of the waitress’s unimpressive uniform unknowingly wipes clean. The salt, the pepper, the sugar, the ketchup:  all for the moment gone, replaced with other equally random needs.

Had the Formica counter been covered with a tablecloth, it would be now like a bed with a sheet — and the backs of the plastic covered benches would be like pillows, and this could be a cheap two hour hotel room, and our efforts a different sort of performance art.  In this experience art,  when another customer unexpectedly steps in he stops at the door, looks down the row of empty booths to see us at our worst and at our best, the two of us one animal measuring how far it can run in its pen; and as the waitress, who I will call Rosie for the rest of my life for no particular reason, arches her back and lets out a straggling, yellow-dog-in-the-trash moan, he looks back at the door which has closed behind him, hesitates a respectful moment, and then steps back out, walking slowly to his waiting car, the steadfast engine still warm from his arrival.

With the barest of acknowledgement, the cook peers around from the detached storage locker’s thinly cracked door and sees that the exiting man is wearing leather shoes and what appear to be woolen pants; but the cook can see no more as the man leaves, and so settles back against the flesh colored wall, returning to his comic book.  Tomorrow, Rosie will note how this happy hollow of a cook will sometimes recite the alphabet as he silently reads his comic book, and that it keeps his breathing as smooth as the fur of the thunderous alley cats who flourish in the scraps.  He handles his breathing just as delicately as I am controlling my schooled workman’s breath now.  She will, tomorrow’s afternoon, remember singing the silly alphabet song as a child and will hum it silently, reflexively, wondering if the cook ever sings it as well while he is cooking.

I am no short ender, no slack-jawed benefactor of the simply convenient.  I hold up my end of any bargain.  Breathe in; hold it until all the oxygen is sucked from even the underside of the air; breathe out.  I am mumbling the name of a girl I tried to date in high school, maybe even a cheerleader, maybe a spiral notebook poet, or some other rarefied, tranchet, unattainable collection of womanly parts.  Raven hair and a bust too good for me.  R is for raven, R is for Rosie.  R is for Rosie, R is for raven.  No part out of control.  I breathe in and think I can hold the air on its edge forever, but there it goes:  a stream, no matter how hotly fired, that barely dents the volume of the room; and I know that A is for appetite and A is for apple-wood bacon and A is for after and the coffee has gone cold, but it is now two fifty one and the cook unbundles himself from the storage shed, folds his comic book into the broad pocket of his apron, and prepares to check in at three.


 About the author:

Ken Poyner often serves as unlikely eye-candy at his wife’s powerlifting meets.  His latest collection of brief fictions, “Constant Animals”, can be located through links on his website,  He has had recent work out in “Corium”, “Asimov’s Science Fiction”, “Poet Lore”, “Sein und Werden” and a few dozen other places.   When power lifting season is recovering, he spends his time acting as a place for any number of his four cats to coil.