“I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house.” Those had been the woman’s exact words as she walked down Broadway at noon, long white robe dragging across the concrete, edges dying and no longer those beautiful silk white wisps wrapping around her legs as the wind caught grasp of the bottom.
Horns blared and cars swerved, but no one stopped for her. Why would they? It was another April morning, another school day, another school mother her mind lost. Too much homework. Too much cooking. Too much cleaning. Not enough sleep between her shift at the gas station overnight, and her shift at the house in the morning. It was all too common of a scene. And no one could hear or see what was going through her mind.
It was not a blank mind. But a broken one. And unless someone had some of that mental glue and tape, it would keep on breaking and snapping and falling apart. Some of it dripping down the back of her throat. Some just straight out of her ears and into the public where it became a real threat for all. No. It was best to avoid women like that. Let them have their walk, then when they got home later that day they could drink their wine and laugh about their breakdown on Facebook.
She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober for a change. But he was with that other woman. The blonde with the too much makeup. The too high butt. The breasts that obviously didn’t need the bra she left off anyway. Perky and clamoring to be heard. But he was sober.
It was apparent to Judy, who happened to be on shift when the woman in the worn silk robe walked in, the drunk ones came from outside that day. The swagger. It wasn’t a normal walk and it wasn’t a confident one either. It was a broken one. It was one that screamed, “I used mudslide mix in my coffee this morning instead of creamer, and instead of a mudslide mix, I just poured the vodka straight in.”
“Ma’am.” Judy touched the woman in the robe’s arm gently, not squeezing but not quite so gently that there was any mistake she was going to make it further in. If she did, after all, they’d lose half their luncheon patrons. The patrons that were not as drunk as this robed woman, but would be in an hour, and would leave a healthy tip. The tip that almost made the invisibility of her position worth it.
But she was not invisible to this woman who smelled of campfire.
“These are the last of the tulips,” the woman said to Judy. Her accent was foreign, not English speaking by birth, but Judy could not place it. “I put the rest under the pillows. The ones he didn’t snip to take to her for their anniversary. He left a few. I took them, and I laid them under the pillows. But, there were more tulips than pillows. I didn’t know what to do. So I… I…”
Judy followed her eyes. She was watching the couple by the window, the couple who had not spotted her. The man with the wedding ring. The woman without. It wasn’t the first time Judy had seen them in there. It wouldn’t be the last. And she suddenly knew where she knew the woman in the robe from.
“You’ve been here with him before.”
She nodded, finally tearing her eyes from the couple. The woman in the robe touched her ring finger, and twisted the thin gold band while Judy ran through options in her head. She could throw the woman out. That’s what her manager would want her to do. She could call the cops, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good. She could let the woman in, let her make a scene and destroy the rest of the dignity she had left. She did have dignity, didn’t she? Judy wondered as she looked at the woman’s dirty bare feet, the smudges of dirt across her forehead, the robe which had probably been beautiful hours earlier.
“Let me call you a cab,” Judy said, and ushered the woman into a corner room where the staff occasionally took breaks after a busy shift. “Wash your hands. He can’t see you in here, and you can go home and-”
The woman interrupted. There was no way this waitress would understand. She didn’t know who she was, where she had come from, or what she had done. She opened her mouth and closed it again. She couldn’t tell her after the children were all safely on the bus this morning, how she had set the house on fire.
And twenty minutes later when she climbed into the cab on her way to where, she did not know, she squeezed her eyes and finally thought about the thing she had done to the brakes on the Honda seconds before she stepped into the bar and grill.
Another quick writing exercise using the Writer’s Toolbox by Jamie Cat Callan with First Line, Non Sequitur and Last Line. First draft timed writing exercise.