“Another milkshake please.”
The waitress eyes her with disbelief. Catalogues her stained-through hoodie and greasy hair. Not that the waitress has room to judge with her own issues: a slight hunchback and blisters covered by her platform flats that she most certainly did not purchase in the 90’s and definitely do not smell with age.
“Another one, girly? Don’t you want some food?”
The girl shakes her head — maybe she’s about 16 or maybe she’s 24 — too hard to tell. The waitress pulls out her notepad.
The waitress laughs under her breath. A cinnamon milkshake, she thinks. That’s a new one.
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Stuffs her notebook back in the pocket of her jeans. Checks her watch. 11:30.
“Kitchen closes soon. Anything else you want while I’m here?”
Again, the girl shakes her head. This is the sixth milkshake. The waitress sighs and heads back to the counter.
The diner she’s spent the last few years at is lit with fluorescent lights that show just about all the distinguishable features on someone’s person. The cat hair that clings to an old man’s button-up. The smear of a woman’s eye-liner — her hands gone to Parkinson’s.
And when it comes to the white-tiled floor that portrays every inch of dirt on someone’s shoe — because Gary only feels like cleaning on Wednesday’s and those Wednesday’s he’s on shift happen to be very far and few in between — the waitress hardly gets paid enough to clean that particular biohazard.
So the girl with the milkshakes kind of fits in with the (mostly) vinyl seats and (mostly) clean counters. Of course, most people come and order food with their milkshakes. And hardly ever more than two milkshakes.
Gary says the cinnamon milkshake is ready. The waitress doesn’t even want to know what he put in it.
She grabs it, asks him if he’s cleaning tonight. He says his cat has a vet appointment after his shift. She laughs.
She carries the cinnamon milkshake — a pale brown color — over to the girl. Sets it down.
“One cinnamon milkshake,” the waitress says.
The girl takes it between her hands, wets her palms with the condensation.
“Kitchen closes in five. If you want something quick like a sandwich we can scrap somethin’ together.”
“No, thank you.”
The waitress has to ask.
“You really like milkshakes, huh?”
“I’m lactose-intolerant,” the girl responds.
The waitress stares down at her.
The waitress shakes her head. She’s been doing that a lot tonight it seems. Her neck feels tight and she thinks maybe she’ll call Benny. It’s been a while. She could use something after this shift. She remembers the blisters on her feet and decides she’ll wear her sneakers when she walks to Benny’s house.
“Can I get you some pepto maybe? Are you feeling okay?”
“No, my stomach hurts.”
The girl takes another long sip of her milkshake. She doesn’t look like she’s in pain. Maybe that’s why her hoodie is sweat-stained.
“Can I ask why you’re drinkin’ ’em then?”
“My son really likes milkshakes and always wants to get them when we’re together. I’m trying to train myself out of it.”
The waitress laughs — half in disbelief and half in awe.
“That’s real nice of you.”
The waitress doesn’t understand. Couldn’t understand the bond a son and a mom might have. She thinks about the time she almost had a son once. Thinks about her own mom.
“How often do you see him?” the waitress asks.
The girl — the waitress thinks maybe she is in fact a woman — but she has the eyes of a girl.
“Once a month.”
“I’ll take the check now.”
The waitress raises her arm. 11:55.
The waitress heads back to the kitchen. Looks at the check.
Back at the girl she says, “It’s on the house.”
The girl rises up from her hunched over position on top of the table. She stares at the waitress, from the her faded jeans to her over-plucked eyebrows. Back to those platform flats.
“Thank you,” the girl says.
The waitress nods.
“Have a good night, girly.”
She heads back to the kitchen. She pulls off her apron, rubs her neck.
Thinks about the woman who looks like a girl that has a son.
She thinks she’ll visit her mom tonight instead. Maybe bring her a cinnamon milkshake to try.
Virginia Dubbs is studying English and Film at the University of Maryland. For her final year in college, she’s moved from a small town on Maryland’s coast to Oslo, Norway. Currently, she writes about her travels and is working on a screenplay. All her inspiration is owed to her 11-year-old dog, Bailey.