More Selections from Hard Times Galore by Patrick Vincent Welsh

TOO PRETTY

Every day, Robinson ordered the same thing at Nelly’s Diner, and every time he repeated the same joke to the waitress, “One Latina Omelette, hold the omelette.”

The waitress, a ragged woman named Dorothy, always saved her thickest spit for his order.

Cook, the cook at Nelly’s Diner, had taken Dorothy off the streets, saying, “You are too pretty to be homeless, but not too pretty to be a waitress.”

She was the third homeless woman Cook had rescued from the streets since his wife died in August. The first woman stole his collection of miniature cars, (he found them in the dumpster behind the pawn shop), and the second woman drowned in the diner’s men’s room.

On Christmas day Nelly’s diner was empty of customers, except for Robinson. Dorothy was upset she had to work the holiday. Through all of the mistakes she had made she still considered herself a good Christian, and good Christians don’t work on Christmas. She waited as Robinson looked over the menu and when he ordered a Latina omelette she snapped. She jumped on him and bit into his neck before he could finish the joke. Robinson, already frightened of vampires, never came back to Nelly’s.

I Can Hear Your Heart Beating From Here (image via Flickr user Lotus Carroll)

I Can Hear Your Heart Beating From Here (image via Flickr user Lotus Carroll)

Nelly, who ran the diner from Utah, was told of the biting during her weekly phone call with Cook. She sat poolside, four-hundred pounds, apricot jam spread on the decades of callouses on her feet so that the wild iguanas would chew them off. The phone cord stretched from the house, around a potted cactus, and she yanked it across the cactus’s needles as she yelled, “Fire Dorothy. And no more bum girls.”

Cook feared Dorothy would end up on the street or she would bite his neck, so before he fired her, he proposed to her. He got on one knee, in front of all the regulars, and said, “Dorothy. I know I’ve been married once before. But she’s dead now, so you don’t have to worry about her.”

Dorothy said she would and she cried as Cook put a fake golden ring on her pinky, the only finger it would fit. She hugged and kissed him and the entire diner clapped. He pulled her behind the kitchen doors and told her that her waitress services were no longer needed at Nelly’s.

THE MONKEY CAGE

Because of diagnosed anger issues and a humiliating DUI where he was dragged from his Pontiac wearing nothing but wool socks, Jim was limited to once a week visitations with his son.

His son played a handheld video game while they drove slowly through Sunday traffic. When they reached the zoo the parking lot was crowded and Jim had to cut off a minivan to get a parking spot. When the driver leaned out of her window to yell, Jim said to himself, “Stay calm. It’s like the doctor said. It ain’t gonna get you anywhere. Just stay calm.”

There was a long line to get in and Jim could feel his skin burning in the sun. Once inside his son spoke to him for the first time that day, to demand a slice of pizza. Jim waited in line for twenty minutes and when he finally made it to the window, a cross-eyed acne- faced girl frowned at him, gave him two slices and said, “Twelve dollars.”

His son took a few bites of the slice and threw it in the trash. He walked a few steps ahead of his father and seemed disinterested in everything until they reached a large crowd of people gathered around a cage. People were yelling and had their cameras raised. Jim took his son by his hand and pulled him through the crowd. A woman hissed at him and yelled at him in Spanish, but he ignored her.

When they reached the front Jim saw that a monkey had caught a bird, dragged it to the ground and was having sex with it. The bird was screwed to death by the time Jim reached the front but the monkey kept going and the crowd was loving it.

A man elbowed Jim in the ribs, and asked him what he thought the baby monkey-bird would look like.

“That bird ain’t having nobody’s babies now,” said Jim, pushing the man away. He lifted his son up and carried him away from the crowd.

He closed his eyes and did one of the doctor’s breathing exercises, but it didn’t calm him. He opened his eyes and looked at his pink skin. It would be a bad sunburn. A baby stroller smashed into the back of his legs as his son tugged on his shirt and pointed to the giraffe pen. Jim saw the line and he sighed. He told his son to go by himself and he would meet him in the front when he was done.

He wandered around staring at everyone. He thought, if he were in that damned cage he’d do the same thing as that monkey. He’d do worse. He then realized he was just as caged any of these animals. He considered just driving away. Leaving his son there. Getting drunk. Getting naked. Driving off, and then just keep going. Keep driving. He walked back to the monkey cage and watched as the monkey was still raping the dead bird. He watched and then smiled and joined the laughter and he hoped that the monkey would never stop, would never get tired, keep going monkey, keep going, keep going.

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Patrick Vincent Welsh is a Philadelphian/Chicagoan, and he’s been to Baltimore once. He is the author of Hard Times Galore, a collection of one hundred stories concerning the modern American condition. Selections from the collection have recently been published in or are forthcoming from Harpur Palate, Euphony; The Journal of the University of Chicago, apt, Connotation, Busk, The Rusty Nail, The Literary Underground, Danse Macabre, The Dirty Napkin, Cactus Press, Black Heart Magazine, Avatar Review, Serving House Review, and Juked. A story has also been nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Nomination.