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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter One

Diana began her shift at Queequeg’s Seafood Tavern and Brewery each morning with a propitiatory prayer, which by a quirk of providence or some incredible stroke of luck you should be able to hear, even though it is almost always given – and hopefully received – in silence. In fact, she begins each day by waking with the same prayer, or at least a similar one, such as ‘Please, God, help me with the coming day,’ or even something simpler, even unaddressed, like ‘Help!’ and furthermore, usually even begins each individual task (worth keeping in mind) with something along the same lines – in this case simply ‘I hope I’m on the right track,’ sometimes whispered repeatedly while slowly shaking her head from side to side as she pulls lemons out of a cardboard box in five pronged clutches two or three at a time. Once in a while she can manage four.

The truth of the matter is that she grew tired of these prayers a long time ago, even if she’s been saying them for just a few years at most. How could she not be bored by all this repetition? She continues out of pure momentum and feels so powerless to stop that now she looks for refuge in questioning whether their repetition really matters or not. For her it does, but not in a way she considers helpful.

Lemons themselves are pleasant enough to work with, although they sometimes sting her fingertips, and she has taken to wearing rubber gloves as she slices them into halves, quarters, and eighths. Seven slices per lemon. No, she doesn’t pray before each one. Not as a rule, anyway. It’s a small pleasure to take the knobby little remainder of the stem off first, which can usually be accomplished with the push or pull of a thumb – slightly less pleasing with the gloves on. Otherwise it often sticks to the knife on one of those cuts, and on one occasion actually caused the knife to slip enough to cut the index finger she was using to hold the lemon in place on the cutting board. She also likes pulling the stems out of apples.

Whenever she finishes this job, often even before finishing, she almost always pours herself some water (ice in the summer, hot in the winter) and adds one of those slices to it, for her own enjoyment. For the wait staff and the customers’ enjoyment she sets up water pitchers at the end of the bar and adds a few wedges to each of these as well.

Then she stocks up bottles of liquor, wine and other beverages, a process that includes making sure that the older stock was rotated up towards the front. After that there are always cleaning jobs to be done (the night bartenders are never thorough enough) of which the most important are the glass display shelves where the liquor is kept, and the large mirror in the center between the oak posts holding up the shelves on either side. There is also a mirror behind each set of shelves. A crack in the center mirror runs from countertop to ceiling, parallel to the oak and about six inches away, caused one of the night crew, Steve (a good bartender, but careless during this particular chore), as he leaned heavily with a ladder against the glass while trying to hang one end of a dugout canoe from a rafter nearly ten feet above the bar. Steve doesn’t seem to care much about that crack one way or the other and has done a pretty good job of forgetting about it. Even the manager, Allen, has long since given up on holding it against him, but it still bothers Diana. Steve doesn’t bug her, but the crack does. All the more reason to keep it clean, she reasons. ‘Clean enough that when it’s done you can’t tell who’s looking at who.’ ‘Whom,’ actually, but it’s a scary thought. ‘Next to Godliness,’ she has certainly thought before as well – but then she’s grown tired of that, too. She only has about an hour to get ready, and then it’s lunchtime. Today she’s having hot water.

Lunchtime brings a host of regulars from the local businesses, maybe a dozen of which are just as likely to sit at the bar, space permitting. There are some people that mind eating alone in a restaurant, and some won’t, unless they can be seated somewhere comfortably in a spot they feel appropriate to their status. Some won’t at all. Some of Diana’s customer’s just like sitting in front of Diana.

One of them is Pete, recently retired, who to underscore the point has taken to wearing very loud, short sleeve shirts imported from more tropical locales. They’re big and billowy up front; most of them fit him like spinnakers, possibly made by Samoans for their NFL expatriates. This particular one is a lurid concoction of yellow, green, and blue, with an intermediate palm tree in black outline extending from the starboard royal at his waist to the right topgallant. Although it should be said that Seattle is fairly mild, even in winter, and that during this particular January they were enjoying an especially summerlike stretch that threatened to make Pete look normal.

Pete likes lunch because he’s been coming in for a lot longer than he’s been retired and enjoys hobnobbing with the mates who still work nearby. Aeronautical work, actually, since Pete was an engineer. A tool designer, to be exact. Tool designers, certainly engineers in general, have at times been slighted (maybe unfairly) for having minds that are perhaps too orderly, without much tolerance or acknowledgement for that which can’t be figured. Maybe it’s not entirely unfair, but Pete and the rest of the crew are great joke tellers, especially about those things that can’t be figured, and it’s for that reason that Diana likes him. Loves him, really, in a filial sort of way.

So far, Pete was the only one to have shown up, ordering a Gutterspout Lager (“it ain’t just the water”) and winding up a story for all and sundry. Which at that point was Diana.

“Okay Di, I promise this one won’t be offensive.”

“You mean you can tell?”

“Yeah, right,” he chuckled and clucked, nodding. “You got me. But I’ll change the sexes around, just to make it palatable for you.” He paused to check his own palate.

After putting down the beer, he said, “Blonde guy gets home early from work and hears strange noises coming from the bedroom. He rushes upstairs to find his wife naked on the bed, sweating and panting. ‘What’s up?’ he says. His wife screams, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’ He grabs the phone, but just as he’s dialing, his 4-year-old son shows up and says ‘Daddy! Daddy! What’s Uncle Fred doing in the closet?’ The blonde guy slams down the phone and sees his brother hightailing it buck naked out of the room. ‘You selfish jerk,’ the blonde guy yells after him, ‘My wife’s having a heart attack and you’re running around naked and scaring the kids!’”

Diana had to swallow her water in a hurry so as not to spray it all over the bar, and Pete just stood there with the same broken grin he always had when he finished telling a joke. He covered it up by taking a sip of the Gutterspout.

“Like that one, don’t you?”

Diana let herself laugh a little more easily. “Yeah, that was a good one. You didn’t have to change it, though. I’m not that big a prude.”

“Nah, but you’re blonde. Hits close to home, dozen it?”

Just then Pete’s friend Bill showed up, sneaking up from behind and putting his hands on his Pete’s shoulders and saying to Diana, “Is this guy bothrin’ you, Miss? He’s known for causing trouble.”

“Oh, a little obnoxiousness ain’t so bad. It’s a little early in the day, but I’m not too particular. At least there wasn’t any profanity.” Diana was dragging her words out into a kind of drawl, which she knew the boys liked, and Bill especially. She’s worked on it for years, helped in the beginning by her dad. For him it hadn’t been an imitation, having carried it up from the far corner of the country long before there had ever been a Diana. ‘And for how long?’ she sometimes wondered.

Comments

  1. Rufus McCain says

    Nice opening scene. I like this Diana. She’s like an amalgam of all the kindly barmaids that helped me survive my long and wearisome bachelorhood. Back in the day.

    Queequegs is an inspired name for a Seattle chowderhouse/brewpub, too. You need to trademark it. And the beer names. “Gutterspout Stout” — yeah, I’ll take a pint of that!

  2. Henri Young says

    She wouldn’t have given me the time of day.

  3. Henri Young says

    I bet she looks great in kulaks!

  4. Good writing, nice description of Pete, only a couple of things that grated (eg: the ‘whom’). But it feels too far removed from the author – you’re writing at a distance, it’s not an entirely authentic voice: I don’t mean that you need to write about yourself, but the apparent lightnessss of touch is misleading, like the joke of an unhappy comedian; you might say, well, the comedian’s funny anyway, but I’m not sure it works in a novel. But I may be wrong – I know when I have tried to write it’s easiest to adopt a ‘style at a distance’ and that’s what I thought I recognised. I’ll read the rest slowly.

  5. Quin Finnegan says

    Thanks – very much – for reading, Anonymous.

    Yeah, I can see how the ‘whom’ might be grating. As for “far removed” and distance – that’s actually fairly important to the entire novel, which to some extent is “about” an author’s search for “authenticity”, while at the same time trying to put the lie to Heideggerian terminology for the self that has cast so many souls adrift over the last 50 years or more.

    This might become more clear in chapter two, and in all the scenes with “Brian” and “Jeb”, as their more-or-less authentic, authorial selves develop (or fail to develop).

    Then again, it might not.

    And you’re quite right (disturbingly-on-the-mark-right for having read only one chapter) about Pete as unhappy comedian. Very unhappy. I myself am happy as a clam.

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