She made the right at the light, then the left onto Peach running along the railroad tracks. Two blocks then a left up Sixth and a right into the Club’s parking lot, then around the back to the kitchen entrance. It was her third circuit of the building in the last thirty minutes. She didn’t know what time he’d get there, only that it would be early. She was glad actually to have had the time to drive around to stop crying. Jimmy didn’t need that-her crying always freaked him out-but she thought she had it under control now. Poor guy, she thought, squeezing off a sad smile which looked kind of twisted in the rear view, he didn’t know what was coming.
Who was she kidding? Even she didn’t know what was coming. No matter how many scenarios, plans, schemes ran through her head they rarely played out as she hoped in the light of day. All she did know was that she had to pull herself back from the edge, cause that’s where she felt she was-tiptoeing along the roofline. In her dreams the last couple of weeks she was always sliding away. One night she couldn’t stop sliding down the icy hill at first street, her fingernails failing to grasp anything. Another night she was sliding down the dusty hill path above the high wall up at the dump where they’d played as kids, or down the sloped floor in the funhouse at old Rainbow Gardens. The common thread in all those dreamscapes was that the end of the slide was a fall, a fall into a void that she felt was waiting for her. And in the dreams, the slopes kept getting steeper and slicker-the void darker.
Apparently the third time was the charm. Jimmy’s truck was parked in back, to the right of the door where Ben usually parked. She grinned knowing that Jimmy had planned to be gone by the time they got there but still, he liked to jab even when he didn’t know he was doing it. She turned off the car and sat, listening to the engine tick. “Gotta breathe”, she said aloud and did that, deep ins and outs until she thought she was ready.
Inside, Jimmy checked the clock above the warmers. Not yet eight. He was ahead of his schedule which was well ahead of everyone else’s. This would be the second monthly dinner at the Club since the pandemic. It was takeout only but they were all surprised by the turnout last month. They had sold almost as many dinners as BC (Before Covid) when they were doing sit-down as well as takeout. So Ben and Darla expected today to be big.
Jimmy’s job was to pre-cook fifty pounds of spaghetti; ten trays of five pounds each. Boil, drain, rinse, ice and put them in the walkin cooler. They would then finish the pasta to order throughout the day. They would. Jimmy wouldn’t be there. He would do the prep cook and be out by 10:30 when Ben and Darla showed up. He wouldn’t mind working with Darla, never minded working with Darla and would frankly like to work with her. Alone. But not with her husband. Ben was a micromanaging complete pain in the ass and Jimmy had given up trying to work with him a few months ago. He communicated with his business partner only through Darla and was frankly still here only through his loyalty to her. If he wasn’t doing the precook, she would have to.
The three huge pots were almost boiling and Jimmy’s Vicodin was starting to bubble a pleasant fuzziness up into his head. Cooking fifty pounds of pasta by yourself was less a culinary feat than an athletic one and all old athletes needed help now and again. The rising steam said it was time to throw down some spaghetti. He emptied a five pound package into the nearest pot and stirred hard with the long handled wooden spoon to keep it from sticking.
The door alarm buzzed and he looked up to check the clock again. “Shit”, he thought. “I don’t want them here yet.” By them, he meant Ben. He kept stirring and looked up when he heard someone rustle in behind him.
“What are you guys doing here this early?” he asked without turning. Darla moved swiftly through the kitchen waving him off with her right hand and headed out the other door into the dining room. “It’s just me”, she said quickly on the way through. What? , he thought. Had there been something in her voice? He looked after her noticing she was still wearing her summer attire-short shorts that she might have been just on the cusp of being too old for, but her legs didn’t follow any calendar. Nobody complained when she was waiting tables or helping in the kitchen with her apron flying behind her.
“Whatever,” thought Jimmy. The first batch was al dente-just right. He hefted the sloshing forty pound pot over to the sink and dumped it through the large colander allowing the water to fill another pot beneath. Then he put that pot on the stove to keep the hot water and, banging pots back and forth, proceeded to rinse the spaghetti with cold water over and over to keep it from sticking.. Again, he used the spoon to stir through the rinsing. It wasn’t until he finished rinsing that he noticed Darla was back in the kitchen. Her eyes were red but her cheeks were dry.
He chose to let it ride for a moment and asked her for one of the aluminum pans behind her. She handed it over and he dumped the spaghetti. “Ice?” she asked. He nodded and she was off to the ice machine rustling back with a pitcher that he spread over the top of the pasta.
“One down”, he said, then turning back to Darla, “What’s up with you?”
She waved him off again but made no move to leave. She was leaning against the stainless steel prep table in the middle of the room, arms folded, face down. He wanted to see her eyes.
“Where’s Ben?” he asked.
She didn’t change her posture except to shrug. Once.
“Jesus Dar! What are you? Fourteen? Talk to me-we got a busy day here.”
She looked up and the tears had started to run but crying registered nowhere else on her face. She wiped her cheeks with the flat of her hand and shrugged again.
“I said some things.”
“About the dinner. About the club. About him…Things!”
Jimmy cut his eyes to the clock. Now he was behind schedule. “You had to say things this morning? Couldn’t wait until tomorrow…?”
“It’ll be fine. He just won’t talk to me most of the day which will be a relief. I don’t know…”She huffed with the shrug this time. “You think this is easy for me?” Then she looked up and met his eyes and he knew exactly what she meant. “You think?”
“No”, he said, catching her eyes knowing pretty much what she was talking about. “Not for me either. But hey-if it was easy everyone would be doing it and that would be an awful shitteree”
She grinned. “It would be messy”, she said. She sighed a little too loudly for it to have been spontaneous. “You know what I need?”
“I think I’m going to find out.”
“I could use that”, she said dryly.
Jimmy saw she was looking at the wooden spoon. “Here”, he said absently reaching it toward her.
“No dummy”, she sniffed and half turned, cocking her hip his way almost presenting her backside.
Oh for the love of Mike, thought Jimmy.
His mind slipped back a couple of weeks…