Amelia [Character]

Amelia thought about death a lot. She didn’t consider herself morbid. She told people she was a realist. “Every time you cross a street, you might die,” she would say. “A freak tornado can happen at any time. Earthquakes aren’t that rare. All it takes is one moment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re dead. And that’s a fact.”

She ran a finger underneath the velvet choker tied round her neck. Lifting the long-stemmed glass in front of her, she took a sip of champagne. The bubbles burned her tongue. The restaurant was brightly lit, clean and simply decorate, but Amelia saw dozens of opportunities for death all around her. If the waiter slipped right there, he would bang his head on the corner of a table. If the bartender poisoned the beer barrels, everyone who was ordering on tap would be in trouble. If the electric chandelier fell, it would crush the angry family sitting at the table directly beneath it.

“Ah, Amelia! Welcome back, welcome back,” the head waiter said, shuffling over rather nervously and drying his sweating hands on his tailcoat. “What can I get you today?”

“Nothing much, nothing much. This champagne is rather nice, you know.”

“I’m glad it’s to your liking!”

“Yes. Do you know that if you swallow something the wrong way, the fluid stays in your lungs? You can accumulate so much fluid there that it can kill you.”

“Indeed?”

“Hm. I think so. Maybe not. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?” Amelia realized she was a little tipsy. This was, after all, her third glass. “Death is a beautiful thing, my dear sir, did you know that?”

“Amelia, now,” the head waiter extended his hands forward, trying to ward off the oddness. “You remember what happened last time we had this talk?”

“Yes,” Amelia said, her voice serene and her eyes gazing far away. “You ended up escorting me out very rudely and then calling the police. The police, mind you, could have been very rough with me. Did you know that there was a kind of thing as ‘suicide-by-cop?'”

“No, I wasn’t aware. The cops weren’t rough with you, were they?” The head waiter’s anxiety levels were rising and he could almost feel the blood pressure closing his arteries and making it difficult to breathe. Amelia, or maybe it was Amelia’s money, often had that effect on people.

“No, no, of course not. But they could have been, you know. I just think you should get us both some lemon pie and then sit down and have a chat with me. What do you say?”

The head waiter made his excuses and hurried away to get the bill which he would put, not so tactfully, beside Amelia’s plate of pie. He sometimes had nightmares about Amelia. It was hard for him to envision her as someone like him, with a family and a past and some future. She had significantly less future than he did. Maybe that was part of why she frightened him so much.

It was so convenient and easy to see her as a scary old witch who was fascinated with her mortality; it was rare that people saw her for what she was – her friends dead, her family members all involved in their own lives, she was an old woman who was, indeed, fascinated with her mortality.

The H Cafe

The H Cafe is a small place, sitting right on a busy, noisy street. It’s a main thoroughfare between one part of the city and the other, and the sound of cars, trucks, ambulances and motorcycles is constant. There is also a cake store on the corner next to the H, that doubles as a plain bakery and cafe. It could be said, by some people, that the H Cafe is not in a prime location.

But it’s never empty. The waiting-staff don’t wear uniforms. Not even t-shirts with the H’s cat logo. The only way you’d know who your waiter or waitress was, would be because they came to you. And they do. They’re kind, sweet, funny and patient. They don’t get mad if you order a coffee and nothing else. They don’t bug you when it takes you a long time to order. Best of all, they don’t seem like they’re suffering, and that’s a good thing to see. They look, rather, like they happen to be asking people what they’d like to eat. When they aren’t needed, they stand around the register and talk to each other, laughing charmingly, but always with an eye out. If a hand pops up or a head turns their way, they’ll be there in a flash, still grinning.

How, you might ask, does it manage to have clients at all hours on such a busy and noisy street? The H has cleverly made up for its location by simply refusing to admit to it. The outdoor seating area is raised on a wooden platform, and is bordered on three side by greenery. The lamps that sit on the platform, entwined in the bushes, look like they were taken straight out of London in the 1920s. They’re picturesque, yet simple. The tables are wooden and often wobbly, but the chairs are comfy enough and you’re never in the sun or rain. During the summer, plain white fabric umbrellas rear their heads and give a pleasant tent-like quality to the place, while in winter the area is surrounded by glass and feels like a cozy, warm fish-tank.

The menu is small but with wide variety, the coffee is superb and the atmosphere lovely. It’s the only place in which I’m ever recognized and acknowledged as a regular customer. The H Cafe is a diamond in the rough.

Sorry-Sorry-Service

The waitress was pretty, in a conventional way. Her hair was that sort of natural bright yellow that all those who dye their hair want to have. Her figure was trim but womanly, short without being stocky. Her eyes were big, brown and innocent looking. Her school-girl looks were probably the only reason people were being semi-patient with her.

She’d been running around tables all day. She had no idea why she was lucky enough to get this job at Patisserie Valerie, one of the most popular hangouts in Soho. She had no idea how she was there with her English being so imperfect. She also, unfortunately, had no idea whether or not she would be allowed to stay; so far, she was a disaster.

A group of three came into the cafe: a red haired woman, a girl in her late teens who looked like her daughter and a young man with dark, curly hair. They sat down at a table, and the waitress was shooed over to them by the woman who’d been helping her on and off all day. She bobbed over to the table and asked in her broken English what they wanted to drink. They answered, and the flurry of words was almost too much for her. She went to the kitchens to relay the order. Once she brought it, she realized that she’d forgotten two items. She hadn’t understood what they wanted, she supposed.

Asking about the food was worse. The young man, bless him, merely wanted the sandwich as it was written in the menu, but the woman and her daughter asked for all sorts of changes. Simple enough, if she could only understand what it was they wanted. She felt like her brain had turned to mush, and she only understood every third word, though she dutifully scribbled in her notepad obligingly the keywords that she could understand.

It took her three runs to the kitchens and back to make sure she had everything right. Then the kitchen botched one of the orders. She lost her head completely, and took the order out anyway, saying as she did so that she told the man what to do and he hadn’t done it right. She was about to set down the plate anyway, but the three stared at her uncomprehendingly and then asked her to please get them the order they’d asked for. They didn’t mind waiting, but they wanted to eat the food they’d ordered – not whatever the kitchen’s whims were.

The waitress felt the tears well up, but they didn’t break out. She quickly brought the things back to the kitchen. When she came back, finally with the correct order, she bobbed a sort of half curtsy and explained that “It’s my first day, so sorry, so sorry.”

***

The really strange thing was that when I returned the next day for another meal at the same place, I got the same waitress. It was, again, her first day – sorry-sorry – and again the orders weren’t done right. I don’t blame her. I’ve waitressed. It’s hard, it’s pressuring, and it requires some knowledge of the language. I do, however, blame the restaurant for not even pairing her with a more experienced waitress for a couple days. My mother tells me, however, that Patisserie Valerie has been known since she lived in London more than twenty years ago as a place with good food but notoriously bad service.

The food, at least, was indeed delicious.

Three Dreams

One

I am at a wedding. I’m positive that it’s some sort of traditional Scottish wedding. I dance in circles, kicking my legs in and out in a pattern which seems correct, but as I’m doing this I’m sure that I really don’t have any clue what I’m doing and I hope that no one will notice the fact that I’m completely faking whatever the dance is supposed to be. Two people are doing the same thing beside me, but they seem to really know the dance. I end my circle by slowing down, almost to slow motion, and then with the thought of making a dramatic exit, I leap into the sky. I’m shooting up, when suddenly some thing, some sort of beast, whizzes past me, almost biting my head off. I wake up in terror.

Two

I am in the lobby of a restaurant. Leonardo DeCaprio is there, as is Angelina Jolie. They are lying back in beach chairs and are completely still, like wax statues. I go up to the restaurant, and the waiters are all standing around, leaning against the walls. I talk to them, and I come to understand that there’s a problem with the boss – that he’s stopping business or some such. I get a mental image, like a vision, of a dark room with something prowling around it, commanding the restaurant’s boss. A sense of dread pours over me, and I feel that the boss isn’t the ultimate boss in this place – that he’s being manipulated by this beast, this evil thing. I want to get out. I go back down to the lobby, where two girls are now chattering about the famous actors there. They’re speaking in Hebrew, so I can understand them, but Leo and Angelina can’t. The girls try to tell me how they met – something to do with their eighteenth birthdays. I smile, I nod, I wonder why they’re telling me this when I have no clue who they are, and I quickly exit the restaurant.

I am now out on the street and it’s dark, dusk. I turn right, and walk down the street. The sidewalk and street are separated by fences enclosing dirt, as if the gardens are blocked off for planting. I walk down further, and at the end of this semi-enclosed walkway, I see a mattress. A man is lying on it, upper half naked, asleep. Next to his bare back – for he is lying on his stomach with his face averted to me – I see what appears to be a hole in the mattress. In the hole, I see a woman’s face. I get an overpowering feeling that she is dead. I walk past quickly, but just as I turn the corner, I feel a tug at my unbound hair – the man is hauling me back, and I know in my bones that he will butcher me and stuff me inside that mattress along with the others. I wake up in terror.

Three

I am out camping with my friends. There is a bonfire going, and one of my girlfriends tries to heat water over it in a Styrofoam cup. I want to yell out at her that it will burn, but I don’t, as I’m distracted by a bread basket that is being passed around by my friends. I take a piece of bread and eat it, suddenly realizing that I’d eaten a McDonald’s dinner earlier and thinking that I’ve eaten too much and that I don’t want two dinners. I wake up in terror, and then smile at the silliness of this last dream.