I’m in a closed restaurant. I’ve been here before in the middle of the night like this. There are very few other people around, a janitor and one waitress prepping for the morning breakfast crowd. The tables are all set up and I can’t resist picking up one of the little Smucker’s strawberry jam packets set out for toast. I walk out the door into a mall and leave the door propped open so I can get back in. I don’t really have a reason to step out, maybe just to smell some different air, or maybe just so no one will see me eating the jam all by itself. I stroll up the corridor a little way and pass by an opening between two small shops that are also closed.
At the back of the opening is a cage. There is a large lion sleeping out in the opening. There is a chain around his neck running back into the cage and only his head is out in the open. He is beautiful. I want to pet his hair and instinctively I start into the opening but then I stop afraid of being attacked. The lion opens his eyes. He seems to want me to come pet him but I keep thinking to myself that even a trained lion will sense your fear and attack. As I stand there in apprehension, a small furry dog trots up. It stops at my feet wagging its tail, and then trots right up to the lion, sniffs it’s face and then squeezes past and in the lion’s cage. I push my fear aside and walk up to pet the lion. His fur is soft and warm in the cold mall air. He licks a little strawberry jam off my face and his tongue is like wet sandpaper. There is a little left and I scoop it out and let him lick it from my finger. I sit down next to him for a minute stroking his hair and then get up and head back to the restaurant.
Three people are walking by, two boys and a girl, and they see that I left the door open. “Oh cool!” the girl says. “It’s open. I really want a pie. They have the best fresh-baked pies here. Buy me a pie.” She grabs one of the boys by the wrist and drags him toward the door. The other boy says, “I don’t think they’re really open. It’s pretty dark in there.” The boy in tow sees me and points my way. “Sure they are, there’s a waitress now.” Then at me, “Hey, come sell us a pie.” I look down confused. I realize I’m wearing an apron, but I don’t think I work here. “We’re closed until 6:30,” I say. “Come on, just sell us a pie and we’ll go,” the girl says. “I gotta have a fresh berry pie.”
I decide it’s easier to just sell them a pie, so I let them in. The girl picks out a mixed berry pie. “I don’t have a register yet,” I tell them. “I can’t make change and I’ll have to write you a receipt.” They don’t care about the change or the receipt and they leave with their pie. I write a note and leave the money tucked under the register. My phone rings. It’s my friend Carla. Her parents are taking us to a play at the theater. We discuss the plans for where we are going to meet. Her mom is yakking in the background and being very annoying, but we manage our arrangements. I take off my apron and fold it up neatly, and leave for the theater.
Needless to say I get to the theater just a little bit too early. I have my ticket and they let me in. I find our seats and sit down for a while. I’ve been to a play here before. I remember an actress in a green dress covered with leaves was part of the play, but not much else. It’s a very long time before the show starts so I get up and wander around for what must have been hours but seemed more like minutes.
My phone rings again. It’s Carla again. I tell her I’m at the theater and I found our seats. Her mom gets on the phone and says something that sounds like, “Huong et mai ngow, blah, blah…” I pull the phone away from my ear and stare at it. I have no idea what that would mean or why she is speaking or pretending to speak to me in some foreign language. “Um, yeah,” I tell her, “I’ll see you guys when you get here, okay?” I hang up without waiting for an answer.
People begin to show up so I head back to our seats to wait for Carla and her parents. When I get there, my seat is still empty but people are sitting in the seats next to me. “Excuse me, these three seats are taken,” I say gesturing to the seats they are in. A blonde woman in the seat directly next to mine looks over and blinks ignorantly at me. The man next her asks her, “Did she say the seats were taken?” The woman leans over and says something in his ear. He laughs and she turns back to me. “It doesn’t look like you’ll be doing anything about that, does it?” There is a heavy emphasis on “you” to let me know how diminutive my stature is. I want to rake her eyes out. “I hope you enjoy going through your life being rude,” I say. She ignores me. Frustrated, I step up over the first row seat and sit down in mine.
No sooner do I sit down than the blonde witch starts chatting me up, sweet as honey. She’s asking if I’ve seen the play before, do I come here often and all that friendly kind of stuff. I still just want to rake her eyes out and I just nod and shake my head a little and try not to pay her too much attention. Finally Carla’s father arrives with a super-size Coke in his hand. I didn’t think they allowed those in the theater. Carla’s father stands six foot seven and weighs nearly three hundred pounds. “Did the girls get here yet?” he asks me. “No,” I answer. I toss my head to my left. “These people don’t want to get out of your seats.” He shrugs and goes off to look for the Carla and her mom. Blondie turns to me. “The 300 lb. gorilla is with you?” I nod and she mutters something that sounds profane under her breath. The man next to her leans over and asks her something. She leans back and I hear them bickering quietly and eventually he decides for her that they are moving to their real seats.
I am content that I won’t be stuck watching the play with them, but the lights flash for everyone to take their seats and they are still there. There is still no sign of Carla and her parents when the lights dim. Instead of the play starting a white screen drops and a movie for children begins playing. A collective groan comes up from the audience and most of them, including my unwanted company, get up and start heading out of the theater. They all form a double column line that leads down a long stair outside the theater. I’ve stood in this line before. It leads down the back side of the building and empties out on the sidewalk by the ticket office. They are all going to exchange their tickets for a future engagement and I can tell from the angry grumbling I overhear that this happens often.
The cartoon keeps playing and some of the people move from the balcony down to the parterre to fill the seats vacated there. A large character shaped like a test tube with stick figure limbs and a clown face is the focus of the cartoon. There seem to be lots of little kids in the theater now, though I hadn’t noticed a one before. Finally, I see Carla with her mother, pushing toward the stairs down to the parterre. I call out and Carla comes running over and gives me a small hug. “There you are, come, come,” she says. “We’re going to stay and watch the movie.” I get up and start to follow her down the stairs, finding that preferable to the long line backed up the other stairs. “Did your Dad find you?” I ask. “Yes, he’s getting snacks.” I look at the screen again. “It looks like kind of a stupid cartoon,” I venture. “I know she says, but Sheri really wants to see it.” Sheri is her little sister, but she wasn’t supposed to be here. It all gets too confusing for me and I stop on the stairs and look out again at the line outside.
There’s a terrace outside the balcony, and I consider walking out there for a while, but eventually, I turn back down the stairs, find Carla and head toward where they are sitting.
© 2010 Anne Schilde