BY JOHN DENISON
Copyright is held by the author.
IN CASE I run out of words this is how my life ends:
I shout YES but I’m like four seconds too late and the front door is closing and Warren’s on the other side walking away and I run toward the door which closes but I’m still carrying Dr. and Mrs. Hollands’ Eggs Benedict and wouldn’t you know it just as I manage to balance both plates on one arm the door bangs open and there’s old Mr. Walecki coming through from outside pushing his oxygen machine which is duct taped to his walker and now he’s stopped in the middle of the doorway cuz his cigarette bag – his son buys them on the reserve, ten bucks a bag – has tipped over spilling all of Mr. Walecki’s smokes onto the floor and he’s like old enough to have bought Manhattan for beads and I know if Mr. Walecki goes down he’s never getting back up so I hand him the Eggs Benedict and get down on my hands and knees and fast as I can cram the cigarettes back in the bag with Mr. Walecki wheezing above me and finally I’m back on my feet and edging by Mr. Walecki who asks me to marry him like he does every day and I take the plates of Eggs Benedict which are still amazingly hot and by then Warren is getting into a taxi and I shout YES! YES! YES! YES! He looks at me but doesn’t stop the taxi. It pulls away from the curb and that’s the last I see of him except for his picture in the paper showing him holding the check for $30 million and then Mr. Walecki says if I’m that enthusiastic let’s skip the ceremony and go right to the good part.
It takes 60 seconds to read that paragraph. See, it’s not a long time.
The Hollands — we call them the Hollandaises — come in every Saturday at 11am and order Eggs Benedict, the most expensive item on the menu, and every time something is wrong. Mrs. Hollandaise — she’s like 60 with shares in L’Oreal and a plastic surgeon on retainer — she enjoys saying: my yolks are hard dear, and then — like they’re a tag team of synchronized-whiners — Dr. Hollandaise — 70 and god’s right-hand man — he follows with: Michelle, my ham is cold. I bet it is you old . . . Here’s my question: why would you order, over and over, the thing that’s always wrong? This time I smash both plates down and shout get a life!
I don’t really but I’d like to and I’d like a second chance at that 60 seconds but that doesn’t seem to be happening either. Let me tell you when your chance comes grab it grab it grab it and no matter what happens: don’t let go!
Let’s go back to the beginning. It’s a normal Saturday morning at The Early Bird — not crazy busy but steady y’know — and I’m coming out of the kitchen backing into the wooden door hoping no one’s coming the other way carrying the two plates of Eggs Benedict for the Hollandaises wondering what will be wrong this time and this young guy wearing jeans and a leather jacket comes through the front door and stops and puts his arms up in the air full of drama like and I’ve seen him in here before maybe three or four times, my age and cute in a Ryan Gosling sort of way and I remember he flirts but then most of the guys, doesn’t matter how old they are, flirt. My granddad says on the outside he may be a 1937 Packard but inside he’s an ‘87 Corvette revin’ for action.
Anyway the guy stands there with his hands up till everybody’s quiet — everybody staring at him me included — and then he takes one step forward and brings his hands down and now they’re pistols and they’re both pointing right at me and he says:
Michelle, you have 60 seconds to decide, starting . . .
There’s a big round clock with a second hand on the end wall and everybody turns looking at it but me. I’m too busy staring at the young guy trying to remember his name. Floyd, Lloyd, Todd, Rod, get on the bus Gus, no need to discuss… Warren! The time he sat in Booth 7 his friend called him Warren Peace and I laughed it was cute.
He says: I have just won 30 million dollars and I am looking for a girl to travel the world with and you, Michelle, the most beautiful intelligent sexy female in the galaxy are my first choice.
I think he knew my name. I mean I’m wearing a nameplate — all the staff at The Early Bird does — but still he didn’t squint or anything and yeah I’m named after Michelle Pfeiffer cuz my dad thinks she’s the hottest woman on the planet but he didn’t tell my mom that — she just thought he liked the name — and the funny thing is when I wear my uniform I look a lot like her when she played Frankie the waitress in Frankie and Johnny my friends say so and I kinda think so too, same body type, same blonde hair, but the irony is I only look like her when she’s playing a waitress then she moves on and I’m still playing Frankie the wait staff and remember when she says: I don’t want to stay at my job the rest of my life but I’m afraid to leave . . .
Michelle Pfeiffer sure as heck wouldn’t be standing here like Venus di Milo staring at this crazy Warren guy her head made of marble — what did he just say? 30 million? Travel the world?
Our plates are getting cold dear, says Mrs. Holland cuz I’ve been standing there holding her plate of Eggs Benedict for like 30 seconds not moving and now I look at the clock but I didn’t look when Warren said you have 60 seconds so I have no idea how long it’s been. I spin around. All the regulars are staring at me guys like Hank the Homeless who always has enough by eleven for breakfast from his spot outside the market and Betty, who manages the apartment building where I live, and the two gay guys, Jean and Louie, who are like the nicest couple ever – they’re getting married next month and I’m giving Louie away cuz his dad calls him queer but not in a nice way — they’re all staring at me and I croak how much time have I got?
Fifteen seconds! they shout except it’s like 12 because just saying 15 seconds eats up three of them.
Mrs. Holland says if it was me I’d go — which is funny everything considered.
And Warren’s staring at me grinning and I can see he’s loving putting me on the spot like this and I can also see he’s willing me to say YES! and suddenly it’s very important that I remember what underwear I’m wearing cuz you know I’m soon gonna be taking it off in front of this guy I’ve only served eggs to except now it’s going to be me sunny-side-up and I look at Warren again and it suddenly seems like being without underwear with Warren will be all right and then I picture calling my mom and dad from Fiji and that’ll be okay too cuz it’s not like I’m 15 or anything so why am I standing here like my feet are made of marble and my tongue is tied to my tonsils?
Now we’re at the part where I shout YES! but it’s like four seconds too late.
I’ve thought about this a lot. This wasn’t about sex or love or an unreasonable demand or even a too-good-to-be-true business proposition. This was simply a chance to GRAB LIFE something I believe most people never do.
And you know when Warren drives away in that taxi? He was right not to stop. I didn’t deserve to be in that cab. Remember that when your chance comes.
And you know what’s the saddest? Every day I wait for him to come back through that door — to put his hands high in the air — to bring them down and point at his first choice . . .
And that would be me, Michelle, the girl who’s still serving All Day Breakfast.