Juney's Coming For A Visit

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A bell over the diner's door rang as George walked in. The sound, Pavlovian, reminded him to remove his baseball cap.

The place had once been a Waffle House, but then a bad economy had landed on the town a few years back, the way locusts alight on a hayfield and that was the end of the Waffle House, along with just about everything else. Now the place was a no-name joint. A banner had been hung across the original yellow sign and that banner read 'BREAKFAST,' with no elaboration or lies. Someone had taken a stab at painting fried eggs and bacon on the windows, and the result got the point across, though the two yolks looked a little like the wide-eyed stare of a distant (and possibly stoned) Aztec god and the stiff bacon parked on the edge of the plate seemed vaguely sexual with its browns and pinks. A rank of chipped wood-pattern Formica counter tops ran between the dining area and the kitchen. Coffee machines old enough for Medicaid stood watch over miniature boxes of Frosted Flakes. The juke box had broken down, but no one had the heart to haul it away. A diner is a lesser place with no jukebox. That said, no one longed for the days when it could still play 'A Waffle House Christmas' either.

“Morning, George,” the waitress, Patrice, said from behind the counter. She owned the place and, while her restaurant would never attempt to take on even a single pretension, she kept it scrupulously clean.

“Morning, Patrice,” George said. He stuffed the hat indifferently into the back pocket of his jeans, bill first, and had a seat at one of the stools by the counter. He was a tall man, too tall for the stool, and with his feet up on the rail under the counter, he seemed out of scale with his surroundings.

“Morning, George,” said a fat man perched two stools down.

“Morning Alfred,” George said to the fat man.

“What’s shaking, George?” Patrice said, setting a mug of coffee in front of him.

“Daughter called last night. She’s coming for Christmas after all. Her‘n the kids.”

“Bible Babe, or the one with the,” Alfred made a circling motion around his face with an extended finger. He meant port-wine stain, which George’s younger daughter—April—did have, though it was no bigger than a soup can and mostly hidden behind her hairline.

“Juney. The uhhh...the religious one, yeah,” George said morosely.

“Thought they couldn’t afford it this year?” Patrice said. She was a short, man-faced woman with no-nonsense hair and capable hands. Put her in a pantsuit, Alfred once said, and she’d make a good political appointee. Put her in a mullet and she’d make a good dog washer. Alfred generally tuned his considerable brains towards snide, the way Newton had directed his to the subject of gravity.

“Well, they got ahold of some free plane tickets, somehow,” George said, “prayed for em, maybe.”

“Well don’t bring them here,” Alfred mumbled around a forkload of eggs and Tobasco sauce, “find somewhere else for breakfast.”

“That’s just rude, Alfred,” Patrice said with one hand on her cocked hip, “Man’s welcome here and so’s his family. And you want to know something else, Alfred Mendis?”

“Probably not,” Alfred said.

“You’re a real bastard and that’s why no one loves you.”

“Yeah, okay, actually I did know that,” Alfred said, belching into his fist. Alfred spent nine months of the year on a derrick in the Gulf, ‘doing Satan’s Petrochemical will,’ as he put it. The empty time between stints made him ornery, especially in first few weeks ashore.

“They won’t eat at restaurants anyway,” George said, “Juney’ll cook everything.”

“What? Is the smell of a greasy spoon is offensive to the Lord?” Alfred said, shoveling another heap of yolk-bleeding egg into his mouth.

“Not exactly,” George said, “Mostly they got five kids now and—“

“Five?” Patrice said, “Thought it was four. I must have lost track somewhere.”

“—yeah, they had another baby this summer. I haven’t met that one yet. Anyway, they can’t afford to eat out. That and Jacob is convinced that Mexicans will spit in his food on account of his being a white man. Sorry, Javier.”

Javier, the cook, leaned out through his order window. This early in the morning, his chef whites still had a perky, just-out-of-the dryer crispness to them that wouldn’t last past ten.

"Hey, yeah man, it's true, we will,” the cook drawled. “We’ll spit in your food. All of us," Javier said.

“Well, that’s fucking great,” Albert said, and then he laughed, like really thought it was great.

"Yeah,” Javier continued, “It's a racial thing. A racist thing. Whatever."

“Please,” Patrice said, “Javier, don't even joke.”

“Yeah, okay. I’m joking. I only spit in the cops’ food.”

“What?” Patrice said.

“Actually, it's only that deputy with the limp.”

“Dougie Franks? What he ever do to you?” George said.

"Remember that INS raid at the Tyson Chicken Plant a few months back? Well, my cousin Maria, she—"

“She worked there? Your cousin an illegal?” Alfred said.

Javier snorted.

“She’s an accountant over in Carverville and she married a guy who teaches rice how to gringo. They go clog dancing because he’s Polish or something."

"So..." Alfred said.

"So, Maria was also having an affair with Deputy Dragleg. With Dougie."

“Wow,” George said.

“I don’t see the problem, unless you're upset on her husband’s behalf,” Alfred said.

“No, who cares about him? See, what got me mad was that Dougie knew about the raid on Tyson's chicken morgue, but he didn't say nothing to Maria about it."

"So?" Alfred said.

"Well, my cousin's got cousins too, about a million, and a bunch of them worked out at Tyson. There's this one girl in particular, named Rosa. My cousin and her grew up together—”

“So Maria is from Mexico?” Albert interrupted.

“No. Her people come out of California like nine generations back. They been there so long they should form up their own INS and send all you gringos back to wherever the hell you came from.”

“Then how did she grow up with this Rosa?” Albert said.

“Because Rosa’s parents came over when she was a kid. She grew up in Cali too.”

“Gotcha,” Albert said.

“Anyway, Rosa had a job yanking guts out of chickens but since Dougie kept the raid a secret, now Rosa didn't know to lie low and so she got sent back to Mexico.”

“Did you even know this Rosa?” Alfred said.

“Yeah kinda. I didn’t like her, but see, while she’s gone, Maria has to take care of Rosa’s kid, who’s a real brat.“

“So because your cousin’s side of bacon didn’t tell her about the raid, your, like, ninth cousin seventeen times removed got punted back to Juarez for a few months and that’s why you spit in Dougie's eggs?” Alfred said. He popped an entire triangle of toast into his mouth and set to munching.

“No. I’m getting there. Maria wants to get rid of Rosa’s kid, because he’s a real brat. He doesn’t speak any damned English and fights with Rosa’s honkey husband all the time, but his momma ain't going come back and take him off their hands until she can afford another coyote, which will be never, because Rosa ain't got a job. Nobody down there has a job.

“So before she comes back, Rosa wants Maria to give her the money for the coyote. So here comes Maria and she needs me to make a contribution to the bring-Rosa-home fund. It’s like a kidnapping ransom, only in reverse and I told her that Rosa’s been deported a few times before and she probably knows the way back by now, but Anita won’t shut up about her cousin dying of thirst out in the desert and how that would be my fault, so I give her the money. It was worth it just for the quiet, except then I didn't have nothing left to pay the cable bill and so they come out to my place and take all the good channels away so I can't watch football no more. That’s why I spit in the cop’s eggs.”

“Doesn’t really seem like it’s Dougie's fault,” George ventured after a moment.

“Gotta be somebody’s fault, don’t it?” Javier said, “After the raid, Tyson hired up a bunch of fresh Mexicans, all of em illegals, none of em my cousin. The chickens still get their guts pulled out, same as before. The cops didn't get a medal or a reward or a raise or anything. Nothing changed, ‘cept somehow I missed the Vikings game.

“If the CEO of Tyson or any of those Mexicans they hired stops by for a bite, I’ll spit in their food too. If one of those INS bastards shows up with his stupid jacket, I’ll take a dump in that bastard's mouth. Until then, I do what I can and fuck anyone who says different.”

“It’s funny,” Alfred said meditatively, “but every time a spic on TV gets all riled up, they start throwing random Mexican into their sentences. Do you even know Spanish, Javier?”

“Hey, fuck you,” Javier said, waving his spatula in a warning fashion through the order window, “and I said ‘gringo’ in there somewhere.”

“And you’re ok with your employees spitting in an officer of the law’s food?” Alfred said to Patrice.

Patrice shrugged a whadyagonnado shrug. “I know Dougie’s wife. She’s a real sweetheart.”

A silence fell on the otherwise empty restaurant.

“So, anyway, Juney’s coming,” George said.