This week, Sir challenged me with: ...it's a sad man, my friend, who's livin' in his own skin and can't stand the company -- Bruce Springsteen. I challenged Supermaren with "The sun glinted off the surface of the ocean. It was a dreary day."
“You’re ruining them rolls, Bitsy.” Lilly Jean Jacobs blew on her coffee before taking a sip.
Bitsy Barnes continued kneading the dough on the stainless steel counter. “I’ve been standing at this counter every morning making sweet rolls for over thirty years, Lilly Jean; been working in this diner since I was practically a baby. How much time you got invested in a kitchen?”
Lilly Jean laughed and lit a cigarette. “I’m here every day, ain’t I?”
“Drinking my coffee, slowing me down, and filling my kitchen with smoke. Put that thing out.” Bitsy shoved a saucer towards Lilly Jean. “You trying to shut me down?” She tried to act indignant, but the truth was, Bitsy would welcome a visit from the health inspector.
Lilly Jean took a long drag from her cigarette and flicked ash onto the plate. “You put in too much salt.”
“I didn’t either.”
Spank, the old busybody, hustled over and took a pinch of dough between his thumb and index finger. He stuck out his tongue and set the dough there, closing his eyes as he did so.
“It ain’t a communion wafer, Spank,” Lilly Jean said. “Hell’s bells, it looks like you’re having a religious experience over there.”
Spank opened his eyes. Frowned. “You feelin’ alright, Bitsy?”
“Told you it was spoiled.”
Bitsy wanted to smack that satisfied grin right off Lilly Jean’s face. “The dough isn’t spoiled.”
“You ain’t never messed up the dough before, Bits. You sure you’re not ill?”
“I’m fine. The dough’s fine,” Bitsy said, although she knew that Spank wouldn’t lie to her.
“Get yourself a cup of coffee,” Spank said. “Set a spell with Lilly Jean. I’ll make up a fresh batch.”
“Spank’s never made sweet rolls before,” Lilly Jean said.
“Any idiot can make sweet rolls, Lilly Jean.” Spank grasped Bitsy’s elbow and led her to a folding chair next to Lilly Jean’s. He poured her a cup of coffee and handed it to her. “Take a break. You been working too hard.”
Bitsy watched Spank measure out flour into a mixing bowl. He was right: Anyone could make sweet rolls. There wasn’t anything special about her.
“Something wrong with you?” Lilly Jean hissed. “You going through the change, Bitsy?”
Spank reached up on top of the refrigerator and switched on the radio
“I’m thirty-two years old, Lilly Jean. I ain’t going through any change.”
“Well, maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you need a change. You need to clean up your diet for starters. Move your fat ass once in awhile. Hell’s bells, woman, I never see you outside a of this diner.”
“I own the diner, Lilly Jean.”
“Hire someone, for God’s sake. Is there no one besides Bitsy Barnes who can throw some flour in a bowl?” She paused and lit another cigarette. “Take care of yourself, woman. You need to lose some weight. Get out there and get some highlights in that hair.” Lilly Jean inspected Bitsy’s head. “I think I see some gray in there.”
“More than likely that’s flour, Lilly Jean, ‘cause I know I don’t have a gray hair on my head.” It was a known fact that Lilly Jean sneaked out of town every six weeks to have her roots colored.
“Maybe get some of them nail tips, too.”
Bitsy looked at her stubby fingernails, chewed to the quick.
Lilly Jean giggled.
“What about a tat?”
Spank looked up from the dough, a great smile plastered across his face.
“A what, Lilly Jean?”
“A tattoo! You could get a tattoo! With me!” When she got overly-excited, Lilly Jean began to speak in exclamation points. “Together!”
“You’re shitting me, Lilly Jean.”
“All the girls are getting them.”
“I don’t need a tattoo, Lilly Jean.”
“What you need, Bitsy, is a man. And I’m tryin’ to tell you how to get your hands on one.”
“I don’t need a man either, Lilly Jean.”
Lilly Jean raised an eyebrow. “Then what’s all this business about? You mess up the sweet rolls. You tell me you want to lose weight and get a new hair style.”
“There’s a tattoo artist down in Wheeling. I’m making you an appointment right now.” Lilly Jean pulled out her cell phone.
“Put that thing away, Lilly Jean. Last thing I want is some kind of coloration in my skin.”
“What is it that you do want then, Bitsy?”
“I want...” Bitsy looked around the diner. It looked sad today; dumpy; ancient and dull like the old abandoned Lincoln at the top of the hill. “I guess I’m bored. I guess I’m just tired of Bitsy Barnes.”
“Look at that.” Lilly Jean pointed.
“I’ve got poison ivy.”
“You have not. You’re trying to escape yourself.” In addition to being the self-appointed local interpreter of dreams, Lilly Jean Jacobs prided herself on being an amateur psychologist. “It’s a sad man, my friend, who’s livin’ in his own skin and can’t stand the company. That’s Bruce Springsteen, Spank, just in case you’re wondering.”
Bitsy stood. “I’ve got to get to work. Breakfast isn’t going to cook itself.”
“And the sidewalk ain’t going to sweep itself neither, Bitsy,” Spank said, giving the dough a final push before setting it in a bowl to rise. “Them walnuts all fell off during the storm last night. Someone liable to trip on them and sue you.”
Bitsy sighed and grabbed a basket before stepping into the darkness of the early morning. Spank was right: The sidewalk was littered with the fruit of the black walnut tree that grew outside the diner. Soon enough, she knew, their outer shells would rot and fall away; revealing the perfect walnuts inside. Every year, she gathered them up for Jonathan Fowler, who would repay her in chickens.
Damn Lilly Jean Jacobs and her stupid songs. Bitsy was generally a happy woman; a content woman. She wasn’t sad or pathetic or whatever it was that Lilly Jean was suggesting. Yet she was no more comfortable in her skin than, say, those walnuts that emerged from their shells every year. Hell, even Lilly Jean changed once in awhile and she claimed to be the happiest woman alive, after having married Daddy Sheriff. Bitsy narrowed her eyes. Why she put up with Lilly Jean Jacobs was a mystery—The woman was a snake. But even snakes had to shed their skin every so often. Bitsy walked back inside the warmth of the diner, the pungent odor of walnuts on her skin.
“Know what I think, Lilly Jean?”
Lilly Jean looked up expectantly. “You want me to make you that appointment for you?”
“I think it’s a good sign, when a person is uncomfortable in her own skin. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or sad. It means it’s time to change.”
Lilly Jean’s hands fluttered about her face, the way she allowed them to whenever she felt threatened. “What are you saying, Bitsy?”
“I’m saying that Bruce Springsteen is full of shit.”
Lilly Jean dropped her cup of coffee on the floor. Spank looked at Bitsy and winked.
Labels: Fiction, Indie Ink