Jane and Sheila wait tables at Mazzio’s Italian Restaurant. All the customers pronounce it “Eye-talian.” Jane and Sheila are on their cigarette break, out back in the alley by the dumpster. They’ve stuck a rock in front of the door to keep from getting locked out.
“Lordy, it’s cold out here,” Sheila says. She’s hopping from foot to foot, taking quick drags of her cigarette. She has a large head and a skinny body. To Jane, she resembles a praying mantis.
“I think it feels good,” Jane says. Both women are wearing polyester peasant blouses and wraparound skirts and bright yellow aprons. They smell of garlic and tobacco. For a bit, the only sound is them sucking on their cigarettes and blowing. Every time they exhale it comes out as a heavy sigh and they look at each other and laugh.
A car turns down the alley and parks in the lot. Two men get out. The driver sways a little, waves to Jane and Sheila. “Hiya ladies!” He shouts. He’s dressed in a cowboy outfit.
“I think they’re coming over,” Sheila says and flicks her cigarette to the ground and steps on it. She pulls the back door to Mazzio’s open. Warmth and light and noise waft out. “You coming?”
Jane is smiling at the approaching men. The other guy is shorter and not stumbling at all, but his hands are in constant motion, like he’s shooing away flies.
Sheila lets the door swing shut. It bounces once before it settles against the rock. She folds her arms across her chest. “Drunks,” she says, “no goodniks.”
“Hello,” Jane says to the cowboy.
“Oh give me strength,” Sheila mutters.
He takes off his hat and sweeps his arm around as he bows. He nearly falls over. The short man flaps his hand around his face. Jane laughs and imitates him. He says nothing.
“Well, the food’s awful here, you guys. We should know we work here!” She laughs again. Sheila elbows her.
The cowboy comes up close, leans down nose to nose with Jane. “Let us buy you dinner tonight. I got wads of cash.” He tries to pull his wallet out of his back pocket, gives up. He looks over at Sheila. “I believe you could use a good feed.”
Sheila grabs Jane. “We’re going in now.”
The short man clears his throat and screams, “Mother!”
The women jump. The cowboy doubles over, his hands on his knees.
“Fucker!” The short man screams.
“Holy cats, what is wrong with you?” Sheila says.
“He wants to date you,” the cowboy manages to say. He’s still laughing. Jane is afraid he’s going to puke.
The short man waves his hand around. “Sorry,” he mutters.
The cowboy clasps his hand over Jane’s shoulder. “You’re shaking like a leaf, darlin’.”
“Fucker!” The short man screams again.
“What’s up with your friend?” Jane says.
The cowboy squeezes Jane’s shoulder. Jane decides he has a nice face, though under the alley light the hat looks like it’s made of plastic, like he won it at the State Fair.
“I’m sorry,” the short man mutters. He shoves his hands into his pockets.
The cowboy leans in to kiss Jane. She turns her face away. Sheila tugs on her elbow.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” The short man again.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d watch your language,” Sheila says.
“He wants to date you,” the cowboy laughs. “And I want to date your friend here.”
“Oh for the love of…” Sheila says. The short man is behind the cowboy now, taking swipes at his hat. Finally, he connects and the hat flies off, the plastic scraping across the pavement. The cowboy swings around and belts the short man in the mouth.
“Fuckin’ freak,” the cowboy says. He stumbles back to his car, throws the door open and falls in.
“You okay, fella?” Jane asks the short man. She bends down and dabs at his mouth with the corner of her apron.
“I’m okay,” he says.
“Mister, you shouldn’t cuss like you do,” Sheila says. She pulls the door open. “Come on, Jane.”
Jane dabs at the man’s mouth. The blood soaks into her apron and spreads. “You might need a stitch,” she says.
The man closes his eyes. “You are kind,” he says. Jane looks at Sheila. “I mean it.” He touches Jane’s arm. “All the good people in the world, they could fit inside your restaurant here.”
“Well, what do you know?” Sheila says. “He’s civilized after all.”
“Help me out, Sheila. Let’s get him inside. Chuck can drive him to emergency. Get him fixed up.”
“I don’t know,” Sheila says. “He’s mental or something.”
The women hoist him to standing. The man shakes his hand away and swats at the air.
“Settle down,” Jane says, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it. “Just settle down now.”