The Cud Chewer
By: David Flynn | Posted on: Summer 2019
Gina watched the old man carefully. He wore sunglasses, a felt hat, and a red bandana around his neck.
His neck was layer after layer of wattles. His hair was gray, a few long strands combed in a mane. His rheumy eyes glared at her. Or at least she thought they glared behind the dark lenses.
Eggs sunny side, hash browns, a biscuit, he barked. His voice was nasal. He turned away from the waitress. She smelt strong whiskey breath. It was just past 11 a.m.
She put her order on the counter, and Jaime, the illegal immigrant, started cooking. Nobody else was in the café except the owner, who stood behind the cash register.
He’s famous, the old box said. A rock star. I used to have an album of his, vinyl of course.
Rock died thirty years ago. So why didn’t he?
Don’t be cruel. He’s a customer. Might give you a big tip.
Gina had just turned 25, and was without hope. She’d had one boyfriend in those years, a skinny, ugly guy with acne way past the usual years. She hadn’t liked him, but he was male. That lasted six months. Twice they had sex, her first and second and last so far. She lived alone in a one room apartment, no car, debts up to her chin. Did her own dirty blonde hair in a bun. Gave a damn about anything, everything, and everybody. She considered suicide one bleak Saturday night about a month before, but still liked country fried steak, cool fall days, and country singers with fake accents. Crap like that. Not life. Just crap.
She smiled at the ‘star’ when she laid the plates in front of him. He didn’t look at her, but lifted the fork.
Enjoy, she said. He didn’t say a word. He chewed his cud. At least that’s what she thought. His thin old lips circulating as if he already had food inside that stinking mouth.
You know, this does it. I gave up on anything good five years ago. People, music, cars, they all just break down and rot. What’s that geezer’s name?
Bling. Bling Bailey. BB. He had two hits forty years ago. Filled the auditorium last night I bet, the owner told her by the cash register.
Fellow geezers I’d guess. I think I’ve heard of him. Not sure. Does nothing for me.
Less and less every day.
The apparition, like a zombie, rose from his seat which screeched. He brought his check.
Yessir, Mr. Bailey. I hope you enjoyed the food, the owner said.
It was O.K. , his nasal voice mumbled. Gina didn’t like his attitude, which was snobby. She didn’t let anybody look down on her. Here stood a rich, spoiled rock relic in his sunglasses, felt hat and red bandana, as if anybody below the age of 60 would recognize him, and he didn’t even turn that mole-specked face her way.
Tip? The owner asked. He had entered the bill in the electronic register.
Zero. I don’t tip.
Shit, Gina said. I got to buy food today. Asshole.
The owner, she could tell, was shocked. The ‘star’ just signed the ticket, gave her a superior glance, and started for the door. That is when she had had it.
Has been! No talent! Freak! Ugly drunk! Rich rock snob! Lie!
She followed him out to the parking lot. A taxi waited, and had waited while he ate.
Impotent nothing! You’re so far in the past, man, you’re historical! Die soon.
The man entered the taxi, slammed the door, and it sped away. She threw her order pad at him, then had to pick it off the asphalt.
I ought to fire you, the owner said, waiting at the door. He really was pissed off.
You ought to, Gina said. And I ought to quit. No tip. That rich jerk could buy this place and not even notice the money was gone. I am one day’s pay away from being kicked out on the street. He’s lucky I didn’t beat the hell out of that little coward so he couldn’t play his concerts. Break his hands.
Calm down, Gina. Just calm down. He’s gone. I doubt if he’s coming back.
She was breathing hard. Her fists were clenched. She realized her teeth were clenched too.
I could have killed that arrogant shit. I don’t take anybody looking down on me.
And she could have killed him. She knew deep inside she could have. A kitchen knife. A chair from one of the empty tables.
Calm. Down. Now get ready for the lunch rush.
Yeah, rush, she thought. Maybe three tables worth. This place is going down. I’ve got to find a better job.
Alone, the owner back in the kitchen with Jaime, Gina started crying. There was no hope. That monster had made her feel like dirt. She was dirt. She would always be dirt. All she could do was wait, as in wait tables. Then die some day early. It wasn’t feeling sorry for her; she’d never done that. It was knowing what was coming. There was a level of people flowing up above, and a level of people in the middle holding them up. Then there was the low level under the weight of all those people, and in that low level was her. Forget dreams. Dreams just made for fools. Day by day, lunch rush by lunch rush. Breathe, Gina. Breathe.
A couple of men came in the door, and sat at a table. Construction workers she guessed.
What will you have? Gina asked, smiling.
A plate of you, honey, one said.
She took his water and poured it over his head. She threw her pad in his face, and walked out the door.
David Flynn was born in the textile mill company town of Bemis, TN. His jobs have included newspaper reporter, magazine editor and university teacher. He has five degrees and is both a Fulbright Senior Scholar and a Fulbright Senior Specialist with a recent grant in Indonesia. His literary publications total more than two hundred. He currently lives in Nashville, TN, where he is director of the Musicians Reunion, an annual blues festival now in its 36th year. He also teaches at Belmont University in the English and Asian Studies programs.