Dawton Diner - Chapter Two
SHECKIE GETS A PROMOTION
Sheckie got a promotion. Before opening time. Well, they all get in early. Every morning he and Ruby and Chef Belsen have work to do to make sure they’re fully prepared for the breakfast rush. After that’s done, they have coffee together, sitting at the long wood table where they don’t talk, just sip coffee and sigh and wait for the clock hands to read five minutes to six. That’s when Ruby usually goes Out Front to open up. But this morning Ruby has told Sheckie to stand up, he is going Out Front with her this morning because he has THINGS TO LEARN. In typical Ruby style, she has grabbed Sheckie’s sleeve and shoved her face right up into his, saying loudly, right at him, You’re going to have to work harder. Sheckie wonders how he's supposed to do that when the whole time he’s here, he’s working hard. He decided it was best to just stand still and prepare to face whatever Ruby is going to tell him. She’s the one who has taught him his job and never told him wrong. So he always listens to her. Now she is saying, I’m tired of bussing the slop bins, Sheckie. Sheckie immediately turned to go out the back door, where he knew the fresh slop bin was kept. But Ruby tugged his sleeve and tch’d at him, saying, No, you overgrown Dumbo. -- ‘Dumbo’ always made Sheckie grin because he knows Dumbo is an elephant and can’t picture how you could grow over one, they’re so big, so it makes him grin. -- STOP GRINNING, Ruby yelled at him in her losing-patience-bellow. Then her voice dropped and she just sounded tired. I’m not talking about trash cans, she said. Scheckie shuffled his feet nervously. SLOP BINS! Ruby's nervous bellow again. She grabbed two of the gray plastic tubs she uses to bring in the dirty dishes and is thrusting them at him. Sheckie only stood, blinking, a worry frown dividing his forehead in a deep divot. DIRTY DISHES, Ruby bellowed again. Sheckie pivoted, about to step over to the dishwasher but Ruby grabbed him by the ear this time and pivoted him back. Before she could start again, Chef Belsen’s voice was heard over the rattling he was giving his newspaper. Maybe, he said in his low gravelly voice, you should just tell him, Ruby, instead of bellowing. Maybe that would be less - noisy. He shook out his newspaper, noisily, and turned back to his coffee to take a large slurp, noisily. Ruby curbed a smile, tugged at Sheckie’s sleeve and continued, in a regular voice. You have to start bringing in the dirty dishes from Out Front. My back is too bad. I can’t do it anymore. You’ll have to do it from now on. As well as keeping the dishes washed and stacked and the silverware and kitchenware in order, clean and sorted. And scrubbing all Chef Belsen’s pots and pans and cooking utensils. Just like you’ve been doing. But you’ll have to work harder to GET IT DONE RIGHT! She'd slipped back into bellow mode and instantly Chef Belsen snapped his newspaper with a loud crack and banged his empty coffee cup on the table, signaling his need for more coffee. Ruby rubbed Scheckie’s back for a brief moment, repeating, Just like you’ve been doing only you’ll have more work to do and so you'll have to work harder to keep up. Sheckie’d rubbed his ear and smiled, tentatively. Ruby’d turned him around twice, eyeing him from top to toe as she did. As she pulled him to a stop, she leaned in once more, speaking directly to him. I’m going to take you Out Front with me before I open up today. To show you what you'll be doing. So now, go, she shoved him toward the back of the kitchen. Go put on a clean apron and comb your hair. Whenever you are going to go out front, you have to make a good impression with a clean apron and having neatly combed hair. Go, go, go. It’s getting late! Sheckie was distressed. He was scared. He didn’t know why exactly, but he stared at her as he began to tremble. No, no, Ruby said, shaking her head and rubbing his back more roughly. He’d learned from experience that this is Ruby’s way of showing tenderness. Moderating her usual loud voice she reassured him now. Don’t worry. I ’ll show you what to do. But Sheckie never has been Out Front. He first came to the back door when applying for this job and only ever has used the back door since then. He has no idea what ‘Out Front’ looks like. Mrs. Curtin’s Rooming House is the only other place he knows here in Dawton. Just like The Home is where he’d spent his whole life before Lady Marian died and he’d had to come to Dawton. The only way he could have seen what Out Front looks like would be to catch a peek out the swing door Ruby uses when she comes in to slap check-orders down in front of Chef Belsen or pick up the orders when they’re ready or bring Sheckie the tubs of dirty dishes. And she’s warned him to STAY AWAY from the door. Because, she said, you’ll never know if I’m about to come though it and one of us could get hit. Or worse, you could knock me down. Sheckie had begun to tremble and shake when she'd said that, and Ruby had just gone into bellow mode, yelling, SO DON’T EVER STAND THERE while banging on his back. But she had said this again and again and so he never has. Anyway, they were all too busy for him to be peeking at anything that wasn’t part of his job. His work. Except when it slowed down between breakfast and lunch and then they all had another cup of coffee along with any doughnuts or pastry left over from the day before. As for coming to the Diner by the front and coming in the front door? Sheckie couldn’t even imagine doing it. And now Ruby had her hand in his back and was pushing him, and he had no choice but to head into the back room next to the freezer to get a clean apron and tend to his hair. As he hurries ahead of Ruby’s poking finger, he tries to sort out his confusion. He knows there are no tables Out Front. He doesn’t know how often he’s heard Ruby bellowing, THANK GOD WE DON’T HAVE TABLES OR I’D BE RUN OFF MY FEET. THAT COUNTER IS ALL I CAN HANDLE. He asked her once what a counter was. Because he can count and he knows everyone except littlest of little kids count so he doesn’t know why there should be a counter Out Front. He was going to ask, but Chef Belson interrupted before she could answer, saying that was for Ruby to know, not Sheckie, who should just get his ass back to work. Sheckie thinks Chef Belson is rude. A good cook, but rude. Sheckie hasn’t the curiosity to ask again. Mostly, Sheckie isn’t curious. As a matter of choice. Because he learned early that it doesn’t pay off. People don’t like you nosing around. ‘Nosing around’ is what Lady Marian called it. And besides, here in the diner, he has enough to do, scrubbing pots and pans or tending to the stacking of clean china or sorting clean silverware or doing scraping, rinsing, loading and unloading the dishwasher and tending to the trash cans. Which he personally thinks of as slop bins. They had had bins for slops at the Home. ‘Garbitch,’ the cook there called it. Sheckie knows part of that word is bad because Lady Marian heard him, Scheckie, say it once and she twisted his nose and told him so, saying he was never to say it again. So he never has. He couldn’t figure how it was all right for the cook and not him, but he learned not to pay any mind to things like that because they only bothered his head. As long as he knows the Right things to do and does them, he is okay. Lady Marian told him that, too. But it is upsetting a little, because he thought he knew what slop (not garbitch) was. He knows he empties slops into the tall barrel that sits next to the dishwasher. Everything he scrapes off the dishes and the pots and pans is slops, and goes in there. When it gets full or stinks too much, he pulls out the bag and knots it and lugs it out to the dumpster in the alley. He rotates two barrels, rinsing the one he empties and letting it dry while he uses the other. It’s nice, having the two barrels. Makes it neat. He likes that. But he’s always called the barrel a slop bin and now he can’t. Not out loud. Maybe better not at all. Because now Ruby’s said that that name belongs to the tubs for the dirty dishes. He doesn’t know. But he knows he doesn’t know, so he turns back to stand looking at Ruby. Who screws up her face at him and bellows, NOW! CLEAN APRON AND COMBED HAIR! NOW! Sheckie continues on his way, jogging now, to the little toilet-locker room at the back of the kitchen. He selects a fresh apron from the stack on the shelves by the lockers and puts it on. He does run his fingers through his hair. He’d always had a buzz cut before. He loves that name because it makes him giggle and he likes the feeling when he giggles. But Perry, the man who cuts his hair now, said a buzz cut wasn’t a young man’s haircut. So Sheckie has longer hair now. And he has shampoo. And a comb and brush set. All of which Perry gave him. He keeps them on what Mrs. Curtin calls his burro. He’s always thought a burro was an animal like a horse but smaller and not as good. Ever since he got here, he’s been learning new things. All the time. This was one more and he just stored the word, burro, as the right name for the box thing with drawers. But doesn’t use it out loud. It’s where he keeps the shampoo and the comb and brush set. On top of the burro. And the idea of keeping things on top of a burro makes him giggle, which is nice. He uses the shampoo. But not the comb and brush set. It was brand new when he got it. It has only ever belonged to him and it’s the only thing he’s ever had like that. The nicest thing. Apart from Squiggles. And she’s a dog, not a thing. Put the comb and brush set is much too good to use. So he uses his fingers to comb his hair. Besides, he heard Perry call it ‘finger combing’ once when he was waiting for his haircut. Perry had been busy cutting the woman Sylvie’s hair and chatting with her. And he called it that. So Scheckie does that. Uses his fingers. SHECKIE!! Ruby is yelling for him. He checks to make sure the apron strings are wrapped around him twice with the ends tied neatly over the place where his belly button, checks his hair again in the mirror, and considers that he’s done what Ruby has asked. Ruby is at the back door sneaking a cigarette with Chef Belsen. Sheckie doesn’t like the smell of cigarettes. At the Home, a lot of the big kids snuck smoking and they used to put their cigarettes out on Scheckie. Because, they said, Sheckie just made them mad. Sheckie never knew what he did to make that happen. He’s just hated the smell ever since then. And Ruby knows it, so she’s fast to dump her cigarette, coming over then to twirl Sheckie around and check how he looks. She gives a brush to his hair with her hand and pronounces him, ACCEPTABLE. Turning him to face the swinging door, she keeps a hand on his shoulder as she ushers him Out Front, saying as they go, You pick up the full slop bins from under the counter and take them to the kitchen. You empty them, wash them down, dry them and bring them right back out here. Chef Belsen knows so don’t worry about him. Just remember to have on a clean apron whenever you come Out Front. And comb your hair. You’re going to be meeting The Public now. You have to be presentable. Sheckie’s mind is reeling. The walls are all windows out here. All glass. He can see the street outside. And where is The Counter? How can slop tubs be under The Counter anyway? How is that possible? And what should he say? To the Counter? And oh Gummy, what is The Puhblick? --- A new chapter in Sheckie’s life has rolled into place and opened up before him.