SHECKIE GOES OUT FRONT
Ruby conducted Sheckie through the swinging door. Sheckie stopped short. It was all glass out there. On all three sides it was glass. He was startled. He’d never seen so much glass in a room. Was it safe, was his first thought. And then right in front of him was a long table like had been in The Home’s big room where they all ate. So this was like that, where the food was kept and dished out, only it wasn’t. It wasn’t so wide and there weren’t trays of food or much of anything on this table. Which had arms to it. And he and Ruby were standing inside it.
He looked at Ruby with so many questions in his eyes it was a wonder he could even see her. But Ruby wasn’t stopping - not for Sheckie’s doubts or questions, that was for sure. When he slowed, in wonder and doubt and to look around, she’d just taken him firmly by the arm and stepped him over to the nearest short arm of the table-thing. And then, she'd lifted it! Lifted it right up! Like a door only not. -- Sheckie stopped dead and even Ruby’s insistent pull couldn’t move him. “What’d you DO?” Sheckie was looking at her with shock in his eyes. “You broke it! You broke the table!”
“That is the COUNTER, Sheckie, not a table! And this is the pass through for the counter.”
Scheckie was shaking his head and then nodding and rocking, his only means of self-comfort when the world was too much with him.
“It’s called a FLAP, Scheckie! For goodness sake, haven’t you ever seen...”
And then Ruby’s grip on his arm relaxed and she took a second to rub the back of her neck, first, and then almost as an afterthought, the back of Sheckie’s neck.
“All right, Sheckie. Let’s begin at the beginning. This,” and she made a wide swing of her arm to include the whole of the table-like thing, “is the COUNTER. It’s where everyone who comes here to eat will sit. On those round things.” And she pointed beyond the flap, where, right in front of the counter, were small round topped seats. “They’re called STOOLS, Scheckie. This is the COUNTER, those are the STOOLS, and this - what I just lifted, “ and she raised and lowered the flap, up and back and then up again, holding it there, “is the FLAP. It’s so I can go through and get to the door. It’s how Muckie, the cleaner... .” She stopped and peered at Scheckie. “Do you know Muckie?” She still held the flap-thing up and again had Sheckie by the arm.
“N-n-no. What’s mucky?” Sheckie was getting sweaty. This was a lot. A WHOLE lot. And he wondered if he had to remember all of this and if he would. Or could.
“Yes, Muckie, Sheckie. Muckie - well, that’s not his name. His name is Ben Meeker. He’s an old fella who comes in at night and washes the floors and cleans the stove and the counters out back and this counter and the stools and the windows, when they need it. And all the things back here.” And she turned him to see the coffee maker and the pastry cases and all the other things up against the back wall. Another counter, Sheckie thought, a bit proud of this new word and his remembering it and the meaning for it. But Ruby was going right on.
“Muckie is only here from midnight until 3 in the morning. So you won’t ever see him. Forget I mentioned him. -- But come on now”
Ruby was tugging at Sheckie. And he followed her. Through the FLAP, Sheckie thought, and again felt the thrill of learning and remembering new things. The COUNTER and the FLAP and mucky. A lot of things.
Ruby was hustling him along beside the arm of the counter, taking him right up to the front wall of glass. Sheckie wouldn’t let himself look out much because he felt, well, not naked but SEEN. At least, he could be if people were outside. Because they could see right in. Which seemed a funny thing to do. To make a room for people to be in but to make the walls of glass. Then again, he thought maybe that’d be fun. To sit where you could look out and see who went by and who was on the street and the cars and ---.
Ruby was yanking at him, saying, “Come on now, Sheckie. We haven’t got all day and there’s a lot to show you. I’m going to unlock the door now and while I do, you turn around,“ and she physically turned him around, “and look at the counter and the things that are on it. They’re for the customers - that’s the people who come in to eat here - they are called CUSTOMERS, Sheckie. Remember that. Those things set out on the COUNTER are for the CUSTOMERS. You look and see what you can see and then you tell me what you saw.”
Sheckie swallowed hard and hoped she’d just stop talking so he could try and get things together in his head. And she did. Taking another look at him and shaking her head, she smiled and pinched his cheek and then smacked him on his butt, saying, “Now you look around and you look GOOD, Sheckie.”
And then he heard her behind him but stopped listening and just looked at what was now in front of him. He counted - he could count and count good, the Lady Marion had said so and so had the teachers at The Home. He counted. There were twenty stools altogether. Twelve of them stretched across the front and -- he had taken a step to the side so he could check how many on a side - there were 5 on the left. He figured (he stopped a brief second to feel proud again), he figured there could only be three on the side with the ‘flap.‘ The flap of the counter. There! He had remembered. And he’d counted up the stools too. He turned to find Ruby standing, hands on hips watching him.
“So, Sherlock? How many people can sit at the counter?” She looked at Scheckie expectantly.
“Well. There are 12 of those things here.” And he gestured across the width of the counter in front of them. “And 5 on the side over there but only room for 3 on the side with the ‘flap,’ he paused and looked back at her with equal expectancy until she nodded. “So, I figure that’s 20 of them!”
He beamed at her. He was never sure when she called him “Sherlock” if she’d messed up or if she meant it and if she meant it, who was Sherlock? He decided this would be a question he could ask Mr. Iwi the next time they took Squiggles for a walk. Mr. Iwi liked Squiggles. He always walked her when Scheckie was at work. Then after supper they’d walk her together. He liked Mr. Iwi. He was teaching Scheckie to play checkers. He wasn’t very good at it yet, but Mr. Iwi ... .
But Ruby was stepping up to him now and had again grasped his arm, leading him back to the flap in the counter, gesturing that he should open it - and he did! - and held it so she could go through and then she had to open it again so he could go through. He was nodding. His default when too much was crowding in on him. Nodding and beaming. And sweating. Starting with his head. Ruby looked at him, nodded herself and pushed Scheckie at the swing door to the kitchen.
“I guess that’s enough for now,” she said, half to herself and half to him. She gave him another affectionate push and pinched his ear, saying, “You’re a good boy, Shefield. Lady Marion was right. Now get back in there and GET READY TO WORK!”
And Scheckie went, in shock three times over. At how Ruby’d said he was a good boy. At how she’d used his real for true name. At his knowing now what a counter is. And a flap. And those small round topped seats at the counter - the stools. And how he had counted them. RIGHT! So many things to remember about Out Front. And all that glass. And Mucky. Sheckie wondered how he’d never wondered before about who did clean the place. He didn’t. And Chef Belsen didn’t that’ s for sure! And of course Ruby didn’t. So - it was somebody named Mucky. What an awful name he thought. But Ruby was hurrying him, saying to go change back into his other apron. She called it his “kitchen apron.” And to comb his hair, because, she said, Chef Belsen didn’t need to look at a sloppy worker.
Sheckie didn’t think Chef Belsen ever really LOOKED at him. Chef Belsen was always busy cooking or slamming pots and pans. Or else he was sneaking a smoke at the back door. Or a lot of time he was nipping at the bottle of that stuff he liked to drink that Ruby didn’t know about. It looks like water but burns like fire. Chef Belsen had poured a mouthful into Scheckie’s empty coffee cup one morning when Ruby had gone out front to open up and made Scheckie swallow it and then laughed at the face Scheckie’d made when he choked. And told him NEVER TO TELL. Scheckie wouldn’t, either. He wanted to be here. Whenever Ruby or Chef Belsen talked in big letters, Scheckie knew to pay attention. And obey. Obey was a word he had learned at The Home. To obey. But now he had to hurry. He wanted to have time to think for a bit before the people started coming in. To think about all the things he’s just learned. He wondered what Ruby had meant about “things on the counter.” For the - what did she call them? The people who came to eat here? For them to use. The ‘cussmers’? Something like that. Why would they be called that? he wondered. It sounded like cussing, which was wrong, he knew. He hurried to get his apron changed. And what HAD those things been? On the counter? He can remember there were things, but not what they were. There was still a whole lot to learn. And too, there was all the glass Out Front. What, he wondered, might he have seen if he’d let himself look? Sheckie sighed. A deep sigh. A contented sigh. At all he’d learned and all there was yet to learn. He sighed again. And rocked a bit on his heels.
SHECKIE GOES OUT FRONT