Hi folks. This will be my last blog post of 2010. It is the beginning of a story that I plan to develop into a novel. One of my secrets in writing is to put myself in the scene and write it as if I was actually there. In this case, it was easy because this scene is set in a donut shop. Colleen, the main character is working the graveyard shift, something I did for a year in northern Ontario. This is based on a true story whereby, I was working one shift when a distraught woman rushed into the shop to use a phone…
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season. Make lots of good memories! Cheers.
Deep into Midnight
The counter tops were spotless. Colleen prided herself in keeping the donut shop clean. Before having worked on the midnight shift, she’d never considered just how much work was involved.
There were fewer customers to serve, outside of those stopping in after the bars had closed for a coffee and a donut to sober up before driving or staggering home. After the bar crowd cleared out, aside from the odd policeman, taxi driver or truck driver, the place was relatively empty until the morning rush started at about 6 a.m.
Colleen’s job was to make the chili and soup, bag the day-olds, and remove the empty trays from the front display case to clean the shelves and the glass. She replaced the box of milk and cream for the dispenser – a heavy job. Sometimes, when the baker was feeling particularly kind, he’d do that for her… if she felt like asking. Usually she did it herself.
She removed the trays of donuts to wipe down the shelves and prepare for the next batch, washed the ashtrays, filled the sugar dispensers, put together cardboard boxes for takeout donuts, swept the mats, washed the floors and cleaned the bathrooms. Working the graveyard shift had become a welcome distraction from her worries.
Colleen glanced at the clock. It was almost 3:30 am and her shift was barely halfway finished. She was ready to go home. This shift had been a particularly slow one. It was early February in northern Ontario and most people were at home in bed where it was warm. Driving conditions were treacherous, so traffic on Hwy 11 was quiet.
She didn’t look up at first when the next customer walked in. Absorbed by her thoughts, she had been staring at the rag in her hand, wiping in a circular motion on the already clean counter. When the draft of icy air from the opened door swirled around her ankles she raised her head.
A young woman stood across from her staring at her with a dirty, tear-stained face. She was chewing a huge wad of gum. Long black hair tumbled from beneath the furry hood on her parka. There was fresh snow speckled across the fur. She couldn’t have been much older than 16. An old green pick-up truck sped from the parking lot, sending snow flying behind it. The driver accelerated onto the highway, fishtailing on an icy patch. He regained control and the red tail lights eventually disappeared.
Colleen was still wiping the counter and the girl was staring at her, frowning.
“Can I help you?” Colleen was afraid to ask.
The girl peeled off her ragged mittens and tossed them on the counter beside Colleen’s rag. They fell to the floor.
“For fuck sakes!” she said, bending to retrieve them. Snow that had been caked on her boots had left a messy trail on the floor that Colleen had just finished mopping. She was more concerned about the floor than this girl, who was obviously in distress.
The girl tossed her mittens back on the counter, blew a bubble with her gum and popped it loudly. Impatiently, she asked, “Ya got a phone I can use?” She glanced at the phone on the wall behind the counter and then back at Colleen. “Lorraine, here.” She extended a hand towards Colleen rather impertinently, but it was ignored.
Colleen forgot about wiping the counter and the wet floor for a second. This girl was going to be a handful.
“So? The phone? Can I…?” she asked again, popping another bubble. “Before that asshole in the truck comes back.”
Colleen wished the bubble had become stuck in the long straggly hair that partially covered the girl’s face. She reeked of cigarette smoke and there was alcohol on her breath.
“A little young to be drinking aren’t you?” Colleen ignored her request to use the phone.
The girl stood there, staring at her, chewing her gum. “Who’s asking?” The girl’s eyes dropped to the name tag pinned on her uniform.
“Colleen. Can I please use the phone?” She pushed her hood back off her head, giving the impression that she wasn’t intending on leaving until her request was made good.
Colleen motioned for Lorraine to follow her behind the counter where she left her to dial the number, but not before making sure it wasn’t a long distance call. Hanging up on her had lead to another awkward moment. There was something about this girl that pushed Colleen beyond her comfort zone.
Lou, the baker, was in the back standing over the fryer. Three dozen cake donuts were floating in the oil, sizzling. He was expertly flipping each one over to reveal a nicely browned donut that, after cooling on the rack, would be ready for icing. Kim, the decorator was sitting in the corner on a stool, engrossed in a Stephen King novel.
Lou never looked up when Colleen strolled in and leaned against the wall, all the while keeping her eye on the girl who was on the phone. Lorraine’s gestures were animated; it was obvious she was upset. Her back was turned towards Colleen but there was no mistake about the nature of her call.
“I told you…!” She cried, bending her knees and throwing her head forward. Her long hair spilled towards the floor, narrowly missing the chocolate croissants in the front showcase.
“… I couldn’t sleep. It happened again and I had to get out of there. I went for a walk and some guy offered…” She was interrupted by the person on the other end of the line and she stood there tapping her foot, waiting for them to finish.
“Yes, I realize what time it is, mother!” She heaved a loud sigh and put her hand on her hip.
“So what? I’ve seen him around school before so it’s not like he’s a total stranger. Nick’s a nice guy so I figured what the heck. I needed someone who would listen to me.”
Another pause. Colleen was listening intently now. Even Lou had glanced up a couple of times to tune into the conversation. Kim was still reading in her corner.
“Nothing happened. Well, not really….” She giggled, then.
“Here it comes,” thought Colleen wryly.
“After driving for a while we parked at the library to chat. He pulled out a couple of beer and we had a drink. I was upset and crying, so he comforted me. That’s when the stupid jerk tried to put his freakin’ hand…”
Another interruption. Lorraine spun around, realizing that Colleen and Lou were listening to her conversation. She finished the rest of her call in loud whispers, before slamming the receiver back down on the hook.
Colleen had since returned to the front of the shop to serve a new customer, straining to make out the rest of the call, but to no avail. She was so distracted that she forgot to put cream in the customer’s coffee. The customer didn’t even notice until they’d taken the first sip, as they too were engrossed in this young girl’s mysterious phone conversation.
Lorraine marched behind Colleen as she was getting the cream for her customer. “Thanks for the use of the phone.” Her head was down and she avoided Colleen’s gaze.
Colleen had a feeling she was crying. Lorraine continued down the hall, left through the side door and started across the parking lot. Heavy snow had begun to fall and if it hadn’t been for the uncertainty in the air, Colleen would have loved to stand at the window and watch. Instead, she was reminded that Lorraine had left her mittens on the counter. She went to retrieve them and dashed to the door calling her name and waving the mittens in the air.
Lorraine threw up her arms in frustration and began to trudge back towards the donut shop. Colleen wondered what was keeping this girl from sleeping. What could have upset her so much that she had wandered out in the middle of a freezing cold winter’s night and accept a ride from a guy she hardly knew?
Photo Credit: Kirill Tryaskin