The Waitress Calls Me Luvie
The Cafe Andros is not Greek. It has white, smoothly plastered Romanesque, mirrored arches along one wall. Piped music further confuses the senses. They are mainly old folk at the tables, enmeshed in a low buzz of conversation. At one table is a young woman with a baby. When she moves towards the toilet everyone wants to touch the child. They open like petals.
This is provincial English; even the boss guarding the till is an Anglicized Greek. He is responsible for the bentwood chairs and fake marble tables, the brass fans on the ceiling. They specialise in toasted sandwiches and hot baguettes. The waitress calls me luvie.
At the table behind me is a man with one arm and woman with bad feet and a monologue. He wears a heavily checked jacket with his spare sleeve tucked expertly into his right pocket. He has a neat military moustache, white with nicotine streaks.
She is heavy and dour with a double chin and round eyes like marbles. She wears a navy cardigan with a brown woollen skirt and blue flatties. Her hair is bleached. Her lips rouged. ‘I loathed him,’ she said. ‘Right from the beginning. I would never have married him if it was up to me.’
‘He wasn’t that bad, Liz.’
‘You didn’t live with him for thirty-six years.’
‘Cooking his food. Washing his effing socks. Never a day off.’
‘When you put it like that . . . ”
‘How else can I put it? I’ve been waiting for him to die for thirty-five years. Oh, you can raise your eyebrows but it’s true. The first year I just cried. Every night. Every day. I was at the doctors for dehydration. Then I wanted him to find another woman, someone who could cook, someone who’d’ve given him a life. Because I couldn’t do it. I hardly wanted to live myself, most of the time. Getting bitter, not caring about folk.
‘I couldn’t wake up in the mornings. I’d lie there next to him with my eyes closed telling myself it was a dream, that I was still asleep. I didn’t want to admit another day was starting. Then I’d imagine he wasn’t breathing and I’d hold my breath to listen, see if one of the devils and demons I’d asked to take him off my hands had done the deed.’
She sips from her cup and pulls a face. ‘Cold coffee.’
‘You want a fresh one?’
‘No. I’ve got to go. And then, yesterday, he was halfway through his Weetabix and popped his clogs, just like that. No warning, no goodbyes. Put his spoon down on the table and he was dead. Gone. I sang a little song, Long Haired Lover from Liverpool. He used to sing that the year we got married, he thought that was him, and he did have long hair then. They all did.’
‘Not me, I didn’t. Never had long hair.’
‘No, that’s right. Not you. All the other blokes did, but you didn’t.’
‘Where’re you off to now, girl?’
‘Funeral Director’s. Get him planted. Make sure the job’s done proper. And when it’s all done I’m away to Australia, my sister’s place. I’ve a lot to catch up on.’
They get to their feet and the man looks towards the counter, patting his breast pocket.
‘That’s another thing,’ she says. ‘This big arse.’ She does a twirl looking down at it over her shoulder. ‘That was for him. His idea, ’cause that was what he liked. But all men don’t like big arses, do they, Ken?’
‘What do I know, Liz?’
‘You know about arses; what you like and don’t like. Anybody knows that.’
‘Looks fine to me, girl.’ He glances down at it then turns his attention back to the counter.
Her arse wasn’t huge but it had a sense of detachment about it, as if it lived alone.
‘Well, it’s going anyway,’ she says. ‘His brothers was the same, they all liked big arses, the whole family. Came from Oxford.’ She smacks at her buttocks with the flat of her hand. ‘I’m gonna get the old one back,’ she says. ‘Normal size, like it used to be. One of those aerobic classes. What do you think?’
The waitress comes through from the back and fixes Ken with a broad smile. ‘You all done, luvie?’ she asks.