This is a characterization based on a personal experience and a future short story.
| "Forty-five minutes and hell will be over!" a hefty, middle aged woman bellowed out to no one in particular. Her western drawl evoked pictures of wranglers, chuck wagons, and wild horses.
I jumped in my chair, knocking my knee against the table. It wobbled, rattling the silverware and dumping the salt shaker. She stood rooted in the middle of the restaurant, glaring a hole right through me. Where had she come from? It was as though she had been catapulted from the cocktail bar that spanned the back of the room. Her body sagged, worn out like the out-dated deco around me. She was as frazzled as the faded curtains covering the windows.
Was this the waitress? Her uniform was well-washed brown cordoroy pants that "shooshed" as she walked. An unbuttoned brown patchwork flannel shirt revealed a beige t-shirt pulled tight across her bulges. Her sturdy brown shoes, scuffed at the toes, dragged an untied lace as she marched toward me. I didn't know whether to feel sorry for her or alarmed. I was lost in a remote mountain town minutes to midnight, with a waitress built like a bouncer desperate to call it a day. I wanted to run into the hushed streets outside.
She slapped a menu on the table in front of me. "You look shipwrecked." she said, flipping open her order book.
I peeked at her plain, no-makeup face. Her skin was leathery like an old boot, forgotten in a garden. I hoped the lines carved around her mouth and eyes were laugh lines. She stifled a yawn against the back of her hand. Her deep set eyes were weary and reddened from the cigarette smoke thick enough to eat.
She glanced at the wall clock behind me. "Nothing left but beef stew and that I'll have to scrape from the bottom of the pot." she said, drumming a pencil on her tablet.
I stared at her calloused, liver-spotted hands, the nails chewed short. I gulped and raised my eyes to hers. Was that a twinkle, a flicker of humanity? A smile played around her pale lips. She rocked back and forth on her heels, adjusted a hair net over bushy gray-streaked brown hair, and waited, silent.
"Well, since I'm two hours in the wrong direction, I'll take the stew," I said.
A raspy chuckle let loose deep within her. She patted me on the shoulder. "You poor dear."
A whiff of stale beer, beef stew and sweat tickled my nose. I forced back a sneeze and gave her a weak thanks as she bustled off. I'm sure I saw her wink at the men dotted around the bar, lounging over their beer. Their eyes flickered to her and then to me; they smiled. The kind of smile that hides a secret. Was her gruff exterior just a display for this city slicker? I had forty-fives minutes to find out.