Maude was what you might call a real character. Everyone at the Waffle Shack loved her, even thought she had only worked there for a few months. She had quickly become a fixture, and had made her mark.
She would gladly pick up a shift for someone who wanted or needed some time off, and was affectionately called “moms” by the younger employees.
She looked to be in her mid-sixties and if you were being gracious, she could be described as a “stout woman.” Short, curly grey hair framed her face and her pink, cat-eye horn-rimmed rhinestone-studded glasses looked like a throwback from the fifties.
Her favorite customers were a group of police officers who stopped by every morning before their watch. They always left her two dollars each, whether they had time for a full breakfast, or simply relished a cup of fresh coffee that she had brewed just for them.
She called them “her boys.” There was Richie, Chris, Gary and Floyd. Floyd was the seasoned old-timer and after 38 years of service, was just a few months away from retirement. Amidst the chatter of their walkies, they talked and told jokes. Floyd, having been around the longest, knew the best ones. He would laterally have the other guys rolling in the booth with laughter. Maude thought it must be some sort of release. She knew the kind of dangers and ugliness they faced every day, not to mention potentially facing their own mortality.
Richie was married to a wonderful woman named Kathleen, who he absolutely adored. They met in high school and theirs’ was what everyone called a perfect marriage.
Chris was the youngest. He was a tall, handsome, self-proclaimed Don Juan, who as he put it with a wink and a grin, was “single, free and on the prowl.” The other guys just called him “the pup.”
Floyd was divorced, had two grown children and five grand-children. As he proudly showed pictures of each one, he said “let me tell you something boys. Grand-babies will either keep you young or send you to an early grave.”
Gary and his wife Grace had been married for three years and were expecting their first baby. They decided not to learn the sex of the child because they wanted it to be a surprise. Gary took some good-natured teasing and suffered the threat of getting a football with a pink ribbon tied around it at the baby shower, which was coming up that weekend.
Floyd asked Maude once if there was a “Mr. Maude or any little Maude-etts at home.” She just smiled and said “no.” Floyd was adept at reading people, and knew when questions made someone uncomfortable. He suspected that Maude had a story, but he didn’t press her.
One day, Maude noticed that Chris was staring at her. Using her sense of humor, she asked if he’d like a picture. She said, “it’ll last longer.” Chris laughed and said, “sorry, but you know what, Maude? Your voice just doesn’t match you.” When she asked what he meant, he said “I don’t know. Something about your voice just doesn’t match you.”
Maude said “honey, I have heard that all my life. I have these young whippersnappers flirting with me on the telephone when I’m ordering something, and then they tell me they want to make the delivery in person. I laugh and tell them that they’ll be a might disappointed when they get here.”
Gary asked what brought her to this “miserable place.” She said “it used to be home.” She pointed and said, “I grew up in a house just on the other side of that hill. My great-great grandfather built it, and he still lives there.”
It took her boys a few seconds to get that she was pulling their leg. They laughed as they threw down the two dollar tips, and said “that was a good one, Maude.” As they were leaving, she heard one of the walkies say “code 10-72.” Chris said “that’s us guys.” Maude watched as they ran to their patrol car.
She had her own language when it came to the influx of patrons who descended on the Waffle Shack during rush time. She would alert the cook with “a deuce in the booth” or “triplets in the corner” or “a quarter that isn’t here for the music in the jukebox.”
If someone came in by themselves; she would walk up to the cook and quietly say, “we have a lonesome dove.” She saw no need to announce a “single” because she knew how it felt to eat alone, to live alone, and to be alone.
There was one regular lonesome dove. He always sat quietly and almost invisibly, in the very back booth behind her boys. He never said anything, but he seemed to listen to everything everyone said.
She would bring him more coffee when he motioned, but he rarely made eye contact. Maude was never one to initiate a conversation when someone looked like they wanted to be left alone, and he looked like he wanted to be left alone.
Maude found him interesting. He wasn’t traditionally handsome but there was an alluring aloofness about him. He always politely removed his baseball cap when he came in, and when he did, a shock of jet black hair was revealed. His face was a veritable road map of wrinkles that could possibly be the result of grief, sorrow or just plain hard living.
The next morning, Maude’s boys came in and Chris looked a bit disheveled and haggard. He had been up all night, working a drive-by shooting between two rival gangs. A little 12 year old girl was caught in the crossfire. She was shot in the head and died a few hours later. Even though everyone knew who the gang leaders were, “no one saw anything.”
Even though Chris didn’t have children of his own, he was clearly shaken. It wasn’t the first time he had seen death, but it was the first time he had witnessed the horror of seeing a child’s life having been snuffed out by a senseless, brutal act.
The next morning, the firefighters who were at the scene put a boot in their station for collections to help the family, and Chris was the first to stop by to make a donation.
To be continued______________
This a previous story, with a little tidying up.