Hands Come In from Every Direction

Jeanie passed the embryo on a Saturday night in the employee bathroom. She felt a cramp, a sharp pain in her abdomen, and left her tray of wine glasses on the food-line, burgundy residue dotting each stem. The bathroom door was locked—occupied—and she screamed the word emergency as she slapped her palm against the wood. When a sauté cook finally unlatched the door, Jeanie’s eyes were watering. The black under her lashes had smudged into thick paint.

In later conversations, Jeanie will relate the size to a lighter, miniature nail file, jumbo shrimp. She will use a wooden tiki keychain, a souvenir from Hawaii as an example; she will place the thing in her palm and curl her fingers. The jingle of keys reminds her of it and takes her speeding back to the employee bathroom, the cardboard boxes of seat covers and toilet paper stacked in the rightmost corner.

When brought up in circles of secret, Jeanie tells her friends that there was not much blood. She tells them how she stayed home from work one night with cramps, how she crushed up a muscle relaxer and snorted it for the pain, how she used maxi-pads to track her bleeding. She rubs her stomach while she speaks and asks for a grapefruit back to chase her tequila. She thinks of a phrase she used to see on screen-print shirts, key chains, bumper stickers: The only thing a girl should chase is tequila. She thinks of this while taking the shot, hoping the saying might make her feel better.

Tonight is a night like the rest of them. Jeanie walks three blocks from her restaurant to a new Southwestern bar after her shift. She’s convinced a few of her coworkers to come along, including Carla, a new hire from Missouri. Jeanie becomes best friends quickly after work, after drinks. This is her role. The new hires follow her, a pied piper, and go out until they’ve hit a certain limit—a limit they’ll whisper about in the break room the following afternoon. Jeanie is always at the bottom of the deepest whispers. Her quickly made friends are even quicker at leaving her mess and forgetting all about her by the next morning.

Before Carla, it was Teresa—the twenty year-old hostess with her sister’s ID, then Chris, and before that Nancy—a newly divorced mother of two. She used to sleep at Dawn’s apartment until she was caught pocketing some of her designer make-up, hundreds of dollars in a tiny plastic tube.

But tonight, it’s Jeanie and Carla who walk with interlocked arms as they cross the street. They giggle and make fun of another new girl, one who’s fresh out of training with a long face and broad nose.

Horse Face. Ugly bitch, Jeanie says. Horse Face is not invited to drinks tonight. Jeanie hears the girl’s father passed away just last month. She thinks of this as they walk.

Horse Face will not last long at this job. In a few months, after relentless hazing, Horse Face will walk out of the restaurant and scream, I don’t need this—I quit! She will throw her server book at Jeanie and call her a whore, one skinny index finger in Jeanie’s direction.

Carla snickers at the joke and bumps into Jeanie. Her hands latch on to Jeanie’s waist to avoid a fall, and Jeanie flinches.

Watch it, Jeanie snaps as she shoves Carla, sending her flying toward a light post. It’s an accident. Carla’s face changes shapes. She looks at Jeanie like a lost dog.

I’m sorry, Carla says. She reaches out to Jeanie. Lately, it seems like someone is always trying to reach out to her. Hands come in from every direction.

Jeanie laughs it off and makes a random comment about tonight’s shift. She scans through a list of the common complaints, a dialogue that’s been had and had. An exchange that seems utterly pointless on a night like tonight. She only made a hundred. A guest complained about a fruit fly floating in his soy sauce. The kitchen was really backed up. Horse Face didn’t run any drinks. Carla laughs and laughs, a ripple of sneers escape from her glossed-up lips. She adds yeahs and uh-huhs between Jeanie’s words. The talk builds like wildfire, and suddenly their burns fall lower. The expo has herpes lips. A hostess is fucking the late-night Sous Chef.

Inside the bar, an electronic marquee reads that there are four hundred and fifty-six hours until the rodeo. The theme of this whole place feels wrong. They are downtown, minutes from the ocean and the ports, but these little red words are screaming the idea of another place, a vacation. The bartender makes a face like mischief, and shots slide toward the two girls. They are red and foamy. Jeanie takes a sniff and guesses that they are Red Headed Sluts. She throws the drink back, and it bubbles in her throat. She swallows, and the liquid pushes deep into her stomach, a hard rock to get down.

Carla shakes her head, and her body shudders. Her blonde hair swings around her face. She puts her hands by her belly.

My tummy hurts, she says.

Jeanie rubs her stomach and says, Yeah. Mine too. Maybe our chicken was bad? She is sure that the chicken they shared during their lunch break was, in fact, not bad. Her stomach feels fine. She feels just fine.

You think, Carla asks. She takes her straw and punctures the lemon that’s sitting at the bottom of her cocktail. You’ve been getting sick a lot lately, she says. What’s wrong with you? she asks.

Jeanie hears these words but is too busy watching the seconds roll by on that electronic marquee, their red digits flashing before her. Now it is two minutes closer to the rodeo, to bull riding and cattle branding. The bar wraps around her, and it is not quite empty and not quite full. Cowboy hats are hung along the walls. So are calf skeletons.

Hey, she says to the man behind the counter. The bartender is stacking glassware in front of her. She knows he hears her, but he doesn’t look up.

Hey, she says again, snapping her fingers. She feels her body begin to break. Her hands start to quiver. The shake causes the ice in her glass to rattle. Where’s the rodeo at? she asks. She points to the marquee. Carla’s voice is a laugh track behind her. The bartender’s hair is in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. The top of his head is freckled with sparse strands of hair.

I don’t know, he says. I just make the drinks. He flashes an open-mouthed smile, and Jeanie can see the gold cap of a fake tooth in the back of his mouth. She thinks about expenses that people do not want.

Carla can’t hold her liquor like Jeanie can. She takes a few more free shots from the bartender and slowly sips on a vodka soda, extra lemons, extra crushed, pulp floating like seaweed. Her face becomes blotched and red. She starts to slip. She tells Jeanie she cheats on her boyfriend. The one she moved from Missouri to be with. Jeanie pretends to listen. She nods when she can. She understands. She has been there before, trust me. The minutes roll by on the marquee. Tonight is a night like the rest of them. Jeanie finds a compact mirror at the bottom of her purse and examines the lines in her face where her make up has settled. The rest of Jeanie’s coworkers have gone home to their families, to sleep.

Outside, she bums a cigarette from the security guard. She reaches into her purse; her fingers feel their way around the receipts and pens, checkbook and wallet. She keeps reaching and reaching, feeling the walls of her purse, which now feels like one of those magic bags that goes deeper and deeper to no end. She hears Carla cackle between the echoes of her heartbeat. The street around them is buzzing with traffic. Jeanie starts to feel small and sick. The quiver continues. Street lights dance to the rhythm of her shakes. If only she could find it. She’s lost it again. Her fingernails scratch the purse’s lining.

Here, use mine, Carla says, pulling a clear purple lighter from her apron. The thing sits in the palm of her open hand. Jeanie remembers the whirled flush of the toilet.

No, she says, batting Carla’s hand away. The lighter makes a small pang as it hits the concrete. Shit, Jeanie repeats under her breath. Jeanie flips her purse over on the nearest table. Her assortment of things, the pieces of her life, scatter on the floor and across the wood. She finally finds the thing under a tent of paper, a blank application for a position at a fancy make-up counter in the mall. The lighter black, and its flame is small. While looking at the orange-red of the light, watching the paper of her cigarette burn—disintegrate into ash, she feels Carla’s arm reaching around her shoulders.

Carla says, Why are you crying?

His name was Dave, and he was a private pilot. Jeanie dropped beers off at his table one busy night. He asked her for a side of ranch, and she obliged, running swiftly to the kitchen. When she came back, he asked for a bottle of mustard—the good kind—and it became a game of fetch. Jeanie made laps around the restaurant and his table until he finally waved her over, asking for her full name. She had slept well the night before. Her co-workers had said she looked “rested.”

After months of courtship, games of tag, dinners in fancy restaurants that did not carry ranch dressing, sleepless nights and slow mornings, Jeanie cried and said something like love. Dave rolled over and smiled, perhaps because he was happy, too. After their moment, as he was getting dressed, he smiled again, this time differently with tight lips, with small eyes. He said, You are so much fun. The door to his room slammed shut. Jeanie could hear the water turn on in the bathroom. And then the faint sound of swishing. Take as much time as you need, he said through the door. Sleep in and stay, he said. The water shut off, and he was gone. She heard him say, Call me when you get out of work. She heard the front door shut, and then she heard nothing at all.

When Jeanie missed her period, Dave was nowhere to be found. There were no more dinners. There was hide and seek. There was No reception, I’m busy, Call you later. Words were tossed around town that he flew to Mexico for business. Jeanie left a message on his voicemail for five days straight before she deleted his number. She told Carla that she lit his favorite t-shirt on fire, the one he left at her apartment, the one she slept in sometimes. She smashed a wine glass on the cement steps of her porch. She drank—no chaser.

When the doctor was giving Jeanie a list of options, she chose the least invasive. In a brown paper bag, the doctor folded a sheet of directions and gave her a packet of pills. She was alone. The courtesy guest chair was empty except for her purse, which sank on top of the cushion. Inside the folds of fake leather was a phone full of numbers to call. Before the appointment, Jeanie held her thumb over the contact for Mom, a force stronger than regret kept it from touching. After she took the initial pill in the clinic, she was instructed to take one white pill for four days at the same time with 16oz of water and nothing else. They dissolved under her tongue. Once the pills were gone, the embryo would pass along with the discarded uterine tissue and some blood clots. There would be no surgery necessary.

Jeanie did her best to work and take tables during the time, but the pills made her sick to her stomach. The mention of food had her running to the restroom, her hands cupped to her mouth. She sucked down glasses of bitters and soda water to calm the waves in her stomach. She stopped eating. She threw up in a planter between her restaurant and the one beside it on day four. A busser ran after her, yelling, Ay Mami, on repeat.

After the pills, Jeanie took the next couple days off to wait. She expected it to come in the morning, a movement after the shower, before breakfast. She ran to the restroom with every cramp, pain, and shudder. But it was nothing. The two days came and went. She only cried once while watching a bad movie on television. The girl on screen wore an ugly pink dress made from scraps of fabric. The movie was pathetic, and the girl was sad. Jeanie dabbed her eyes with a paper towel and took a long, couch nap.

On the day after drinks with Carla, Jeanie feels people talking the way she feels panic building in her toes. Their murmurs quiet when she enters a side station for a bottle of ketchup. There’s giggling after she leaves. Carla says hello but doesn’t hug her the way she did yesterday. She stands two people away. She waves. Jeanie knows there’s been damage. The other servers stare a second longer than comfortable.

While Jeanie is pouring a coke at the bar for one of her tables, a bartender asks if she is okay. His eyes soften. His name is Ashley and seeing him always makes her wonder why parents name children the way they do. Jeanie has always liked the name Hunter for a boy. She thinks Grace is a good one, too.

Yeah, she says, I’m okay. I’m just tired. I just need some sleep, she says. She pulls a single black straw out of a container of many and jabs it into the drink. The ice cubes clank against the glass.

After her shift, when Carla offers to grab a drink, Jeanie gives her a closed-mouth smile.

No thanks, Jeanie says, certain that Carla will beg, certain she will change her mind and join Jeanie for an ice cream instead.

Carla says, Your loss, and scampers off. She leaves in a cloud of uniformed shirts. She hears them say, Call you later.

Jeanie remembers the way she washed her hands in the bathroom sink afterward. Three pumps of soap, no more or less than she would typically use.

There were times when Jeanie would ask Dave to fly her to far away places.

Let’s go to Madagascar, she’d say. Or Paris, she’d say.

Dave would play along.

The weather is terrible in Paris this time of year, he would say, and the two of them would have this cartoon-like moment over dinner where the waitress would interrupt her gaze to refill her water. Or maybe Dave would take a call. Jeanie remembers these times now when she is alone in her car at night, driving home from the restaurant, when a slow song filters through the radio speakers. She misses Dave the most when her co-workers say things like, You deserve better.

It’s crazy how things can flip on people. How one moment Jeanie’s in the cartoon, and the next she’s just refilling waters for other couples with shaky hands. Endless tables upon tables asking for more water. A pint glass is exactly 16oz.

When it came down to it, Dave never flew Jeanie anywhere. His schedule allowed him a week on and a week off of flying. His phone was always ringing. She counted days like tip money. He had reception everywhere.

When Jeanie came out of the employee restroom that night, her knuckles were white. The toilet water was still swirling, humming like a giant machine. Horse Face was the one waiting on the outside.

Finally! I’ve had to pee for hours, she said as she rushed past and slammed door. Jeanie wiped the black from underneath her eyes and went back to the expo line where she had left her tray. Her wine glasses had been taken to the dish pit by then, and the runners were calling for hands. As she tried to sneak past, her manager hollered after.

Jeanie, do you have hands? he asked as pushed the entrees in her direction.

She spun around and grabbed three dishes for a table outside. She put the two burgers down first but paused on the third dish, a plate of surf and turf, steak and jumbo shrimp. As she placed the dish in front of the third man at the table her body started to shake; the quiver moved up her spine and grew, sanding and grinding. The shrimp were curled into perfect Cs, tadpoles on a bamboo skewer. She remembered the mandatory video at the clinic. The paper cup of tap water she used as a chaser. The doctor’s kind fingers folding her literature in half and then half.

Enjoy your meal, she said. And then the third man picked up his steak knife and used it to cut the shrimp from its tail. He opened his mouth wide and chewed twice before swallowing. Jeanie remembered grasping onto the handicap rail. How she bit her lip to keep from wailing. Horse Face banging her fist into the door in five-second intervals. It could have fit in her palm. She could have wrapped her fingers around the mess until it disappeared into her own flesh.

The food runners called for hands all night that night. They sped past Jeanie in the side stations, sleeves full of plates. Steam curled and floated above the meals like cursive words. Carla was slammed with new downs. The phone at the host desk rang off the hook with reservations. An intoxicated guest threw his drink at the bartender after he had been cut off. And as the fight brewed between the bartender and the drunken man at the bar top, Jeanie imagined a tiny plane flying over a globe in a thick, white-dashed line that twisted and unfurled in each and every direction. Maybe it was Horse Face who reached out to pick her up after she had fainted. Maybe it was Carla or another quick friend like a busser or a guest. There are just some things that Jeanie can’t stand to remember.  

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