The restaurant was empty, the lunch rush over,
and I was buffing down tables in hard circles—Ryan
had just moved in with some stupid cow he met at a
club—when a heavyset middle-aged woman
sporting gigantic shades came in. We closed fifteen
minutes ago, but apparently Vance, the manager,
forgot to lock up. Or, more likely, couldn’t be
bothered. I glared at him, but King Vance just
waved his hand—serve her, wench!—and went
back to his “paperwork,” which really meant his new
I smiled as I walked up—Ryan said people tip
sweet young things, not cranky ones. Words of
wisdom from a twenty-two-year-old cheater. But I
could use the money, since our place—my place—
was probably empty by now. She turned her head
and said, “You won’t believe what came in the mail
She cut me off with a raised finger, then aimed it at
the phone buried inside her inflated, tiger-striped
hair. She was well dressed, wearing lots of bling,
and I bet she was glaring at me behind those
enormous bug-eyed sunglasses. Ryan had a pair
like them—I told him they were ladies’ glasses and
they made him look gay. I almost laughed, except I
wanted to claw both their eyes out.
“Yeah, how’d you know?” she said loudly. She
plucked the menu from my hand and tapped on Diet
Coke a half-dozen times, her French manicures
clicking emphatically. “What? No, I’m working. I just
got the email confirmation—yeah, they do that now.
They leave the box. What? No, by the front door.”
When I brought her soda, she repeated her
staccato nail tapping, this time on Cobb Salad. “No
ham!” she hissed, then threw her head back and
laughed. “Right! They are much better as a pair.”
I pulled a Cobb from the cooler, plucked the ham
chunks, and dumped it on a plate. She frowned
when I set it in front of her. “A new one? Honey,
they don’t make them like they used to.”
I went back to buffing tables. I didn’t want to listen,
but she was loud.
“No. For one thing, they have different mounts. Now
they make everything in China.”
She was talking about jewelry—which Ryan never
bought me. He said it’s a waste of money. But his
precious flat screen wasn’t, or his PS3, or his fancy
drinks at the bar where he met that slut. I buffed
“Oh for the love of—just a sec, Jan—waitress!
Waitress!” She pointed her fork at the salad,
bunching her face like it was roadkill. “I said no
I took the salad in back, plucked out the
microscopic fleck of ham, and fluffed it on a fresh
plate. She was still motoring when I came back out.
“I know! A maid at the hotel turned it in. Really?
That’s her job—why should I send her something?”
I refilled condiments, added sweetener packets,
and straightened chairs. This woman could talk.
“It is! So beautiful and blue and sparkly—I can’t wait
to have it back! I wish I didn’t have meetings this
afternoon, I’d go home right now.”
Ryan’s eyes were bright blue.
“Hank’s fine, traveling for business. He’s been such
a dear about it.”
She flagged me over, digging in her purse. She
looked ridiculous, fumbling around in her shades. I
wanted to slap them off her face.
I ran her card while she kept on with her mouth. I
set the bill folder down and whispered, “Thank you,
Mrs. Szymanski—” She flapped her hand at me. I
don’t know why I bothered.
Phone pressed to her ear, she bustled out. I locked
the door. King Vance grunted without looking up. I
cleared and set her table—no tip, of course—and
clocked out. I shouldn’t have checked, but there
was only one Szymanski in the phone book.
Driving back to our place—my place—I wondered
what would be left. I didn’t want to find out; most of
the furniture was Ryan’s. Since I didn’t have any
errands to run, I just drove around and smoked. It
beat sitting in an empty apartment with nothing to
do until my next shift. Eventually I found myself on
her street. It was a swanky neighborhood, lots of
new cars and green lawns and old trees. The box
was by the front door, as advertised. Some of the
ink had rubbed off, striping the cardboard. The label
said it came from some fancy-pants hotel in Cape
Back at my apartment, I sat on the carpet where
the couch used to be, between the four square
dimples where its feet sat, staring at the box. I’d
rather have a piece of jewelry than that ratty couch
anyway. Inside was a fist-sized velvet box packed
in foam peanuts. I held it in my hand, rubbing the
domed velvet. I popped the lid and flinched. An eye
stared at me from between satin folds—a sparkling
glass eye. Blue, just like Ryan’s.
Chip Houser is in the MFA in Creative Writing program at the
University of Missouri in St. Louis. He’s also a practicing architect
and has ongoing issues with caffeine and story prompts.
by Chip Houser