They All Fall Down
It was a brutal summer day. The heat had become oppressive. The kind of hot that no matter how hard an air conditioner clanked it was pointless. The relief of cool air was merely felt for a moment before your skin would crawl with droplets of sweat. Catherine absently blew a piece of hair back away from her face as she continued on with the arduous task of filling the sugar. It was her responsibility at the end of every shift at Cook’s Diner. Fill the sugars, marry the ketchup and wrap the silverware. She most especially hated doing wraps. What the hell was the purpose of taking silverware and wrapping it in a napkin like it was an infant bundled in swaddling? She hadn’t even wrapped her daughter in swaddling when she was an infant fearful that she would suffocate. It seemed more sensible to set the silverware on the table. Each piece in its correct spot like Gran had taught her as a little girl, knife then fork then spoon. She wouldn’t ask why they had to wrap the silverware in this fashion every day.
Catherine’s head snapped up as the door to the diner swung open and slammed shut sending a gust of hot, damp air through the dining room. She lifted her face pushing a stray piece of bang gently off her forehead and froze. Joss Glass straddled a stool at the counter and pulled his pack of cigarettes from the back pocket of his jeans. His long nimble fingers shook one lose and he placed one against his lips. Dropping the wraps into their basket at the back station, she then slowly maneuvered her way through the red and white Formica tables to the front of the diner. Her tongue dried and stuck to the top of her mouth in fear, the perspiration glistened fresh across her skin this time in anxiousness rather than a result of the oppressive heat.
Joss lifted the lighter to his cigarette setting the tip afire. He inhaled the smoke but blew it away from her direction as she slid behind the counter to address him.
“Hi Baby,” His smile lifted his cheeks into cherubic like apples and his eyes lit up with some sort of deep seated pleasure.
He made a point to stretch the pet name out long and venomous over his tongue seething with mixed resentment and possible hatred.
Catherine lifted a drinking glass and focused on pouring the water into the glass without spilling on the counter. Lifting the glass to her mouth she drank deeply willing the dryness away from her mouth. She could show no fear, she was now in the middle of the forest with a pissed off grizzly bear. Pouring a second glass of water, she placed the glass gently on the counter in front of him with a great amount of consternation. She was fighting the rush of blood to her head the knots in her stomach. Her hand reached to wipe the perspiration from her forehead that was largely the result of every nerve in her body coming alive.
“I have a name,” She let slowly roll off her tongue then instantly felt a pang of regret. She sounded bitchy. He would perceive it as a challenge. She didn’t want to challenge him she wanted to stay completely off his radar.
Joss chuckled as he drank down the water in three even gulps. Catherine fixated on his Adam’s apple lifting and falling three times in his neck as he swallowed the water. Gran always said she couldn’t love a man who didn’t have a strong Adam’s apple.
Catherine had been trying to stop loving this man with a strong Adam’s apple since she was fifteen years old.
“I need a job,” He announced it matter of fact as though she might have some sort of influence over any such thing. He leaned over tracing his finger along the outside of the V-neck up the side of her breast to her collar bone.
She abruptly pulled back, as though she had touched a plug that hadn’t completely been pushed into the wall. She picked up a cloth and began nervously wiping the ring of condensation that his water glass left on the counter.
“You have a daughter.” Her eyes slowly scanned the entirety of his face trying to determine his intention. Was he changed? Did he really want to work hard? Was he going to stay out of trouble or pull her slowly back down the path that nearly destroyed both of them? Did he even care that there was a little girl that was his absolute spitting image?
“I would appreciate if you helped me, I have to have a job or parole will send me back to jail.” His face tilted slightly watching as she untied the little black apron from about her waist. He simply was not going to address the issue. Catherine felt her heart sink. Somewhere in the back of her mind she hoped and prayed that he would come home, love her they would be a family. He would let go of the bad they had done. She should have known better that simply was not going to be the case.
Catherine stuffed the apron under the counter and pulled out her book bag. She slid around the counter having every intention of completely evading any contact with the boy at all. If he touched her, that would be it. He would spin a tight web around her like the daddy long legs that lived in the bathroom at Gran’s. He would bind her, trap her and suck the life out of her. History clearly dictated she was virtually powerless to stop him. He would bend her and she would snap.
“I will talk to Chef tomorrow after his coffee before the breakfast rush hour; it’s when he is in the best mood.” She offered putting some distance between them.
Joss stood off the stool twisting the cigarette pack in his fingers as he stepped toward her.
“Where are you going?” He smiled. One of his top front teeth had been knocked out in jail. It made his sneer all the more menacing.
“Gran is coming to pick me up and I’m going home to care for my daughter,” she shifted on her weight, flicked her hair over her should placing the emphasis on my as the reality set it. Nothing had changed and the return of Joss would be nothing but trouble.
He stepped forward reaching and clasped his hand around her arm pulling her abruptly to him.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he whispered pulling her against him. “Not yet anyway.”
Catherine caught her breath as he grabbed a handful of her hair and crushed his lips abruptly against hers. Rather than kiss he whispered against her lips.
“I want my money Catherine.”
“I don’t know where that money is Joss,” She whispered back tears springing to her eyes.
He buried his fingers in her long auburn hair as he slipped his tongue between her lips. She folded, her mouth responding to his as terrified as he made her somewhere deep in the back of her mind she had waited for the moment he would come walking back into her life.
“You know exactly where that money. You are going to get me that money or I’m going to snuff that baby in her sleep.”
Catherine tore back in repulsion; her hand reached out and connected with his cheek violently. The sound of her hand connecting with his face echoed through the empty diner, a choked cry came from her as her hand covered her lips in shock of what she had done. He would surely beat her now.
He simply smiled, revealing the same sneer the same broken tooth. He was amused. His intention was to crawl under her skin, to plant a seed and that was exactly what he had done.
“Hold her tight to you and think hard on things Catherine,” with that he darted out the door and was gone.
Gran pulled up in the old Buick just in time to miss the Glass boy. She would have patted him on the arm. Gran would have told him she missed seeing him singing in the choir at Mass. She would have complimented the way he delivered her newspaper to the front door because it hurt her knee to walk to the mailbox when he was the paperboy. Gran remembered the good in people and felt a certain obligation to remind them. She would have felt it proper to let him into the car. To see the blonde haired cherubic two year old daughter that was his spitting image. She would have invited him back to the house for a biscuit with a bit of apricot jam and a cup of tea. Instead he darted past the car, toward the center of town like the devil himself had set his ass on fire.
Catherine slipped out the door and slid into the Buick pulling the heavy door close with a thud. Her hands were shaking violently and she fought to hide the fact from her Grandmother. She then burst into a torrid of tears. It could not be contained or controlled the world was coming to an abrupt end. He would kill them all for the sake of his greed.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph child what has gotten into you? Was that this child’s father that just ran by this car likes the devil put a pitch fork in his posterior?”
“I need to take the baby and leave bad things are going to happen Gran!” She cried out which prompted the sleeping two year old to wake and let out a wail of protest.
Gran considered a moment as she stomped on the accelerator to move the car forward.
“You are certainly not going anywhere much less alone with that child lets go find that Glass boy and set things straight right off the bat!” Gran declared as she sped off in the direction Joss had gone.
“He needs to meet his daughter Catherine, a child gives a man a good reason to be a good man,” Gran declared with intent.
Catherine merely closed her eyes resting her head against the seat. Nothing good, not a single good thing would come of any of this.