The Tricking Period
By Nina-Marie Gardner.
It started the night before Thanksgiving, when I decided to stick around after my shift and he happened to be getting drunk at the bar. Looking back maybe I sensed something, like animals do – I remember I felt strangely relaxed. But we didn’t talk. He was watching the Celtics game, and I was pretending to – of all the main sports people go mental over in Boston – basketball, ice hockey and baseball – basketball is probably the one I hate most.
So that night at the restaurant, watching the Celtics, I had two glasses of wine. But I felt absolutely nothing – I’d eaten too much bread during my shift. That’s the problem with working as a waitress – the goddamn bread. Stare at it long enough, and even if you are the type who has shunned it in public for years, you will find yourself snatching leftover crusts out of baskets and wolfing them down voraciously, I guarantee it.
The game ended – the Celtics won – they’d come from behind as they always do – and I was getting ready to leave, gathering my stuff and not really paying attention to anything, when suddenly, he blurted out in front of everyone – ‘Wait!’
I paused, and to be honest, I didn’t think he was even talking to me – I thought he was speaking to the bartender – ordering another drink or something. But he was standing up – we both were at this point – and I remember thinking, ‘Yes, his eyes are really lovely – so big and blue – he’s just like a big shaggy dog.’ And he was staring at me with those eyes, which were a little bleary and bloodshot because he was drunk. But I was touched because he looked so desperate and forlorn.
‘Wait – ‘ he said again, and he reached out and touched my forearm. ‘I – I have loved you for months.’
I nearly fell over when he said this, and the whole place went silent. Everything sort of went into this slow motion void. I wanted to comfort him, he seemed so distressed – but I think I simply said, ‘Oh.’
Then we both sat back down and neither of us really knew what to say. Finally I said, ‘Um, well I’m Darlene, by the way. Nice to meet you.’
And he smiled. ‘Donny,’ he said.
‘Like Donny Whalberg.’
‘Yea,’ he said, and laughed – but I felt incredibly dumb because he could not have been more unlike Donnie Whalberg than anybody in all of Boston. There was his wild curly red hair, which I must confess – I never thought I could be attracted to anyone with red hair. But on him it was alright. He didn’t have that pale pasty thing going on that so many redheads have to deal with. There was something solid about him. He was attractive, in an oafish way. It dawned on me as we sat there awkwardly that I could be into him – that I already was.
We didn’t have another drink or anything, and I was relieved, because as I mentioned, he was already pretty hammered. I excused myself to go to the Ladies Room and he said he’d wait for me. I didn’t really have to go – I just wanted to run into the kitchen to see if this other waitress Claire was still there so I could tell someone what had just happened. She was in there alright, grinning at me slyly.
‘Oh my God – Claire – ‘
‘I know,’ she said, punching me in the arm.
She had long black hair and a perfect figure – tall and lithe – she was a ballerina, one of those perfect girls. Working with her I always felt like the dumpy waitress, like every table that got stuck with me was bummed, because they were secretly hoping they’d have this Jasmine Le bon lookalike waiting on them all night. I have serious self-esteem issues.
‘Dude. Who didn’t?’
‘Do you think he’s cute?’
‘Adorable,’ Claire said, gliding past me. She also, I noticed, glided past a half-full tray of lasagna that was on the counter, which if I hadn’t been so excited, I would have been devouring. Food I cannot resist. Claire, in addition to being perfectly thin, never seems to be hungry. She is one of those girls who hardly notices food. I spent all my time in the restaurant waged in battle with my will not to eat everything in sight. Some nights I’d pull it off, and get out of there having eaten nothing but a few tomatoes – but then I’d be so pleased with myself – and ravenous – I’d go home and plow through half the pantry as a reward.
I held back from the lasagna and tried to check out my reflection in the big black microwave that was back there.
‘So are you going to have a drink with him?’
‘No – I mean, he’s pretty wasted. I don’t know – oh Claire!’
‘Relax sweets. He said he’s loved you for months. It’s in the bag. Go to him.’
He ended up walking me home that night, and I remember thinking it was a good thing he wasn’t a stalker or anything, because now he knew where I lived. At my door we lingered, and then he kissed me quickly on the cheek. As I climbed the stairs to the apartment I shared with this completely insane alcoholic-eating-disorder-riddled girl named Lindsay, I tried to play back in my head all the times he’d come into the restaurant over the past few months, to look for any signs that pointed to what had just happened; there were none.
But as I undressed and took off my makeup and brushed my teeth, I felt prettier and sexier than I had in a long time. Even my thighs seemed less thunderous, and my breasts were positively voluptuous. I’m one of those girls people always say would be stunningly gorgeous if I lost some weight. Publicly, this makes me laugh, but privately, I’d like to axe-murder each and every person who’s ever said that. I don’t know. I like to eat, and I can’t see myself going on the kind of crazy diet that would be necessary if I was ever going to be a size six – or eight – let alone a four or a freakin’ zero. Life is too short – although for those of us carrying around a few extra cushions or spare tires or whatever, it can at times seem unbearably long. Long in terms of getting through a day not eating – or not eating more than what is considered four-square. Especially when one is a retard underachiever like me who despite her degrees (anthropology and
history) seems destined to work in restaurants for the rest of her life. And I’m even a shitty waitress.
Anyway. That’s basically the story of how Donny and I met.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nina-Marie Gardner lives in London and Boston. Her fiction has been published in various places including 3:AM, and the anthologies Bedford Square and 3:AM London, New York, Paris. ‘The Tricking Period’ is an excerpt from her novel The Madonna of the North End.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, February 10th, 2009.