Crave – Emmy Moore
I thought I was falling in love one summer, but I was only getting addicted to cigarettes. The guy, he gave me a Parliament every time we took a break at the restaurant where we both worked. All the ways I got excited when he’d catch my eye and tilt his head toward the back door, how I inhaled him, wanted him all around me, how my body leaned in his direction like a palm in a storm didn’t feel very different from another kind of want.
“Don’t start buying these.” That was the first thing he told me. He put his hand over mine on his lighter to block the hot wind rolling in off the ocean. “I got you.”
It was one of those in-between summers where at its end you know your life will go one way, or it’ll go another, but it won’t be the same as it was at the start. I’d just come home to the town I’d been telling people for years I couldn’t wait to leave, the one my one rich cousin called beach trashy. I’d finished my second year at the state school forty minutes up the interstate, and my mom didn’t know it yet, but my sleeping on the futon at the one-bedroom she’d just bought with her boyfriend was about to become a permanent thing.
Close enough to the ocean for the salt to peel the letters back on the sign, to fade the paint on the walls like the driftwood piles that cluttered the dunes, but neither clean, nor welcoming enough for a summer season of sunburnt tourists to sustain it, the restaurant was another thing that I told my mom, told us both, was temporary.
A dark wood bar stretched the full length of the narrow, windowless room. In the back, towards the kitchen, it widened just enough to fit a jukebox that worked sometimes, a pool table, and a few couples dancing. Behind the register were the crude crayon drawings from the waitresses’ kids that no one ever bothered to take down. They just put new ones on top, layer after layer after layer going back God knows when. If I dug, I might find the ones I did back when my mom was there.
It was just the two of us, me and my mom, so she hadn’t had a choice but to stick me in the office while she worked. I would draw into the night, endless spirals, spiky and dark from bearing down hard, sometimes until the crayon broke, sometimes until the page tore, until finally I fell asleep to the sounds of laughter, drunken shouts, breaking bottles and, further out, crashing waves.
At the morning shift, old folks sat the bar and ate two dollar omelettes. They drank sweet coffee and talked about who wasn’t there because they couldn’t drive anymore, and who wasn’t there because they were dead. The women wore too much lipstick, and their men pretended to read my name-tag while they looked at my tits.
At night the crowd was either twenty or thirty years younger— depending on whether or not it was Friday— and the women still wore too much lipstick only their men didn’t pretend to want to know my name.
The guy with the Parliaments was the sleepy-eyed manager. Smoking with him started out as just an excuse to sit down, a way to keep from ending up like the other waitresses, tired to my marrow, bloodshot and dried out. We’d go into the alley out back. Sheltered beneath a shrimp soaked dumpster that smelled like death were two chairs, one from the bar that you had to sit on carefully and mind the leg that had splintered, one an office chair, probably stolen. He seemed to like it when I looked up at him, so I mostly stretched out on the asphalt, letting him squish the water-bugs when they darted too close to my thigh.
We spent one night, before I figured out that I didn’t love him, tangled on the couch at my mom’s, sweaty from the broken AC that he promised, sotto and sleepy, to fix for me in the morning.
He wouldn’t fix it, of course. Like my dad, he never did the things he said he would. But I liked his face buried in my neck, liked his hands all respectful on my ribcage, liked how all the things I knew didn’t matter. Being with him made me feel like I was doing something, part of something. I needed that when the summer started stretching long and I couldn’t see all the way to its end.
“That’s how they get you,” one of the older waitresses, one of the lifers, said one afternoon in late August while I waited for him to come and find me with a Parliament. She was leaned up against the alley wall like she couldn’t stand on her feet another second. “You ever think about just buyin’ your own?”
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
“Me neither,” she said. She laughed a raspy laugh that seemed to come from a place that hurt. “And I don’t work at this shithole.” Drops of sweat traveled down the lines of her neck and between her breasts. “And I got out of my old town, like I always said I would.”
Her face, leathered by baby oil and sun, tilted up to the sky. On my way to my mom’s house that night, I stopped at the 7-11 up the street. “Parliaments,” I said. Outside, I breathed smoke, salt, and storm cooled breeze; my stomach dropped like when he caught my eye or cupped his hands around my lighter to guard the flame or brushed my bare shoulder with his lips, and I felt warm as a body entwined.
Emmy Moore is a waitress, writer, and third year fiction candidate at Old Dominion University. Some of her other work can be found in Deep South Magazine and Flash Fiction Magazine.