The first time she saw him, he was digging ketchup out of a bottle with a knife.
Andy parked her car next to a blue van in the Denny’s lot. She was driving down the interstate and realized she needed food. Andy didn’t always eat when her stomach told her to. But she always ate when the gas gage on Raven read almost empty. It was her way of remembering to eat. Food wasn’t important to Andy. She never craved anything. She didn’t understand the fascination of cooking shows that sucked up people’s time.
The gage on Raven was nearing empty and Andy knew there were few stops between where she was and where she would be in a few hours. So she stopped.
Andy always chose her parking spot with an eye for quick and easy departure. She was once caught in a traffic jam trying to leave the scene of a robbery. She was stuck in the parking space and no one would let her out. Cars kept pushing by and she feared the next one would contain the thieves and their guns. She was afraid she would see their faces and they would have to “blow her away” as Harry Bosch novels would say. But they didn’t and when she was finally able to take the cup of water the police officer was trying to hand her to calm her down, she filed away in the back of her mind a plan to never be caught in a spot where that could happen again.
The parking space she found was at the end of a row near the street. She backed in pointing the nose of Raven toward the outlet ready to zoom away at a moments notice if need be. Andy also always kept her keys in her hand, only placing them down on the table when she cut her meat when two hands were needed, you know. She was now ready for some food.
Andy walked through the doors and plunked herself down at a table nearest the exit. She sat where she could see who was walking through the door. There was nothing feng shui, as her sister would insist, about it. It was simply smart planning.
The waiter with pimples and a squeaky voice handed her a menu and smiled at her. Andy wondered if that was his way of flirting or maybe he was just being nice. Nonetheless, Andy never returned smiles. It opened the door to conversation and conversation led to familiarity and familiarity led to friendship until the whole thing crumbled into tiny particles much like those that covered the sticky rug beneath her feet.
It was then that she saw him.
He was sitting at the counter with a bottle of ketchup in one hand and a knife in the other. Andy watched as he scraped and dug the ketchup from the sides of the bottle.
He was in no hurry. Each time he slid the knife out of the bottle, the tip was tainted with just a bit of red much like the end of a thermometer. He methodically wiped the knife on the edge of the hamburger bun he had turned over and placed in the middle of a napkin next to his plate. The plate was overflowing with french fries, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and onions that left no room for an upturned bun.
The process went on for a few minutes. Andy didn’t take her eyes off him. The waiter returned and asked Andy a question. She ignored him. Pimple Face stood watching Andy waiting for a response that she was never going to give.
Then the man finished with the ketchup bottle. Balanced the knife across the pile of french fries and slammed the bottle down onto the counter
“Who the fuck thinks this is good service around here?”
That got everyone else’s attention.
“How does anyone expect to get a decent amount of ketchup out of this fuckin’ bottle? Who do you think I am Houdini or something?” He grabbed the bottle off the counter.
Andy watched as the man threw the bottle onto the floor. It bounced with a dull thud. Then skidded toward her, her foot bringing the bottle to a halt. All eyes were on Andy. Pimple Face stepped away from her table.
Meeting the waiter’s wide eyes, Andy snorted and shook her head. Yeah, he’s a catch all right, she thought.
Looking at her table she picked up the ketchup bottle sitting in the middle of it. The bottle was newly filled. Her fingers noticed a sticky drip down the label. Holding the bottle in front of her, Andy walked over to the man.
He didn’t notice.
He was too busy staring at his ketchup bottle spinning on the floor. Andy accidentally kicked it as she scooted her chair back when she stood up. It was as if they were playing Spin the Bottle. However, Andy knew she would never, ever kiss either him or the pimpled face waiter.
“Here, you can have mine. You’re much more patient than I would have been.”
The man took the bottle from Andy’s hand, removed the cap, flipped the bottle upside down and began pounding on the bottom releasing the thick red paste onto his bun.
Andy returned to her seat as the other diners returned to their conversations. With shaking hands gripping his order booklet and a blue Bic pen, Pimple Face cleared his throat to ask his question for a second time.
Tonight at Sunday Afternoon Writers as A Church of the Holy Family we use a prompt from Bonnie Neubauer’s The Write-Brain Workbook.
We started with the word “craven” and made words from it for one minute. We then had to use all the words we made in our writing.
Then we chose one of two prompts: The first time I saw him, he was digging ketchup out of the bottle with a knife. Or: The first time I saw her, she was teaching third graders that ketchup is a vegetable.
We always share after a half hour of writing.
My words from “craven” and I didn’t get to a few.