The following is an excerpt from
by Neal Eric Yeomans
Closing Time at Captain Bob’s
Copyright © Neal Eric Yeomans
The only people left in the restaurant are this old couple sitting in a booth under the giant swordfish. Besides them, that’s it. We’re dead now. The summer is over and it is dark early and no one wants to come out in the cold. Winter is coming.
I carry the plates and bowls and empty wine glasses into the back kitchen. I scrape the leftover crap into the big trashcan and dump the dishes into the sink. The other guys are back here with me. Mike is sweeping up and Karen is looking at her watch again. I start to bag up the trash to take out to the dumpster.
“Laurie told me that old couple out there have been fighting all night,” says Karen as she takes the rubber ban out of her ponytail.
When her hair is down, it goes past her shoulders. I try my best not to stare at Karen too long. I fail miserably. She’s caught me looking before and has only smiled.
As if on cue, Laurie comes through the swinging double doors. I help her with her load of plates.
“How is it out on the battlefield?” asks Mike.
Laurie just shakes her head. “That guy has her in tears out there. I’m not sure if I should say anything. I think they’re getting divorced. Jesus, I hope they leave soon.”
The sink is next to the doors. I can see them through the little window that looks out into the small dining area. The woman is short and her hair is this silver color my grandmother’s was before she died. She has her face buried in her little plump hands. The man sits rigid across from her. Tall. Bald headed. Glasses perched on the end of a long nose. He’s watching his ancient wife cry in front of him.
“Hey, Joe. Can you take this one as well?”
I look over at Mike. He has tied up another trash-bag for me. “Sure.”
“Thanks. You can head out after that.”
I like Mike even though he can be an asshole sometimes when we get really busy. I’ve been working for him since the end of May. He knows my dad.
Laurie goes out again. Karen takes off her apron. She tells me if I wait a few minutes she will give me a ride home. I tell her that I will meet her outside.
The bags are so heavy with shit that I have had to make two trips to the dumpster.
Karen stands outside the back door, watching me. She exhales blue smoke rings into the cold October night. It feels like it could snow out here. “This is your last shift, right?”
I close the top of the dumpster. “Yeah, it is. I’ll be back in the summer though.”
“You like working here?”
“It’s not bad.” I shove my hands into the pockets of my coat.
“You’re graduating this year?”
“Yeah. I can’t wait. High school sucks.”
She laughs. I always make her laugh. “Shit. I graduated high school like twenty years ago now. Don’t worry. I hated it too.”
I look up at the clear night. All the stars are out. It’s quiet out here. Still. I feel like Karen and I are the only ones left on the whole planet.
Laurie comes outside. She shivers against the cold as she zips up her parka. “They’re gone,” she tells us. “The old couple just left. Thank God. Mike is locking up by the way.”
“That was getting pretty intense in there,” says Karen. She drops her cigarette and crushes it into the ground.
“I think they pulled it together somewhat. I don’t know. I was trying not to listen. They left a pretty good tip. Maybe they felt bad.”
Karen takes out her car keys. “Ready kid?”
I don’t hear her. I’m looking at the red neon sign announcing CAPTAIN BOB’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT! TRY OUR CLAM CAKES! TRIVIA EVERY TUES. NIGHT 8-9.
“Joe,” says Karen and gives me a little nudge to the shoulder.
I snap out of it right away. “Sorry.”
Karen smiles. “Staring off into space again. You should be an astronaut.” She looks at Laurie. “You all set?”
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m just going to wait here for Mike. I’ll see you tomorrow. Don’t forget us, Joe.”
Karen and I walk across the dark parking lot. I see that old couple. They are hugging each other. They are hugging each other in this empty parking lot.
“It looks like peace in the valley once more,” says Karen under her breath as we approach her truck.
“I need to get my license,” I tell her.
“There is nothing like your own car,” says Karen.
We get in the truck. We wait a few minutes for the heat to kick on. After a couple minutes of sitting there Karen says, “Henry came in tonight.”
I look at her. Karen has vented to me about her ex-husband before. “Like tonight?”
“Yeah. He didn’t make a scene or anything. He came in to ask me if he could have Aubrey for the weekend. He wants to take her up to his mother’s. It’s Darleen’s birthday.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him that was fine as long as he has her back on Sunday afternoon.”
She pulls out of the parking space. “Joe, don’t ever get married. It’s not worth it.”
I look out the window. That old couple have got into their car. The neon sign has gone dark. I see Mike and Laurie in the rear-view mirror getting smaller and smaller until finally they and the restaurant are lost in darkness. I tell Karen, “Mike and Laurie will probably get married.”
She gives a sarcastic little laugh. “Good luck to ‘em.” We drive through town. Everything is dark. Closed. “Is your dad still with his girlfriend?”
I think of Nancy and her frizzy red hair and her bad teeth. “Yeah, he is.”
Karen knows that my dad’s new girlfriend is a sore spot with me so she doesn’t ask any more about it. We pass the hardware store with the Halloween decorations in the windows. “Where’s your girlfriend, Joe?”
“I don’t know. You tell me?”
We are silent for the rest of the drive to my house. I look at Karen in the yellow light of the dashboard. I think about kissing her, touching her breasts through her cotton shirt. I start to feel Richard waking up. I struggle to get my coat off.
She glances over at me struggling there in the passenger seat. “Are you ok?”
I free myself from my puffy coat and drape it across my lap. “Totally. It’s just hot in here.”
“I could turn the heat down.”
“No, no. It was just the coat.”
The truck comes to a stop in front of the house. My house. I don’t get out right away.
“Well,” I say.
“Well,” says Karen.
We look out at the street, ghostly lit by the streetlights. I feel the need to say something, anything. “Did you hear about that ISIS group cutting the heads off people?”
“Oh yeah,” says Karen. “I heard about it. The world is a fucked up place, Joe. That’s all there is to it.”
We go silent again. A gust of wind blows leaves across the street. I’m nervous. My mouth feels like sandpaper. I want to get out. I want to stay. Finally, I just say it: “Karen, I like you.”
She stares at me. The truck idles on this dark street.
Then it happens. She leans in and kisses me on the side of my cheek. After a couple minutes—actually it feels like a lifetime—she speaks. “Joe, you’re a good kid. You have your whole life ahead of you. Enjoy it. Try not to take things so seriously.”
“Now get the hell out of here,” she says in that smart ass tone I know from all our shifts together.
I get out of the truck. Karen pulls away from the curb. I don’t go into the house right away.
I stand there and watch the truck disappear down the road. I watch until I can’t see the taillights anymore.