In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

The Last Night Shift?

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It’s a Thursday night at the sugar shack, quiet 

for the 5 to 7 hours, slow enough for me to 

inventory, tidy and re-stock. 

The day shift rarely covers all.

Like a morsel left for Elijah, the day shift–

my daughter, in fact–left me chores to do

like cutting up strawberries, cleaning up

counters coated sticky caramel or fudge, cherry

juice or chopped Reese’s peanut butter cups

dust, among the other jobs of smiling, wiping,

re-filling, lifting, swiping, shifting, and money-

tending, motions threaded into my days and

nights lo these past two years, 20 to 40 hours

a week, after the class room or with the lap top.
 

Thursday night, like most other nights of the

week brings in the small, smartly dressed 

woman who does not like people, especially small

ones, their cackles and laughter reverberating

madly from tile floor to painted wood ceiling;

nor does she deign sanitary all those dotted

dried yogurt drips on the scale upon which

she weighs her nightly yogurt, always the same,

the half dozen or so rainbow pareils atop chocolate 

obsession (her froyo choice and aptly so)

a lid and a bag. I get it all ready for her once

I spy her entry. Anxiety riddles her face so 

that her smile forced comfort in my familiar 

face transforms her, cracking ice panes.

She warms to me; I know her tics and peeves.
 

Following nervous Nelly, affectionately dubbed,

enter the Thursday night family four just out of 

church (there are three nearby churches) who

each ask in turn, “Is there whipped cream tonight?”

We make it fresh here, liquid cream and the nitrous

oxide I am often tempted to inhale on especially

dreary nights of “what am I doing here and how 

will I bear another menial, meaningless night?”

Until mop dancing, when all seems to flow, tears

and motion, two-stepping and sludgery, the end

near, a night almost over, near complete.
 

When then arrives the female version of 

SpongeBob who plops down 16 dollars of

yogurt and toppings while complaining of 

stomach pains, a gone gallbladder and 

a boyfriend who does not even deserve the

two chocolate chip cookies she adds to her order.

“He’s so mean,” she says, shaking her head 

so that the just-put-it-up-any-which-way bun

flops side to side, loose and threatening to fall.
 

Her appearance sparks a laugh and a text to 

my day shift counterpart–my daughter–

who earlier remarked that she hadn’t seen quart-lady

lately and wondered if she was all right.

Quart lady once complained the tart machine freezes

up, protested so fervently about its unavailability

since tart was the only flavor she could eat, 

given her gall bladder problems, prompting me

to move tart two machines down, thinking of her ire,

and when I proudly showed her on her next visit

the new location, which she herself suggested, she

smiled and promptly filled her cup with dulce de leche.
 

“Remember that lady made such a stink and then 

didn’t even get tart after all?” my daughter laughed

just today, this afternoon, at our passing of the baton,

shift change. She too has loved and hated the job.
 

And just yesterday, the young, energetic blonde with

savings, ready to own something (his girlfriend aside),

with his queries and interrogations–“What is your favorite

flavor? And how do you like working here? And which is 

the most popular items in the store? And which machines

are your favorite?”–may be, perhaps, looks like, and so if

he really does want to buy the store, what then?
 

 This job, a helping hand and gift after a bad life trip and fall,

a stop on recovery’s road, for which I thank cousins and sweets

and sweet cousins, father and son, and daughters,

and all who seek comfort in colorful swirls and turrets, 

gems and decor, sugar coated and sugar free, reward and 

punishment for all those bodies small, square, squat, thin,

lanky, lean, old, young and in between that have passed

through and paved my practiced presence, order, patience 

and humility these last couple years, sometimes failing at all 

or some, sometimes succeeding at all, some or none.

These sentimental seeds I sprinkle like rainbow and chocolate

on a quiet Thursday night’s spurring these 

final thoughts, final words and future memories.

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