Having been a server at Izzy’s Diner for nearly twenty years, Betty thought she had seen it all: from baby showers to drunken brawls in the parking lot. But most of her work days were the same. The smell of french fries and the clinking of silverware against dishes as customers consumed Izzy’s greasy food was all too familiar.
Walking around with a fresh pot of coffee, she greeted each customer by name. “Hey, Bill, how’s the leg? Jeannie, haven’t seen you in a while. How’s little Sally? Fred, are the fish biting?”
She made her rounds until she passed the Newcomer. While the other patrons dressed in flannel shirts and jeans, this woman wore a silky blouse, excessive makeup, and a scowl. Her flowery perfume stung Betty’s nose and ignited her allergies.
“Waitress,” the Newcomer called.
Being the only server in the diner, Betty desperately wanted to ignore her, but it wasn’t an option.
What do you need, Hon?” Betty asked.
“These eggs still aren’t right. I asked for over easy with a slightly runny yolk. These are over easy with a very runny yolk.”
Betty gritted her teeth but forced a smile. “Alright. I’ll take them back to the kitchen.”
Her rubber soles squeaking on the linoleum floor, Betty shuffled to the back of the restaurant until she reached the window behind the breakfast bar. The bell she rang let out a cheerful ding. No one came to the window. Betty tried again.
“Kinda busy,” came a gruff voice.
“Izzy, the woman at table eight needs you to redo her order.”
Izzy appeared at the window, his graying hair matted with sweat. “Again? What’s wrong with it this time? Did I not use the right eggs? Would she prefer I go out to the farm and pick an egg out from under the chicken’s ass myself?”
“Just remake the eggs. The yolks need to be harder.”
“Fine, fine,” the cook and owner grumbled.
Ten minutes later, Izzy placed the new plate of eggs on the counter. “Order up!”
Betty grabbed the plate and made her way back to table eight, unceremoniously plunking the meal down in front of the Newcomer.
“Here you go, Hon.”
Betty left to take care of her regulars, but she had only refilled one customer’s cup of coffee before the Newcomer waved her over again.
“These eggs still aren’t right!” her customer said. “Do I have to go to the kitchen myself?” A tear rolled down her cheek.
Betty froze. She would’ve been less surprised if the Newcomer had thrown the plate of food at her. That, at least, had happened before, but Betty had never made a customer cry.
“Do I have to–to…” The Newcomer broke down, sobbing.
Betty asked, “You okay?”
That was a silly question. Of course the customer wasn’t “okay.”
“Yes… No.” She sniffled. “Things are never going to be the same, are they?”
The Newcomer wiped her eyes with the corner of a paper napkin. “Ever since my grandmother died, nothing has gone right. And all I wanted was a plate of eggs like she used to make. I’ve yet to find a place that can do them.”
Betty searched her mind for comforting words. Clearly this woman needed her help, and Betty knew she would have to tread lightly given her customer’s current emotional state. She considered the advice people had given her when she was grieving. Finally, she found what she hoped would work.
“What was your grandmother like?”
“She was sweet, sunny, and never had anything bad to say to anyone,” the Newcomer said. She loved her family fiercely, and we all loved her in return.”
“Do you think that maybe the perfect eggs aren’t exactly what you’re looking for?”
Betty hoped that what she’d said hadn’t been too forward. The customer frowned down at her plate, appearing to mull Betty’s question over.
The Newcomer smiled for the first time since entering the restaurant. “You know, I think you’re right. It was never about the eggs.” She pulled her plate closer before adding, “Thank you!”
“Glad to help,” Betty said. She put the check down on the table. “Take your time, Hon.
As Betty made her rounds again, she couldn’t help but think about how helping the Newcomer had made her feel. The customer had reminded her that sometimes her job wasn’t simply to serve food.
Ten minutes later Betty walked back to table eight. She picked up the bill and the cash the Newcomer had left. There was no tip.
Emily Buckner is a writer, teacher, and musician in Wisconsin. Her short stories have been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Creative Wisconsin Magazine. When she is not writing, Emily enjoys reading, making music, and taking walks. She lives with her husband and cat.
~ Tip the author ~