I'm actually going to start posting some of my writing assignments as blogs--that's what the Fah-Fah post was all about. Kyle and I don't do anything interesting enough to blog about, but some of these assignments have to do with interesting goings-ons, so enjoy! Here is my homework that is due Tuesday. The assignment was to listen in on a conversation and explain the setting in detail. Mine happened accidentally, of course.
Everything is wooden—the walls, the floor, the shelves piled to the wooden ceiling with knick-knacks, and then of course, the tables. It even smells woody in here. But it begins to smell more like spiced candles and fried food the further I walk. It’s a Cracker Barrel somewhere between Miami and Melbourne. Clutter. Round candies in mason jars, giant pecan-nougat rolls, John Deer paraphernalia, old-fashioned bottled root beer, stuffed animals wearing human clothes, hats that will never be worn (except when my mother talks my dad into trying a few on) and giant checkers on giant checker boards. A plump brunette wearing an oxford shirt in a flattering gray-blue color under her brown apron is smiling with her fingers laced in front of her stomach as she greets us.
“Hi! How are you doing this evening?”
My mother replies as if trying to match the hostess’ chipper tone. “Fine! Thank you for asking.”
My dad is parking the car and my husband has stayed with him. Good thinking. But now I can’t find my mother. I worked at a Cracker Barrel six years ago when I was a sophomore in high school and never could find a good enough reason to come back. Yet here we are. Over the speaker they’re playing a canned rendition of a bluegrass song. It literally sounds as if someone is singing into a tin can—a song about someone named “Bo Jangles.” And my dad sings the same line about this fellow, Bo Jangles all throughout dinner. My mother covers his mouth with her hand and laughs. There’s no music playing in the restaurant portion of the Barrel. A medley of voices and forks scraping plates and ice clinking in glasses is the music instead—thank God. My dad spends the meal—when he’s not singing about Bo Jangles—talking about the number of stars on each server’s apron. While my parents are in line at the register when the meal is finally over, I make my way to the bathroom before the last leg of our trip begins. We don’t want to have to stop with only an hour or so left on the road.
The bathroom is bright. A blue glow from a flickering fluorescent bulb casts an unkind light on the already unforgiving surfaces of the white countertops around the sink which are covered in murky puddles of water. The silver soap dispensers are caked with pink suds. The sink is stained brown around the drain. The music is louder in here and that song about Bo Jangles is on again—or still, maybe. I would rather hold my bladder for an hour. The only stall available is the middle of the three. I kick the pale door in with my cowboy boot to see a toilet that looks as if it hasn’t yet been abused by a careless patron. But the germs are invisible, I know. As I latch the stall door with the very tiniest tip of my left pinky finger I noticed the shoes on the right side of me. They are shiny, gold and strappy, stretched over wrinkled toes and a taupe-colored toenail polish. I suspect the feet belong to one of the women of the Red Had Society. On my way to the restroom I saw them finishing their meal at a large table on the far wall by the hostess stand. Now the women on either side of me seem to know one another. I listen.
“I’m going to try one of these and see if I can flush it down the toilet,” the one on the left says, sounding just as old as the feet to my right look. I have no idea what she’s referring to. I am afraid to wonder.
“I tried three and dropped the first two into the toilet just trying to get them out,” says the one to my right.
I imagine the two women fumbling with the crepe-thin toilet seat covers and relax as I come to understand the conversation I’ve now been thrust in the middle of. A loud noise comes from the left stall. I cringe.
“Oh, excuse me,” says the left stall.
“Oh, it’s okay. I did the same thing earlier,” replies the stall to the right.
I’m glad to have missed that.
“Well I haven’t gone all day and now that we’ve been here I’ve gone twice,” says the left stall.
“Well, you know how it goes. Once you start you just can’t stop.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
I burst out of the stall and wash my hands as thoroughly as if I could wash away everything I’ve just heard.
My family is waiting at the front door by the country music c.d. display and my mother and I run to the car, screaming about the chill in the air now that night has fallen, leaving our husbands jogging to keep up.
“Don’t worry mom,” I say, looking over at her in our sprint to the car. “I’ll warm you up with the conversation I just heard in the bathroom.”