"... Two eggs over easy, hash browns, wheat toast - dry, and one cup of decaf." The request was a simple one, number seven on her mental list of twelve hundred and twenty-four possible combinations.
Marcella noted the order on her pad and turned to go, just as she had done every morning for... How long had it been? Behind her, the elderly customer made some comment in a pleasant voice, but his words didn't register.
The question came back to haunt her all through the morning, and she wondered distantly whether something was wrong. This was her job, her life. She came to work at five-thirty in the morning, waited tables, collected her tips, and went home to her tiny apartment at two-thirty in the afternoon. There she showered, changed clothes and watched television until it was time to go to bed.
On Tuesdays, she washed her clothes, shopped for a few groceries and other necessities of life, and watched television. This was her life. All of her life.
The next day was a Tuesday, and she watched herself with a faint tingle of awareness as she went through the usual motions of living. A trace of rain misted the sidewalks as she walked to the convenience store at the end of her block, and she was distantly grateful for the store's dry warmth. Back at her apartment, she sat down in the overstuffed arm chair in front of her television.
The face on the screen talked endlessly about work, and duty, and obedience. Marcella looked at her small color television set, seeing it as though for the first time. There was no tuning knob, and she wondered why she thought that there should be one. Then the words coming from the screen caught her attention once more and the thought was lost.
On Wednesday she waited on ninety-seven customers and gained one hundred and seventeen dollars and fifty-five cents in tips. These were turned in to be deposited along with her paycheck, then to be drawn out automatically to pay for her rent and groceries.
"... Two eggs over easy, crisp bacon, hash browns, wheat toast - dry, and one cup of decaf." The request was a simple one, number eleven on her mental list of twelve hundred and twenty-four possible combinations.
Marcella noted the order on her pad, just as she had done every morning for... How long had it been? The elderly customer spoke in a pleasant voice, wishing her a good morning.
"Thank you, sir. And a good morning to you, too."
"Well, that's a pleasant change, Linda." He smiled, a surprised look on his wrinkled face. "After all this time, I was beginning to think that you didn't know how to talk."
Suddenly flustered, she turned away. Why had she spoken? That wasn't a part of what she was supposed to do. All what time? There was only this round of seven days, after a round of seven days before, then another seven days after. And her name was Marcella, not Linda, no matter what her name tag said.
When she brought the customer his order, she opened her mouth to speak, to ask him how long it had been, but something wouldn't let her bring forth a single word. For an endless moment she simply stood there, her mouth half open.
"Of course, it is still raining," he continued as though there had been no break in their conversation. That's not too unusual for this time of year."
"Time of year?" Marcella's voice seemed rusty, as though she hadn't used it in... in how long?
"The misty month of March," he answered, still smiling. "It always rains in March, here in Oregon. Are you from around here?"
"I... I don't..."
"Linda! Your next order's up!"
The peremptory call from the kitchen broke her train of thought and she turned away hurriedly, feeling an obscure relief from the pressure of human contact. The rest of the day was no different from any other.