Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I'm Sorry Sir...I'm on Break

I am at work, lost in that serene, transcendent time called the break. I sit at the counter, in the center of chaos, but I am not present, I do not exist...and that is how I like it. I slowly, leisurely swivel the worn leather stool, upon which I am seated, back and forth, back and forth, swaying. The noises of the restaurant, clamouring voices , clattering pots and pans, shouting cooks and grumbling waitresses, all blend and weave together into a rhythmic, cadenced beat that backdrops my break. The warmth of the stove wraps me up, and I look around but intentionally notice nothing and no one. On the cold can of apple juice that sits in front of me, large drops of condensation appear and slither their way down the side, pooling into a small puddle on the counter. I look down at the circle of clear water staring in that unfocused blurry way when blinking isn’t necessary, the pool swells and shimmers. It looks cold and refreshing, like I could jump right in.

I remember, as a child, being at the outdoor pool in August. The heat has driven most of the neighbourhood here, and it’s bursting. I push my goggles into my eyes and plunge under the cool water. I hold myself down using the tiled side as the quiet deep surrounds me. To the world above I no longer exist. The water rises and falls slightly as the masses pile in and pile out. The movement sways me back and forth, back and forth. The happy screeches of children are muffled, scattered yet constant. I lazily glance around at the sun's rays that hit the surface and become skewed as the pale streaks slice the clear water. I can see the blurry images of children running above and farther off, on my own level, the disconnected legs of some unknown swimmer. I'm holding my breath and it will soon become uncomfortable, but for now my lungs are still and I feel natural.

I imagine I am baby. I am warm and snug and floating. I am not yet disturbed by the need to breath. To the world I am not yet present, I do not exist. I am adrift, swaying with the swells of a dark sea, back and forth, back and forth. There is a thunderous beat that is constant and unwavering, booming and all tempers my stay. I know not what I am, or where I am going, but I don't mind...I'm on break.

I am in my little “break bubble”, remembering, imagining, swaying to the beat of the swivelling sticky leather stool as the clock ticks away the precious moments of my break. Suddenly, I feel the tug of reality and my back and forth rhythm is jarringly halted. A man sitting at the counter across the horseshoe shaped row facing mine is deftly trying to get my attention, using obnoxiously wild hand gestures. He is speaking to me and because of this I am abruptly present again, I exist. The cacophonous momentum of the restaurant, which had moments ago been the steady beat of my break, comes crashing over me, a tidal wave of sound. A child is screaming somewhere in the table section. The cook is hollering that the "poacher is off people! It is one o'clock, POACHERS OFF!” The rusty hinges on the front door scream as they are pushed open and clang as they are slammed shut, all of this in a rushing few seconds. I look at the man, he is older, in his late forties, large bellied with an impatient looking moustache and receding hairline.

He is telling me his order.

This must be a violation, an infringement, a breach of some invisible law. I stare at him blankly as I am overwhelmed with his expectation of swift and unquestioning service. All I can think is "but I'm on break".

I remember floating in the clear chlorinated water of the outdoor pool, looking downward, examining the grimy tiles that line the bottom. The ebb and flow of the water pushes me lightly to and fro as my hair spirals out like spilt ink in front of me. Violently and without warning, my head is jerked upward. I gasp and with the intake of breath comes the intake of liquid. I surface, spluttering and coughing. My goggles have come askew and the chemical water stings my eyes. The heat of the sun burns at my face as the sounds of shrieking children, barking dogs and blaring traffic is made 10 fold. I am pulled from the water. Now on the surface, substantially existing and no longer invisible, I find the iron grip that has disrupted my mother.

"Meghan be RESPONSIBLE! YOU DO NOT lie face down in a pool! What is wrong with you! I thought you were drowning!"

My eyes well up with tears and I feel a shame that I cannot put a reason behind. A weight bears heavily down on my shoulders and chest. I cross my arms and huff in frustration under my breath "But I'm on break ".

I imagine I am a baby. I am floating for eternity in the warm dark sea when the loud steady beat begins to increase. There is a movement that I do not know and I am violently flipped and shaken. What follows is a tumultuous frenzy. I am tossed and thrown, the sea now angry and stirring, sloshing, gnashing and contracting. I am driven ahead into harsh lights, blazing and blinking; into sounds, scraping and beeping. I am forged forward into the world with the obligation to BREATH and scream and live. With the responsibility to grow up, go swimming, refrain from drowning, gain independence, become a waitress, do my duty and remember that the customer is never wrong!

With choice cast aside and preference ignored, all I can think is "but I'm on break".

“Don’t worry about it Meg. Sir, if you just wait a moment I will help you no problem!”

The scenes in my mind evaporate as instantly as they appeared.

Julie gives me a strange look as she comes from the back kitchen where she was busily scraping left overs into the garbage. She smiles brightly at the customer as she recites her line. I don’t know if I have actually voiced my indignation at this man’s rude interruption. By the look on her face I have.

The moustache across the row ruffles furiously: “I don’t know why you people allow breaks here anyway, stupid in my opinion”.

But I don’t hear this part. I’m back in my mind, remembering, imagining, floating in the rhythmic sway...there is still 4 minutes left of my break after all.


  1. I haven't read this yet, but I will comment on it later. I just wanted to comment (before I forget) that I noticed you changed the layout of your blog with the note on the term waitress to the side instead of the top. I think its much more effective that way! I look forward to reading your next post!

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  3. Wow, Meghan. I just read this piece and it is incredible. I've never read anything like this except for by "real" writers. So, I guess you're a real writer too. I'm really impressed by the way you changed back and forth between scenes without it being confusing, and always with a flow that matched the tone of the story. The first part had the break scene, the pool, and the baby, and then you repeated it in a less than peaceful tone. I really liked that. I also really enjoyed the way you perfectly set the tone. One line you wrote was: "The cacophonous momentum of the restaurant, which had moments ago been the steady beat of my break, comes crashing over me, a tidal wave of sound." I felt both the 'steady beat' of the peaceful scenes, and the 'cacophonous' noise of the stressful, tense scenes.
    Its also interesting to note that though it follows the same theme of waitressing, its way different than the last pice, and is far from a "ranting" piece about your job.
    It was just overall an interesting, risky, and successful piece. Thanks for the good read!

  4. Meghan, I really liked how you created voice through the flashbacks. Thinking of the child pouting and using it to give character to your "but I'm on break" statements was incredibly effective. I think anyone who has worked in a restaurant can relate to that.

    I find that your blogs are much longer yet never a bore to read. You definintely spiraled around your story. You don't give anything away straight out and sweep in and out of narrative, which is makes the story that much better to read.

    I wasn't sure at first why the flashbacks were in present tense, and it confused me a teeny bit at first, but then in worked in nicely when you blurred the line between flashback and present at the end. The narrator is clearly not in the present, and re-living the past. Great job!

  5. Hello Meghan!

    Awesome piece of literature! A solid intro which flows into a great segue to your childhood. Also, fantastic delivery when you come to realization that he is telling you his order. Really, too many moments of good writing. I can’t wait until the next one.

  6. Meghan,
    Your blog was an awesome read! Your choice of diction was amazing. You did an awesome job at invoking your reader’s emotions. While you were on break I felt a sense of relief, when you stated “ I do not exist...and that is how I like it. I slowly, leisurely swivel the worn leather stool, upon which I am seated, back and forth, back and forth, swaying.”, I felt as if I was the one on break. I have never been to your restaurant but I could just visualize the scene as if I had been there many times.

    Then when you were coming out of your “break bubble” I felt angry and annoyed as if it was once again in your position.

    Great read!