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art by Justine McGreevy


Elizabeth Creith writes everything from flash to novels, mainly in the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Her publishing credits include fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and poetry, and a decade as a freelance writer/broadcaster doing humour for CBC Radio. Her memoir Shepherd in Residence, (April 2012, Scrivener Press) is based in part on her radio work. She lives and writes in Wharncliffe, Northern Ontario, distracted occasionally by her husband, dog and cat. Elizabeth blogs about writing, art, and life at ecreith.com.

Zen was the head waitress at Gus's Restaurant (Serving You Since 1952!) Other waitresses came and went, sometimes after only a week or two. So far neither low pay, bad tips, nor Gus's grouchiness fazed Zen. Rumor had it she'd run away and was hiding--from a biker boyfriend, an abusive husband. Zen smiled and neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.
"Zenobia," she'd said, the first time she served Mick and he asked about the name, "I like 'Zen' better."
"Suits you, too," he said, "You're cool. I mean, you keep cool. A cool head. Um."
She shook her head, black ponytail dancing, and smiled. Her nose crinkled a little, and Mick was in love, even though he was fifty-eight and she looked maybe twenty.
After that, whenever he came in he'd sneak looks at her as she bused tables and served customers.
Did someone need more creamers? Zen put her hand in the little square pocket of her apron and pulled out half a dozen. Ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard in neat foil rectangles of red, white, and yellow. Non-dairy creamer. Brown sugar in flat brown paper packets, pink envelopes of artificial sweetener. Tiny clear tubs of marmalade, peanut butter, raspberry jam and zesty Italian salad dressing. She never had to go back to the kitchen, never said "be back with that in a moment." It was all in the pocket.
"You got a rabbit in that apron pocket?" Mick asked her once.
"Other apron," she said, pulling out four fresh, cold creamers for his coffee.
One Wednesday he left work early and went to Gus's on a whim. The restaurant was empty; as he came to the door he saw Zen sitting in the back booth with a coffee, reading a hardcover.
She closed the book as he reached for the door. On the jacket a bare-chested pirate embraced a woman in a frothy dress. Mick pulled the door open, just as Zen slipped the book into her little apron pocket. The doorbell tinkled; Zen looked up and saw Mick. He hesitated, but she smiled, and he entered and took his usual table.
"You saw me put the book in my pocket, didn't you?" she asked. "Careless of me."
"Yes," he said, then, "How'd you do that?"
"I'll show you."
She pulled a silver lighter from her pocket and flicked it.
"Watch the flame," she said.
Mick looked at it, and couldn't look away.
"Sorry, Mick," Zen said, "The rumors are right. I'm hiding. This job, in this time, is perfect cover, a nice little pocket of nowhere for me. I can't let you talk; someone will come looking..." Her words faded.
Mick jerked awake as the waitress brought his coffee.
"'Zen'," he said, reading her name tag. "Unusual name."
"It's Zenobia, but I like Zen better. Cream for your coffee, sir?" She pulled four creamers out of her apron pocket.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Author Comments

My husband and I were eating lunch at Gus's Restaurant in Sudbury. We ran short of cream and the waitress pulled four out of her apron pocket, still cold from the fridge.

"I wonder if she has a rabbit in that pocket?" my husband said--and the story came together in my head.

- Elizabeth Creith
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