by Merle Drown
One fall afternoon this bejeweled lady stepped into my restaurant and asked if we served Negroes. Her necklace, earrings, and broach looked heavy for midday wear, but they were real. God knows I’ve seen enough of the costume variety, always overdone and usually overbearing. Me, I’m barebones, one gold ring, even between husbands.
“I don’t want my driver embarrassed again by being refused,” she said. “As one woman to another, I’ve found New Hampshire isn’t as open-minded as it pretends.”
I came up the hard way on River Street, so I’m pleased with this woman and proud to tell her my restaurant doesn’t exclude anyone. I gritted my teeth over a few from Massachusetts, some from New York, even a couple from just down the road, but I figured they helped pay the staff so what the hell.
She beckoned out the door, and a bulky black woman slid gracefully from behind the wheel of a white Eldorado. Her chauffeur’s outfit, crisp and gray, hid muscle. This woman strode.
I led the women to the table with the best view of the mountains. The chauffeur pulled out a chair with a little flair, and I smiled to myself on the way to the kitchen, thinking I was right about that too.
I mixed two Black Russians, on the house, when the waitress stepped in with their order. “Lovers?” I asked.
“Maybe not,” she said, “seeing as how they’re sitting at separate tables. That fancy lady ordered the French onion soup and a club BLT, and Caesar salad for the colored woman.”
I barely kept myself from spitting in the white lady’s drink. “Slumming,” I said.
When I sat her spit-free glass down, I nodded at her chauffeur, who sat several tables behind her.
“It’s okay. I’m paying for both,” moneybags said. “A single check will be fine. And, oh, direct my driver to the best foliage from here.”
I shut my mouth so as not to spoil the waitress’s tip.
Before I gave the chauffeur her drink, I said, “Turn north, and you’ll drive through a hundred miles of the prettiest leaves in the White Mountains. The drive will just get better and better.” Then I pressed the Black Russian in her hand.
Before I ran the French onion soup under the broiler, I passed it to the pots and pans boy for a dose of Ajax. That bitch would get the squirts good an hour down the road, where there wasn’t a rest stop fifty miles either way.
Merle Drown is the author novels, Plowing Up A Snake (The Dial Press) and The Suburbs Of Heaven (Soho Press). Merle has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the NH Arts Council and teaches in Southern NH U’s MFA program. Pieces from a collection-in-progress, Shrunken Heads, miniature portraits of the famous among us, have appeared in Amoskeag, Meetinghouse, Night Train, The Kenyon Review, Rumble, Sub-Lit, Word Riot, Bound Off, JMWW, Eclectica, Toasted Cheese, Foliate Oak, SN Review, Bartleby Snopes, (Short) Fiction Collective, and 971 Menu. Whitepoint Press will publish his new novel, Lighting the World, in March 2015..