There’s a place down on old Route 66 out past free standing houses in The-Middle-of-Nowhere, Nevada, called Rosie’s. If you’re driving at night, you barely even notice the big acrylic sign bearing a red rose in bloom along with the name of the establishment. The single street lamp in front of the place is dim, yet it attracts every moth in town. The parking lot isn’t paved, just a clearing of dirt and gravel. But the joint is open and I’m hungry, so Sue pulls over. For dinner, Rosie’s it is.
The weathered wooden stairs groan under our feet, and the screen door slams back against the frame once we’ve entered. Certainly not a restaurant, and not quite a diner: the sitting area is a mish-mosh of old tables and chairs, racks of potato chips and candy, fishing equipment, children’s toys, maps, and coolers of soft drinks and canned beer. Up front is a serving counter, the kitchen separated by a closed wall save for a small square cut as a window. The chef’s head pops into view every now and then, a greasy looking fella in dark framed glasses. A middle-aged guy mans the counter and chats with the waitress. We are the only customers. Sue gives me that look, the same one she’s been giving me for more than a decade whenever I’ve gotten us into a real pickle: the eye slide and tense mouth that struggles to keep in the laughter. I say, “What, it can’t be that bad.” She giggles and pulls out a chair.
The menu is posted on one of those old-fashioned deli boards with the snap-on letters, and specials are scrawled on construction paper taped behind the counter. Good thing because it takes the waitress an age to come over to the table. She’s hunched over the counter, joking around with the guy behind it. She’s a big dark-blonde girl, maybe in her late teens or early twenties. She’s not unattractive, the kind of girl you don’t really look at twice if you see her on the street. When she finally gets the notion to do her job, she walks over and says, “Y’all know what you want?”
Sue asks her if there’s anything she can recommend. The waitress screws up her face and says, “I wouldn’t eat anything here.” She pops the chewing gum in her mouth. “Oh, well maybe the meatloaf. Should be alright . . . I saw him make it.”
We nod and smile and ask her to give us a minute. Once she leaves, Sue rubs her forehead, and I try not to laugh. We decide to order hamburgers. “You can’t really screw up a hamburger,” I say. Sue gives me the look again.
We crack open two cans of Bud--Heineken is unheard of around these parts--while we wait for our food. In the meantime, the joint begins to liven up a bit. The first dude to come in looks like he’s just hopped out of a low-budget hip hop video, swagger and all. He grabs a beer out of the cooler and parks himself at the counter next to the waitress. He apparently is a friend of her boyfriend and has come to let her know that loverboy is on his way to California.
“I don’t believe you,” she says. “He’d never leave me.”
And even though Mr. Hip Hop delivers the entire dark fairytale, she remains adamant in her disbelief. Amid her sulking, the guy behind the counter takes a large platter out of the chef’s window and sets it in front of the waitress. She’s ordered the meatloaf.
While she’s eating, a couple pull up outside; the glare from the headlights sends a wash of light through the door. They enter and exchange looks like they’ve just stepped off a spaceship. They immediately try to regain some level of decent composure and stroll up to the counter. Judging by their style of clothing and accent, they must be Northeasterners too, no doubt lured by the Las Vegas big city lights. They ask the counter attendant for the bathroom, and he points them to another building out back. They look skeptical, but nature calls.
Our food has been sitting in the small square window for a couple minutes, but as far as the waitress is concerned, her life is over and there’s meatloaf to ease the grief. So the guy behind the counter takes up the plates and brings them over to us. We make puddles of ketchup next to the fries and dig in to see what Rosie’s has to offer. And I swear it’s not just because I’m starving: Rosie’s makes a damn good burger.
But the fun doesn’t stop here. Next in the door is a woman who is obviously a regular based on the attention paid. She’s the kind of woman who exists only in gossip and rumor, a caricature that you tell yourself over and over again is wrong. She’s barefoot, and her feet look as though shoes for her are a luxury. She’s wearing a man’s tank top, and the arm holes are nearly down to her waist, which is unfortunate because she’s not wearing a bra, and her breasts hang dangerously close to exposure. Her toothless grin makes her seem much older than she must be. Sue and I decide that this must be Rosie.
The burgers and fries are gone, but we order another beer as a ticket to continue watching the show. Good thing because loverboy shows up at the joint. No way we would have pegged this dude as the waitress’s boyfriend: he’s on the shorter end of average and rail thin. The waitress sees him come in and turns back to her meatloaf. He goes up to the counter and sits next to her, but she won’t acknowledge him. He tries to put his arm around her shoulders, but she pulls away and starts hollering at him about the news she received from his friend. “Is it true?”
He puts his elbows on the counter, holds his head in his hands. He swallows the truth for as long as he can, slowly drags his hands down his face. “I have to go.”
She shakes her head, throws her fork down on the counter. It clinks on the side of her plate. “You can’t.”
He gets up and heads for the door. She grabs his arm, pleads with him to stay. She asks when he plans to leave, and he points at the door. Tells her he’s going now, right now. She’s nearly in tears and blubbers unintelligible phrases, “But . . .don’t. . .why?”
He shakes his head, says, “I gotta get out of this place.” He has plans, goals, dreams. He just needs to get in his car, put his foot on the pedal, take the open road. Leave everything behind. Leave her behind.
She grabs his other hand, and he backs away toward the door. Their arms are stretched as far as they will reach.
And then they let go.
The boyfriend hurries out the door, a spinning tire whirs and kicks up gravel in the parking lot. The waitress goes back to the counter, perches again on the same stool. Shortly after, the guy behind the counter prints out our receipt, and she brings it over to us. We try not to look at her, don’t want her to feel embarrassed. She shrugs. “That’s how things go.”
“Yep,” Sue says.
We pay the bill, get in the car, and head back toward our hotel in Vegas. “That wasn’t bad, was it?” I say.
She laughs and says, “No, wasn’t that bad.”
I’m glad we stopped at that place. Rosie’s has more on the menu than what anyone ever bargains for.
Christine Taylor, a multiracial English teacher and librarian, resides in her hometown Plainfield, New Jersey. She serves as a reader and contributing editor at OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. Her work appears in Modern Haiku, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Room, and The Rumpus among others. She can be found at www.christinetayloronline.com