She marked the time with the patter of her fork, slow and seemingly purposeful chews separating each and every tick against the cheap china. She was out of uniform, so it was fine having her eat listlessly at the counter. A few of the regulars not convinced enough to buy cheap eats elsewhere would be all that would recognize her, given that was both the usual hostess and easily the prettiest worker at the rest (no doubt the two were connected), the rest of the workers seeming to have succumbed to the undesirable combination of affliction that comes when gravity meets cellulite. Lydia's only droop seemed the usual one around the edges of her mouth, not simply because of the feigned exuberance that put prospective customers in motion towards their waiting booths. Always, from management- 'Happy workers, happy customers, happy meals', even for smiles kept up by toothpicks.
“You'd better eat some of that, darlin'.” Said Catie
It was true. While Lydia was the prettiest, it was in spite of, not because of, a rather rail-thin figure. The manager, were it not for Lydia's stalwart consistency, would have felt more genuine in whispering things about cocaine and amphetamine rather than that founded only in jealousy of the young girl's figure.
“Trying.” Said Lydia.
The truth was that her mind was rather far away from there, lost to the endless discharge of precipitates from the asphalt arteries that burst into the diner with a disjoint of baseball caps, tattoos, and sad Middle America affectation that leads to premature droop and a sort of pansexual hirsuteness around the face and jowels. Wobbling chins and all-day breakfasts smothered in table syrup and served with crackling pig fat fresh off the sheet grill. Days wore you down rather than simply wearing on as might be expected. Little pills from the doctor, yellow tabs to treat the blue days, but more often than not they just left you with your mouth dry and your seat wet. A perfect match, perhaps, to the palms sticky with fake-maple sugar.
Lydia could still hear her mother's voice, the strong Vermont can-do pout, “Table syrup, more the misnomer than you can imagine, little Liddy. None of that junk on the table, not on my watch, not ever.”
The thought of this would make Lydia sink more towards her plate, towards the fries smothered in the alien vinegar rather than the common ketchup.
“You wouldn't believe what we got today.” Said Catie, quite prepared to accept the possibility that Lydia would, in fact, believe it. “Some queer from New York comes in and asks for a veggie burger. Annie was serving him, and had to be shown just where on the menu it was! I tell you, I don't get those queers- they won't eat meat, but why? So afraid of eating their own, but they all look more like the beansprouts they eat to me!”
Lydia continued to dig her fork into the malt-and-bitter-smelling frenchfries, staring blankly at the little chips that would fly off from the crisp little strings.
“He got the dipping veggies, and we had to find a bottle of ranch dressing- just for him. He just returned it to us after the meal, said he didn't need none of it, said that we could keep it for other customers. Chef and I had a big laugh pouring that little shot of ranch back into the bottle!”
Still, Lydia's fixation had dulled her to her friend- instead she found herself trapped in a thought that kept at her, growing in spite of attempts at ignoring it. Embers, she now thought, stoking her fries as if they were fires on the logs.
“Exactly like embers!” Boomed Mom, glancing to and from traffic at the sporadic pirouettes of light along the highway-side. The bright orange gobs of fire that lept up from the tall grass and the cat-tails of greenery held her mouth open in a constant 'oh' of wondrous fascination.
Mom had pulled over some time later, where Lydia had danced about waving her hands exultantly in a rambling chase to catch a handful of fire. But Mom was quicker, and fast as quicksilver had a fistful of quiet light. It seemed to snore between Mom's fingertips, waxing and waning- and the gasp when she parted her hands to show the source...
Lydia started up, the floor protesting the sudden movement of the chair she'd tortuously dragged along it. She smiled at Catie, who could only look back quizically.
“What's gotten into you? You're all smiles. Weirrrrrd.”
“I,” announced Lydia, no small hint of confidence, “am going out to catch some fireflies.”
"You sure there's still enough light out?"
"That's exactly what I'm going to catch!"