FROM: “Daphne”, a working-novel/story
Before I moved in with James and Daphne, I lived in a larger apartment outside of the city in a rough neighborhood. Although I shared the apartment with two women, I stayed in my own room, whose four walls and locked door later became the only means of saving me from disaster. One roommate was my landlord, Nina, a small blonde who could have been attractive if she wasn’t 43 and merely skin and bones. The other room, next to mine, originally belonged to a poor illustrator named Ruth, the only sane person in that place, who to my distress left after one month. That room has seen a slew of new girls come through it who haven’t had the nerves to stay in the apartment for long. They’ve all had live-in boyfriends, exceptionally tall and large ones, who stare me down whenever they pass me on the way to the bathroom or kitchen.
Before I go into detail about the experience, I have only two questions for the cosmos: What did I do to deserve that? The way those guys glared at me like I was hitting on their girlfriends telephatically right in front of them. At the time I had no interest in women; I was like a socially-retarded 14 year old boy. My only interests lay in making money fast and finding Daphne, who had disappeared again and left me no means of contacting her.
Secondly, how could I have been so stupid to think Nina was normal when I met her and handed over my security deposit? She was my first lesson in deception; and it was then I realized that dumb people can fool smart ones, simply because the intelligent people are vain enough to think they’re completely safe from gullibility.
This was the third time this week I sauntered over to the diner at which Daphne worked as a waitress. It was called GiGi’s and was open 24 hours, perched on the side of a public park that was certainly on the dirtier side. I came inside, asked one of the Hispanic bus boys if a girl named Daphne was working — “Short dark hair, big nose, wears all black,” I told him. Either the guy didn’t speak English or took me for a stalker, but he shook his head and rushed to clear plates from a table. I leaned over the counter next to a few smelly old guys drinking their coffees and reading the paper. I wasn’t going to be discouraged easily.
The waiter behind the counter swooped up from below, swinging a rag over his shoulder. He beamed at me from underneath his black mustache. “What can I get for you, sir?” he said. “A coffee,” I said, “Don’t bother with the cream.”
I made my place next to the old men on the stools. I could blend in with these guys. From behind, I could look 60 years older. I slouched, stared at my black coffee, waited for the man behind the counter to swoop back to this end. I leaned closer to him.
“Hey, mind if I ask, do you know a Daphne who works here?”
“Daphne? Oh sure, yeah I do. She’s not in today.”
“Mind if I ask when she works?”
The guy with the mustache glanced at me suspiciously, then broke into a smile with a knowing glimmer in his eye. “A-ha! I get it, man. I get it.” He had some sort of European accent — perhaps Albanian. “Alright, I’ll check the schedule. But if it’s a surprise, don’t tell her I told you. Little girl scares me sometimes.” He chuckled, a little nervously.
He disappeared through the swinging doors into the kitchen. When he returned, he looked even more nervous. “Hey man, before I tell you when she’s in next, what is this all about? This girl your sister or something?”
“Yes, she’s my sister,” I answered.
He looked at me again, the way Ruth’s boyfriend looked at me, as though wary to trust me. “Alright, man, she’s in tomorrow morning at 5am. She works the morning shift.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be here tomorrow.” I stayed for a while to nurse my coffee, but really watched the old men next to me, as they were served their diner bacon and eggs. They ate slowly, bringing the forks up to their stubbled mouths with a shaking hand. You wondered where their wives were, if they were dead or at home or divorced. You wondered if this was the last escape for a man at age 80 or 90, when the bar was no longer an option: scrambled eggs at GiGi’s, with nose-pierced, raven-haired Daphne as your waitress.