by Karl Marxhausen 1977
It was Monday morning. It was cold outside and two feet of snow on the ground. Raleigh's opened for lunch and there was no business. The cooks were lazy in the kitchen, doing their tasks. And Sally was making coffee.
The soup was simmering. The soapsuds were sleeping.
The dining room was empty.
Outside, through the snow, came a man trudging as best he could. The deep snow pulled at his boots. He made his way to the restaurant door and walked in. The door chimes tinkled softly. The room shivered as a breath of cold air passed through the door back to the kitchen. The man removed his hat and placed it on the hat rack. He wore a large overcoat. He seated himself at a small table of four chairs. And opened a large duffle bag at his side.
The room sighed.
¤ ¤ ¤
"Sally, you have a customer," said the dishwasher.
"O.K," Sally replied.
She emptied a pot of water into the coffee machine and went to wait on the customer, leaving the machine unattended. The hot water trickled thru the coffee filter and drained rich and black into another pot all by itself.
The man was sitting quite comfortable at the table when Sally arrived. He held a tobacco pipe in his hand, which he occasionally puffed on. He was puffing on it now.
"Good afternoon," said Sally.
The gentleman nodded and withdrew his pipe. A wisp of sweet smelling smoke escaped, turning about in circles. "Good afternoon," said he.
Sally handed him the lunch menu.
"It is cold out today, isn't it?" said Sally.
"Yes it is," said the man.
She looked out the front windows at the snow and the frozen icicles. They glittered in the sun.
The man looked at the menu. And Sally stayed nearby to receive the order. There was nothing, absolutely nothing else to do. Business was slow today. She should have stayed home this morning, she thought. Sally looked at her nails to see if they needed clipping.
"Beg you pardon," said the gentleman.
Sally looked up at the man. "Yes. Are you ready to order now?"
"Perhaps. What would you suggest I order for a cold day," he said gesturing to the menu with the pipe.
"Take the soup," suggested Sally.
"A good choice!" he exclaimed. There was a touch of jolliness in that voice. "What kind of soup is it?"
"Today we have potato soup, " said Sally.
He frowned a bit and hesitated. "Oh? Is that the only soup you have?"
"Yes," said Sally. The man didn't look too happy.
"Well.." He paused. He looked over the menu once more. "I will have two bowls of potato soup, please."
"O.K." said Sally writing down his order. "Would you like also something to drink? We have a bar, if you..."
"No thank you," he said. This will do for now."
Sally turned and went back to the kitchen. She had failed to notice the large duffle bag that sat next to the man. It had a number of zippered pouches. And the white-lettered word ELMO stamped on its side.
After the waitress had gone, the man put the pipe to his mouth and puffed quietly.
The pictures hung on the walls. The books sat on the one wall bookshelf. The room was still and warm. And outside, the snow was cold and the icicles glittered.
The man reached into the open duffle bag and pulled out a newspaper.
¤ ¤ ¤
The kitchen door swung in and out. Budbah.
"I need two soups, " said Sally aloud. She went to check the coffee. It was doing fine.
Two cook were lazily moving about.
One stood by the stove, where the soup simmered, awaiting the order. The other stood by the dishwater, where the soapsuds were sleeping, scrubbing pots and pans from the night before.
"Two soups," repeated the stove cook. Betty ladled out two bowls of hot potato soup. The bowls steamed.
The two bowls were put on a tray, with a soup spoon beside each, and a dish of crackers between.
Sally took the tray out.
The door swung. Budbah.
¤ ¤ ¤
When Sally returned, her customer was reading a newspaper. The dining room smelled of sweet tobacco. But he was no longer smoking the pipe. There was a small armadillo sitting across from the man. She did not see it at first.
She set the soup tray at the table and set out the bowls of soup. Then she saw the armadillo. It was chewing gum.
The gentleman folded his newspaper.
"Please give one soup to Elmo," he said gesturing to the place where "Elmo" sat. "And one soup for me."
"Elmo, don't chew your gum now. We're going to eat soup," said the man gently. Elmo took the gum from his small mouth and tucked it in his napkin.
Elmo wore of little white T-shirt.
Sally found herself staring at the armadillo, trying to figure out what it was. She did not know what it was. Or where it came from.
"What is that?" mumbled Sally backing off a bit. It wore a little white T-shirt. And it had little beady eyes that blinked at her.
Sally didn't move.
So the gentleman helped himself to the soup. He carefully set one bowl in front of Elmo and one bowl in front of himself. Carefully, because the bowls held hot soup.
Sally wrinkled her eyebrows as she tried to determine what her other customer was. Had she read about this kind of animal before? She was confused.
"Are you sure this is potato soup?" the man asked looking at the soup.
"Yes," said Sally. "It is potato soup."
"Good!" said the gentleman. He sounded happy.
Elmo began eating his soup with a spoon. It was good soup but hot. Sally shook her head, trying to think clearly. It was animal, but she couldn't place it. You never saw armadillos in Galena.
She looked at the man and said with regret, " We don't serve animals here. If you would like a doggy bag..." She paused. The man looked up from his hot potato soup and looked at Sally in surprise.
She still had not noticed the large duffle bag beside the man. It sat there unobtrusive and totally content.
"What is Elmo?" asked Sally quite unsure of herself.
"Elmo is an armadillo," said the man. Elmo looked at Sally with its beady eyes.
"Well," said Sally no looking at Elmo. "We don't serve armadillos."
"It doesn't say anything like that on the menu," said the man picking up the menu.
Sally glanced at the armadillo and frowned. She didn't know what to do. It couldn't hurt to serve the animal, providing it stayed under control.
"By the way," said the man trying to get her attention. "Could I have two more bowls of soup? It is delicious soup for such a cold day." Elmo was well into his bowl of hot soup.
Sally took his order and headed back to the kitchen, brushing past the tables to the kitchen door. Budbah.
¤ ¤ ¤
"Betty," said Sally to the stove cook. "There's the strangest man you ever saw out there, eating with a.. a.. wait a minute." She paused. "..an armadillo." She had almost said "an animal." "They are both eating soup !!
"Oh?" said Betty with a slight interest.
"What are you talking about?" said the dishwasher who missed the first part.
Sally repeated, "There's a man out there, eating with an armadillo. You should see it. It was wearing a white T-shirt and it eats the soup with a spoon. It's really weird !"
The dishwasher, after hearing the word "armadillo," sort of laughed and ignored her. The soapsuds floated quietly in the sink. If they had been listening to Sally's queer talk, they would have given up their work altogether.
Sally heard the dishwasher's laugh. And said, "It's true! There is an armadillo out there. I am not making it up." Her eyes glared at him.
"I need two more soups," said Sally to Betty. The stove cook got up from her chair next to the stove.
"Do you think I should tell Chuck?" said Sally.
"Chuck is out right now. He is picking up the groceries," said Betty. She ladled out a delicious bowl of soup.
"What about Raleigh?" asked Sally. She needed to tell one of the owners about her unusual customers.
"He's not up yet. He's still sleeping," said Betty. She ladled another bowl of soup. "Was that three soups, Sally?"
"No, only two soups," said Sally.
She frowned. Oh bother.
"He's our only customer so far. Business is so slow today," said Sally to Betty. "I wonder if he is going to tip me? He'd better."
The coffee was ready. It was hot in the pot.
¤ ¤ ¤
When Sally came out with the two soups, there was a kangaroo and an alligator sitting at the man's table, along with the armadillo.
Sally brought the soups to the table. She squinted at the kangaroo. It wore glasses. That must be a kangaroo, she thought. Across from it was an alligator or a crocodile. It wore a pink blouse.
Elmo was still eating its soup.
The man had re-lit the pipe and was smoking it again. The other customers didn't seem to mind.
"Who gets the soups?" said Sally. Don't get upset, she told herself. It is only Monday. And business is slow. And you need the money. If they want soup, give them soup.
The man said, "Please. One bowl goes to Edward, that's the kangaroo. And one bowl to Lisa, that's the alligator."
Sally felt silly setting a bowl of delicious hot soup before a full grown kangaroo (of all things!) and a full grown alligator. If Chuck were here, he would chase them right out, thought Sally.
Lisa smiled at Sally, exposing a beautiful white set of sharp teeth. Sally didn't recognize it as a smile. If Lisa wanted to she could bite off one of Sally's arms, if not both of them, in one snap.
The man said to Sally, "It looks like Lisa likes you a lot. See how she is smiling."
I'll bet she's smiling, thought Sally doubtfully.
The man smiled. He meant no harm. He was just happy. And then, everyone smiled. Edward, the kangaroo; Elmo, the armadillo; Lisa, the alligator, and the man with the pipe. It looked horrible. Sally's stomach turned over.
"By the way," said the man. "We would like more soup. Delicious hot soup. And some dessert."
Sally obeyed. Inside she felt like screaming. It was too much to believe. Her hands were clenched behind her back. CALM YOURSELF, she thought.
"How many soups?" she asked.
The man counted four at the table, plus the two more which would arrive shortly.That was six. Six bowls of soup, wrote Sally. Where they all coming from? she thought. It was too cold outside. She would ask Betty.
"And desserts?" asked the man puffing on his pipe. "It says here on the menu to ask about the desserts."
"We have some scrumptious cherry cheesecakes," said Sally trying to sound enthusiastic. She sort of did.
"Cheesecakes?" said the man, his smile momentarily put aside. It appeared as if didn't like cheesecakes at all. Sally didn't like them either.
The man grimaced.
Lisa winked her big green eyes at Sally. And even Elmo looked up from his soup at her. Sally swallowed and looked away from their gaze.She crossed her fingers quietly. Don't lose these customers, she thought desperately.
Actually another Monday gone by would not hurt Sally. It was just that the alligator looked like a man-eater, that's all.
"O.K." said the man. "Six cheesecakes." It sounded like a command. He put on his smile again and talked to Edward and Lisa.
Sally took down the order and headed to the kitchen. As she left, she thought she heard them laughing at a joke.
The kitchen door swung in and out.
¤ ¤ ¤
"Six more soups, Betty," said Sally as she walked along the counter.
Betty asked if there were more customers. Sally shook her head. "No, they are the same people. I mean, the same party." They were not "people" indeed.
"They must be really hungry, " said Betty.
Sally smiled weakly. She imagined Lisa's big green eyes winking at her.
Betty ladled out six more soups into six more soup bowls, which were set on six more under liners, with one spoon beside each. Six soup spoons together.
"And I need six cherry cheesecakes," said Sally to the dishwasher.
The dishwasher said, "You don't even like cheesecake. What do you want with that many cheesecakes?"
"The customers want them, Karl," said Sally.
"Oh. You mean your armadillo friend wants one?" he sneered. The soapsuds pretended to listen. They were instead fighting grease. It was a real struggle. Grease was everywhere, in the hot water, and on everything. But there were more soap bubbles that grease particles. Grease didn't stand a chance!
"He's not my friend. Probably yours," snapped Sally. "Oh, but you should see the newcomers. There is a kangaroo and an alligator. The alligator looks like a man-eater. It has big sharp ugly teeth. And the kangaroo wears glasses like you do."
Karl ignored Sally. Kangaroo indeed. Indeed! It was sort of funny how Sally made this all up, thought the dishwasher.
Karl made the cherry cheesecakes as was asked, while Sally put the whipped cream topping on them. "I hope your alligator likes whipped cream," teased Karl.
Sally didn't answer him. Her thoughts were so busy she forgot to ask Betty where the animals could have possibly come from.
Sally was just going out the kitchen door, when she heard Chuck come through the back door with the groceries. "Oh good," she thought as she approached her customer's table. "I can talk to Chuck later and get this all cleared up."
¤ ¤ ¤
They were singing when she got to their table. She almost turned back right away. Animals shouldn't sing! They were singing "Happy Birthday" to someone.
There was a cake on the table with lit candles and white frosting. Balloons and streamers hung all across the room. And everyone around the table wore party hats. Shiny little party hats with strings that went down under their chins.
Does a kangaroo have a chin? thought Sally.
The newcomers this time were two very tall creatures with long necks. They were both giraffes. Sally knew what giraffes were. But how could they have gotten into the dining room? she thought Standing up, their heads would have gone through the ceiling.
They were huge animals indeed. They made everyone else appear small. Sally didn't want to get too close.
The man motioned her to their table. Sally was real scared and then she remembered the six soups. She set the tray down and handed out the soups.
"Give one to Elmo please," said the man. (She remembered Elmo. He was the armadillo with the little white T-shirt.)
"And one to Lisa," said the man. (Lisa was the alligator. She had smiley eyes.)
"And one to Edward," said the man. (The kangaroo with glasses.)
"And one to Gerome and one to Jenny, " said the man. (Gerome and Jenny were the giraffes.) Sally couldn't tell which on was which. They looked alike. So she guessed.
"They are brother and sister," said the man.
"And now one bowl for me, " he added.
"One happy family, " said Sally ironically. And then she wished she hadn't said that. But it didn't matter. Everyone laughed at that.
"You see," said the man. "Today is Elmo's birthday. He is twelve years old. And so his friends gave this small party for him."
Elmo blinked his beady black eyes. He was very happy.
"The soup is excellent," said the man holding the smoldering pipe in his hand. "It is good and hot. Tell the cook that! And, in a little while, bring out the cheesecakes."
"O.K." said Sally. Only it didn't sound that clear, because she was nervous and her hands were shaking and she was swallowing and she couldn't say anything very well. She just stared and stared, as politely as she could.
The kangaroo led them in another round of "Happy Birthday."
Sally couldn't believe it. Singing animals. It just wasn't normal. And yet, if you closed your eyes and listened, the music sounded alright.
Sally's eyes were wide open.
She looked up at the ceiling and saw the faces of George and Jenny looking down at her. They tried to smile, but had difficulty with the soup in their mouths. Jenny blushed instead.
Do giraffe blush? thought Sally. I guess so,
Suddenly she remembered something. Chuck. Chuck was in the kitchen. She had to talk to Chuck about this. Oh, but would they let her get away? Would they get made at her? Would Lisa bite off her arms?
Sally slipped away.
And no one noticed because Elmo was blowing out his birthday candles. Everyone clapped when he did.
¤ ¤ ¤
Back in the kitchen, it was still Monday morning. Slow business. And not much going on. Betty was cleaning the stove and scraping off the grime. Karl was drying the dishes and glassware from the night before. And Chuck. Where was Chuck?
Sally looked in the backroom, where the potatoes were stored. Sally looked again in the kitchen.
"Chuck went upstairs for a moment," said the stove cook. "He'll be back down."
"Rats. Missed him," muttered Sally.
¤ ¤ ¤
Sally returned to the birthday table with the six cherry cheesecakes.
The party was winding down. The balloons were popped, and the streamers dangled from the tables and chairs to the floor. It was a mess. The cake was gone. The soup was all eaten. A couple of plates were eaten. Lisa's soup cup was half gone. All that remained was the company, the "family."
Everyone told Sally how delicious the soup was. Sally never heard so much thanks in all her life. Even Lisa enjoyed the soup. It was much better than eating swamp grass, she said. And the way the alligator said it made Sally feel like they were friends, at least not enemies.
Sally's hands stopped shaking.
The giraffes thanked her for the soup and such good hospitality. Good hospitality? thought Sally. That was a joke. Here she was staring back at them in disbelief. And sneaking back and forth from the kitchen. And mumbling all the time.
Edward tipped his glasses on his kangaroo nose and thanked Sally for the potato soup. it was so smooth and warm. The best he had had in a long time.
Jenny and her brother Gerome finally managed to smile. And they were a sight to see. Two giraffes smiling broad grins with their beaming teeth. They sort of looked like Donny and Marie Osmond. Sally laughed. They were delightful.
Elmo nodded his head and thanked Sally for the soup. Tears were in his eyes as he spoke in armadillo. And even though Sally had a terrible time understanding what he said, she could tell that he had fun.
He had behaved very well for a twelve year old armadillo, thought Sally. (That was probably the strangest thing she had thought all day. All week for that matter.)
The man smoked his tobacco pipe, filling the dining room with sweet-smelling swirling circles.
The cheesecakes were distributed, along with the forks. And soon they were eating it and commenting on the rich flavor. None of them had ever had cheesecake before. It was something entirely new.
"Oh, it has whipped cream on top," said Gerome in disgust. He very neatly removed it from the cheesecake and put it to the edge of the plate.
On the other hand, Edward found the whipped topping to be very tasty and got the cream all over his whiskers and nose. Lisa cme to his aid with a table naptkin. She removed the cream that he couldn't lick off.
Sally stood there and watched.
This is crazy, she thought. A balloon fell from the ceiling and bumped into her head softly. This is stupid, she felt like saying.
She remembered the coffee in the kitchen. "Would you like some coffee to drink?" she asked the man.
"Ah. Something to drink," said the man. "Elmo's friends are not old enough to drink coffee, you see," he said winking at her. A joke.
"But they can drink tea. We could have some tea. Some hot tea. No, make that warm tea," he said.
"Six teas?" asked Sally.
"No. Just for Elmo and me. Two teas, " said the man. He puffed on the pipe. "And then that will be all," he whispered to Sally.
¤ ¤ ¤
Sally brought out the two teas.
The giraffes were gone. The alligator and kangaroo were gone. The streamers had been taken down and put in the trash. The tables and chairs were straightened.
At the table sat the man and Elmo. The others apparently had left. But had they ever arrived? thought Sally. And where could they have come from? there was snow on the ground outside.
Elmo sipped his tea. It made him sleepy.
"Could I have the check?" asked the man. His pipe had gone out. It was now cold.
Sally worked out the check and added it all up.
I wonder what he is going to tip me, she thought. Maybe it would be a small tip. Maybe it would be a large tip.
The man proposed a toast to Elmo. they drank their tea to the month of April, the spring of the year.
"Here is you check sir," said Sally.
The man reached into the large duffle bag beside him. It was then that Sally saw it. It had zippers all over it. And the white-lettered word ELMO stamped on its side. But Sally thought it was nothing unusual. It was a compatible size, no matter how large it appeared. It had to be light enough to carry, or else how could he carry it? she thought.
The truth was that it was very large and very heavy and that was that.
The man took out his wallet.
Sally kept looking at the duffle bag. Did she see something move in one of those pouches? Would she see an ear? Or a tail?
You crazy person, she thought to herself. You won't see nothin'.
She looked at the man. He was counting out the cash. She looked at Elmo the armadillo. Elmo was sleeping. His beady black eyes were shut.
"Here you go," said the man. He handed her the moeny. He waited for Sally to count it. She did. The bill was paid for. And there was a six dollar tip.
"Good," said Sally. She put the money in one of her pockets.
Sally glanced over at Elmo's chair. Elmo was gone. Only his tea cup remained. She looked at the man. He was finishing his cup of tea. there was no trace of Elmo anywhere.
Her curiosity was too much. She should have left well enough alone. "Where is Elmo?" Sally asked the man.
He drained his cup and set it done. He looked at her in surprise.
What-on-earth-was-she-talking-about? was his look. Then he smiled and whispered, "He is sleeping, in his home." He pointed to the duffle bag. That was his answer.
Was this another joke?
The man thanked Sally again and got up from the table.
¤ ¤ ¤
The dining room was quiet and warm. Very far away, you could faintly hear fresh water being run into the kitchen sinks. The man put on his hat and stepped out the door. A breath of cold air rushed into the room, bringing with it some loose snowflakes, that sparkled momentarily and melted in the air. The door closed. And the chimes jangled.
Sally looked out at the snow. It was very cold outside. And the snow was deep. Sally watched the man disappear down the street with his duffle bag. His tracks were the only ones that came and went from the door, she noticed.
¤ ¤ ¤
Sally heard footsteps behind her. They shuffled across the carpet. And then she heard Chuck's voice.
"Yes, my dear. What did you want to talk to me about?" he said in his usual cheerful voice.
He was too late. What could she say now? He missed all the excitement. How could she explain? Sally thought for a moment and said, "Chuck, we don't serve armadillos, do we???"
Chuck looked at her with a smirk and said, "How long have you been working here, Sal?" That was his answer.
"Too long," laughed Sally.
¤ ¤ ¤
She had other thoughts.
She looked out the window at the snow.
If it weren't so cold today, she would go snowmobiling.
|Christopher Press ©
1977 All rights reserved. Do not duplicate