Sometimes I find these sorts of things, scribbled on paper, folded, and stashed between books or in drawers. This one started out based on Terry, the real Doris, who I am convinced had some sort of secret carny-esque life prior to being a beer truck driver for decades. I think I meant for it to become a quiet story, something to do with the spooky house on Berwyn, happening some years after the events of Post Cards, but I never got further than this scene.
Doris Clemens didn’t much go in for country, what his Pop called “shit-kicking music,” but he felt a special bond with the boy named Sue he was sure none of the sweater-vest wearing, fashionably unwashed hipsters could genuinely claim. Only it hadn’t been his Pop who had named him, and Pop wasn’t the DNA donor who had skeedaddled not too long after Doris had been branded with the name that would get his ass kicked throughout junior high school. 7th grade was a by-gone era now; Doris was somewhere in his early sixties, bald, near-sighted, and diabetic. He had spent fifteen young years wrestling in a semi-pro circuit, where the storylines were hammier than the big leagues, but the wrestling was closer to an actual sport, and then, following a misjudged leap and several months of knee-surgery physical therapy, had spent the next twenty years hauling suds across the Midwest, a life combination that had left him heavy-set, muscled, and battered. When you think wrestling, trucking, and beer, you do not think “Doris,” but Doris had stopped offering excuses and nicknames a long time ago.
In the time it took Doris, leaning heavily on the cane his daughter in Austin had sent him for Christmas last year, to cross the café to get to the ordering counter, two men passed him impatiently and sidled up to get what they came for. But it didn’t matter, because Ellie had seen him coming, and had his coffee and sweet bun on “his” table, waiting for him. ‘Thattagirl,” he thought, scowling benignly at nothing. “Heya, fox!” he shouted at her.
“Morning, Doris!” Ellie was cheerful today, although was not, technically, a fox. She was some inches shy of beautiful. But she was a pretty girl, and quick. Even as she was greeting Doris, she was whirling around to the monolithic espresso machine, hands flying here and there, like birds diving with surgical precision to pluck up lunch. The two men who had brushed past Doris had their drinks, paid, and had disappeared by the time Doris had laid his cane across a chair and shuffled up to pay. “Whaddaya know, doll?” he said, rifling through his wallet. Ellie brightened. She was one of those girls who had benefited from the women’s movement probably in many ways, but had not given up acquiescing to chauvinistic pet names from beat-up old men. Doris loved that about her. She was kind.
“Oh, I know some things, “ she said, and then flashed her grin, an uneven twist of lips and gleam of teeth that never failed to draw a reciprocating grin, and took his money. “How’re you holding up in this cold?” That was one of Ellie’s downfalls, Doris reflected. She was always talking about the goddamn weather.
“No complaints,” he said, as he said every morning, whether it was true or not.
“Good! When are you flying south for the winter?” She changed his twenty into smaller bills and coins and put his change into his hand with practiced efficiency. He worked the bills back into place, pocketing the coins. Doris liked Ellie, but didn’t believe in tipping everyone who did their job just because they did it right.
“Coupla weeks. I’ve got a grandson here, so I don’t go to Arizona as often as I useta.”
“Well, I’m glad to see you around, but you should escape before it gets too bitter,” she said with the wistful tone of someone who never escapes Chicago’s winters.
“Thanks, kid,” he gruffed, and shuffled off to his table. Ellie watched him with a combination of amusement, fondness, and pity. Doris had been a customer at Cuppa Café for at least as long as she had worked there, which, after some reluctant calculation, she realized had been a staggering six years. “What have I been doing with myself?” she thought with exasperation. “Six years!”