Morning Shift

Christopher Linforth

July 1, 2022


The other day Mr. TV returned to the restaurant. He told me he had left his wallet behind. I assured him nothing had been handed in, but that I would check with the owner. He snagged my arm and guided me to the table he had shared with Mrs. TV. We stood in front of the laminate tabletop still smeared with hoisin sauce. Paper menus sat behind the napkin dispenser. Mr. TV joked about one of the pitchers at Lakefront Stadium rubbing a similar substance on his baseball. I feigned a laugh, sure he had told that joke the night before. It was strange to see him in the restaurant without Mrs. TV and their portable television.

“So, Edith,” he said. “About my wallet.”

“As I said, I’ll check with the owner.”

“Sure you will.” Mr. TV stooped over and dug between the banquette cushions. He looked back at me, his red face framed by his shellacked gray hair, and gave me a sickly wink.

I could smell rank sweat on his dirty wool suit. And drink. Some type of plum brandy. I said I had to check on the line cooks. I went to the kitchen. No one had shown up for their shift. I took out a tub of last night’s noodles and set it next to the burner. I rattled a metal spoon in the utensil holder and pretended to speak to someone. The Grand Chinese Kitchen was in Cleveland. North Broadway. There were a handful of junkshops and liquor stores nearby. Down the street sat a motel and gas station. A lot of old Czech men. I was sure Mr. TV was one of them. Some were old Communist Party members, others had fled their rule. I was unsure of Mr. TV’s role in it all. He had never mentioned the Velvet Revolution. And his wife, a local, didn’t talk about politics much.

I returned to the dining room. Mr. TV was sitting on the banquette, his slacks around his ankles. He said he had found his wallet, then waved it above his head. He asked me if I’d like to make some money. He flashed a twenty.

Men had exposed themselves to me before. It was always sad. But I knew Mr. TV, vaguely, though I had never caught his real name. I had served him and his wife for the last few months. They always plugged in their little black-and-white television and then argued over what to watch. Soaps. Westerns. Evening local news. Mr. TV usually seemed more interested in the length of my skirt.

I slid into the banquette on the other side of the table. “Where’s your wife?”

“At home watching reruns,” he said. “Where are the line cooks?”

“Also at home. I don’t know if they’re watching TV.”

“So do you want to earn that twenty?”

I pulled out a menu. I unfolded it and turned it around. I fingered the line of Chinese characters at the bottom. Listen, I told him, it says don’t harass the waitresses.

He slipped his hands under the table and struggled to pull up his slacks. “That wasn’t what I was doing.”

I looked down at the cloth I was holding. I didn’t realize I had picked it up in the kitchen and laid it in my lap. A patch on the front of my apron felt damp. I ran the cloth across the smear of hoisin sauce. “I need to finish this.”

“Women like you always judge,” he said.

“Go home to your wife.”

“I’ve had other wives.”

“I thought you had.”

Mr. TV pushed the twenty across the table. “You don’t know anything.”

I told him to take the money and leave.

After he had gone, I worked the lunch shift and stayed on to work the evening. Tips were bad, and I thought again about that twenty. I was sure he wouldn’t give it to his wife. It was dark outside, but I decided to walk and save the bus fare. My place was about a mile from the Grand Chinese Kitchen. I navigated the grids of the old clapboard houses, avoiding the glow of the liquor store on my street. In my apartment, I soaked my apron in the bathroom sink. I hung it over the shower rail, knowing it would be dry by morning.

Christopher Linforth is the author of three story collections: The Distortions (Orison Books, 2022); winner of the 2020 Orison Books Fiction Prize, Directory (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2020); and When You Find Us We Will Be Gone (Lamar University Press, 2014).