St. James Infirmary

St. James Infirmary, an excerpt from the Make Me a Pallet series in Ripple Meets the Deep by Jason Tinney

Setting: A La Quinta Inn & Suites, Verona, NY, 7 a.m.

Placing a day-old USA Today down, I stake claim to a two-top by the window. An attractive young woman is filling a bowl with hardboiled eggs. Her nametag says “Erica.” There’s a devious spark in her eye. Erica moves like an exotic dancer, her hips shoving air out of the way as she weaves in and out of tables, picking up a cup here, a plate there. A single wild streak of pink runs through her blond dye job and is strangled in a ponytail. Erica is a hellcat.

Art by Brian Slagle, "We Got Permission" Swinging Bridge exhibit, May 2014, Cumberland MD

Art by Brian Slagle, “The Narrows” Swinging Bridge exhibit, May 2014.

I drop off my coffee, two eggs, and a bagel, and fix a plate for Sophia: blueberry muffin, banana, and orange juice. The two businessmen I’d seen earlier this morning are dressed for golf. They take their coffee to the couch.

“Good morning,” Sophia says, giving me a kiss before sitting down at our table. “Sunglasses are a nice touch. Blueberry, lovely. Thank you…”

Now it begins. They wander in, yawning and scratching their heads—teenagers—moppish hair and checked, cotton pajama bottoms; their mothers and fathers in identical pajama bottoms, wearing blue fluorescent Crocs.

Then the SCARE-A-CONS show up with the same gruesome wardrobe they were wearing when they returned this morning. They are followed by gamblers who have doubled-down, taking advantage of La Quinta’s complimentary breakfast before indulging in the casino’s all-you-can-eat buffet. Worn-down types dragging oxygen tanks. Plastic debit cards, to be inserted into slot machines, are clipped to colorful telephone cords attached at their waists. After many years hunched over the one-armed bandits, necks have been absorbed by shoulders, now melded with skulls.

Between the gamblers, SCARE-A-CONS, and families, it’s hard to distinguish the real zombies from the make believe.

I’ve forgotten Sophia’s coffee. I’m able to slip in and pour a cup while the “slow-walkers” jockey for position around the waffle griddle, the rack of Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes, and the microwave to nuke Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits.

“Thanks,” Sophia says. She peels her banana very slowly,

playfully. “So, what’s her name?”

“Who?”

“The chick with the skunkish pink stripe in her hair,” she says, her eyes darting to Erica, who is slinking her way to the waffle griddle.

The two businessmen are having trouble producing batter from what can only be described as an udder affixed to a metal vat. Erica smiles. With a firm grip, she fondles the udder. Batter slowly drips into a cup. “It’s very thick today,” Erica says. “It’s usually not this thick.”