A short story where a woman ponders giving up on the dream she’s spent her life working toward when a sudden glimpse of something that might help her fill the incessant void in her life changes everything…
by: Margo Griffin
Maggie’s feet cried out in pain as she gingerly bent over to untie her sneakers, her back stiff and sore. After she removed her dirty sneakers and sweaty, somewhat stinky socks, she studied her feet, both slightly swollen. The small joints of her toes and ankles cracked and ached as she stretched them out. She had just arrived home from a second double shift in a row, and she felt hungry but too exhausted to even think about turning on the stove. Instead, she settled on something quick and easy, tea with three teaspoons of sugar and too much milk and two slices of cinnamon toast. This simple meal reminded Maggie of her grandmother, and it brought her comfort which eased some of her physical pain and provided suave to a burn she felt deep inside. Maybe tonight she would finally get some much needed sleep.
Maggie waitressed at Tucker’s Seafood for about five years now. She only took the job as a last resort while she waited for that next big break. But the gaps between callbacks kept growing longer and it became increasingly difficult to make rent and continue the small luxuries she allowed herself since she left college almost sixteen years earlier. The tips made the little extras possible. Maggie didn’t even mind waiting tables so much anymore, waitressing became like an audition of sorts. Maggie morphed into whoever the customer needed her to be at that moment. She would listen and provide advice to customers in need of a therapist, and she dutifully obliged and tended to patrons who required lots of attention. But the people who Maggie enjoyed the most let her interact with them like old friends. Their exchanges were playful, stocked with jokes, their sides split from laughter.
Tonight, Maggie found herself feeling blue as she reflected on the different turns her life had taken. Ten years earlier, Maggie was nominated for an Emmy, losing out to a rehabilitated film star turned television icon. Back then, Maggie found herself in the enviable position of being overbooked and frequently turning down offers. Eventually, as Maggie’s fan base grew older and the audience became fickle, things changed as she slowly watched her popularity wane. Maggie had to switch agents three times over the past decade, downgrading each time for more representation. Now, Maggie waited anxiously for sporadic callbacks for regional commercials and small modeling gigs. If she heard the words “you were close” one more time, she believed her head would explode. Nevertheless, Maggie held out for another shot, not yet ready to give up on her dream.
Maggie also found herself impatiently waiting for a different kind of call, the sort that left her twisted up into a pretzel and biting her nails down to the skin until her fingertips were sore and bleeding. She stayed home many nights in hopeful anticipation that Greg would ask to see her. But, much like the casting callbacks, Greg’s calls were unpredictable. At first, Maggie found the spontaneity of Greg’s interest both exciting and intriguing, but ultimately the erratic nature of their relationship left Maggie feeling edgy, insecure, and lonely. More recently, Maggie began coaching herself to stop seeing Greg, opening the possibility of meeting someone else who wanted her in a way Greg never did. But time and again, Maggie ended up alone, sitting on her red plaid couch, wistful, almost desperate, and waiting for the telephone to ring.
Morning came faster than she hoped, and Maggie groaned as she stretched out her long frame. She had fallen asleep on the couch, not at all helpful for her already sore back. She slowly moved into the kitchen and reached for the coffee, bitterly disappointed but not surprised to find the canister empty. She chided herself for forgetting to purchase coffee the day before, written on the shopping list she stuck to her fridge.
Maggie retrieved her sneakers, pulled them onto her feet, and haphazardly tied the frayed laces. She trudged down the stairs and opened the door to the outer stoop. She felt in desperate need of a strong but tasty cup of coffee but was in no mood to wait in a long line. She considered her options, finally decided on Jeb’s, and walked north toward the shop.
As Maggie approached Jeb’s, she stumbled. She stepped on a loosened lace that had come undone on her sneaker. Maggie bent down and retied both sneakers properly, not wanting to take a bigger spill the next time. When she stood up, she sensed someone almost on top of her, and her head banged into their hands. The clumsy crash dislodged a cellphone from a man’s grasp, and the phone fell to the ground. The man scrambled to retrieve his cell, clearly panicked in his rescue. His eyes rolled as he looked disappointedly at his screen, apparently unable to find whatever he hoped to see. Maggie sucked in her breath for just a few seconds as he looked up at her with his milk chocolate eyes and apologized. So intent on his phone, the man hadn’t noticed Maggie bent down on the ground, fumbling with her laces. The man quickly introduced himself to Maggie and insisted on buying her a cup of coffee for her trouble. Maggie almost said no, but then thought, “why not?” to herself.
While they waited in line, the man gave his name and told Maggie a little about himself. All morning, he anxiously expected a call from his booking agent. His band had been attempting to get booked into a new Jazz hot spot for several months, and a recent connection might finally make it possible. Maggie listened with interest as the man, Mark, spoke. She understood all too well the kind of stress and excitement Mark described. Mark took extraordinary pains to explain his carelessness and kept apologizing profusely for crashing into Maggie. Maggie reassured him and told him she knows an awful lot about waiting for calls and gave Mark a brief backstory of herself. They both laughed at the coincidence of their shared experiences and chatted so effortlessly they barely registered the crowd or their long wait in line.
After grabbing their coffees from the barista, Mark asked Maggie to sit with him for a little while to continue their conversation. This invitation pleased Maggie, and it made her feel attractive and desired, even if just for a moment. They commiserated about their long stretches between jobs and compared their rejections. They also marveled and laughed at the absurdities of some of their artistic endeavors. Maggie recognized a little of herself in Mark, a kindred spirit of sorts. He wasn’t exceptionally handsome but undoubtedly good-looking. However, his physical appearance didn’t intrigue and impress Maggie as much as his open demeanor and the way he seemed to carefully listen and consider Maggie’s words before he spoke, in a way Greg never did.
After Maggie finished her coffee, she told Mark she needed to get to work. Mark apologized again for the incident, smiled warmly at her, and asked Maggie for her number. He said he would like to make it all up to her with dinner. Maggie paused, unsure of what to do, then thought back to her lonely night on the red plaid couch, full of doubt, waiting for another call from Greg that would never come. Her heart raced a little, and she suddenly felt nervous, but a good type of nervous, the kind of nervous accompanied by butterflies in her stomach and hot flushed cheeks. Maggie gave Mark her number, but she let him know of her lack of availability in the coming week. Scheduled for five nights in a row at Tucker’s and a rare two-day national shoot, Maggie had an unusually full week ahead of her.
As they stood up and said their goodbyes, Mark touched and then held Maggie’s arm in his hand. The touch of Mark’s hand on her exposed skin caused a welcome tingling sensation in Maggie’s body. Then, just before they parted, Mark looked directly into Maggie’s eyes, and despite only having just met just two hours earlier, he said with a sly smirk, “Nice to bump into you, Maggie.” Maggie laughed at his silly pun and nodded her head in agreement. Then, she slowly tore her eyes away from his gaze and left him with a slight wave of her hand and a soft and airy “Goodbye, Mark. It was great to meet you too.”
Maggie made it to her shift with just enough time to go to the bathroom and tie up her long curly hair. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she saw a genuine smile in her reflection. Maggie hadn’t seen that look on her face for a long time, and seeing it then only made her smile widen more. Finally, she headed out the bathroom door with an improved mood and an unexpected air of confidence.
Since the moment Maggie arrived on the floor, the waitlist for tables didn’t slow down. Maggie was grateful to be so busy. A crowded night at Tucker’s meant a fruitful shift for her. Yet, despite the fast pace of the night, Maggie couldn’t help but think back to her encounter with Mark. She grew excited as she entertained the idea of a potential first date with this man she barely knew but who felt so familiar. She also felt anxious about her busy schedule ahead and worried Mark might not want to wait for her. Maggie dreaded the thought of discovering herself waiting again for something else not realized.
Suddenly, Maggie’s phone vibrated in her apron pocket. She wondered if it could be a callback or maybe her mother, who she forgot to ring the night before, a promise she kept on breaking. Maggie slid over into the service station, discreetly pulled out her phone, and saw she received a text. She opened the message, and it said, “I couldn’t wait.” The number looked somewhat familiar, but Maggie wasn’t quite sure. She kicked herself for not saving a name to the contact.
Maggie meant to keep a Google calendar after double-booking a few times recently, forgetting plans with a friend, and accepting an extra shift. For a fleeting moment, she even wondered if the text might even be from Mark but chastised herself for being so naive, having only met him a few hours before. She quickly tucked her phone back into the apron pocket, not wanting the manager to scold her again about cell phone use on the floor.
Soon after, Maggie headed back to the floor and noticed a man sitting at a table alone in the far corner of her section. As she got closer to the table, her pulse began to quicken, and she sensed heat creep up from her chest into her cheeks. She wondered if she was imagining things, or if she was dreaming and in reality still alone and fast asleep on her red plaid couch.
“Hi, Maggie!” Mark said as he smiled broadly at her. Maggie felt her knees slightly buckle as she found herself swimming in Mark’s eyes once again. She watched Mark’s face intently and noticed a transformation in his eyes that moved from confident to hopeful. Finally, Maggie started to beam, and her eyes filled up just a bit as Mark spoke the words that matched her very dreams, “I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Margo Griffin is a thirty-year Boston, Massachusetts area urban public school educator and part-time waitress at her favorite seafood restaurant. She is the mother of two amazing daughters and to the love of her life and best rescue dog ever, Harley.