002. The Companionship of the Cat & the Mouse
*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*
Becky liked to tell me about the world. I’d stand behind the counter, in front of the pies and the metal milkshake machine that you had to keep a good grip on, or it’d scrape the sides of the cup and make a terrific screeching noise. And Becky would wait as I mixed milkshakes for other customers, but as soon as the machine was done with its noise, she’d start again as though her sentence had never been interrupted.
He was stealing it the whole time, she’d say. I’ve been working since I was a kid, and I’m not a big spender, that’s for sure. Turned out, he’d faked my name on a paper that said he has equal rights to the account, was bleeding me dry.
Mm-hmm, I’d say, placing her banana cream pie down on the counter. By the time Becky died, left town, or at least stopped showing up every Wednesday and Friday night for pie, I think I’d heard it about two hundred times. Her boyfriend, the father of her three kids, had racked up a bunch of debt in her name and spent her savings on a truck, a near lifetime’s supply of weed, and a few hourly hotel rooms here and there. It was a story so clichéd that by the time she’d told me twice, I’d heard it too many times.
I didn’t know what brought Becky to the diner every Wednesday and Friday, but I figured she was the support group type. The coffee-and-donuts and anonymity type. She never asked about me, or what I did when I wasn’t working overnights serving omelets and disco fries. Sometimes I held that against her. When she’d end her story, always the same way, with her self-assured, woebegone insistence that everything was okay because “that’s just the way of the world,” I really wished I could shut her up. Not my world, I wanted to say. I’m in college, I’d have told her. I read books about tragedies way worse than yours every single day. I’m pretty sure the whole world isn’t reflected in your hick boyfriend’s problems with infidelity and theft. That, and the world isn’t forcing you to just shrug it off, either—that’s all you. But I didn’t care to hear what would follow that tirade. And to be fair, maybe when the world has shit on you, you deserve to be able to tell others what that shit smelled like. Some people don’t have much else going for them, I guess.