TITLE: STAGGER INN
GENRE: Women's Fiction
The Monday following her fourth birthday, Molly stood on the steps of Great Aunt Sophia's cement stoop in St. Louis, her hair still jumbled from sleep, her too-short jeans ending near her ankles. Her mother pressed a ten dollar bill into her hand, hastily planted a pink lipsticked kiss on her cheek, and skedaddled down the steps in her high heeled shoes.
"Only until I can get on my feet, baby," she called to Molly.
By the time Molly reached seven years, she had figured out that "on her feet" more likely meant "on her back," a sad and precocious realization for one so young.
Despite her mother's haphazard care, Molly loved her with a wounded passion, dazzled by her glamour and her frantic energy, compared to Aunt Sophia's tightly curled perm and tightly pursed lips.
And the men. Molly liked the men, too. They made her laugh. They brought her gifts.
By her twenty-seventh birthday, Molly worked as a waitress at Dawn's Early Light. She visualized life as a giant jigsaw puzzle waiting to be solved, the colorful pieces spead in front of her like the jumble once scattered on Aunt Sophia's card table. Someday she'd find her perfect fit, but it definitely wouldn't involve Dawn's Early Light--or Vinnie.
With no high school diploma, Molly had bounced from meaningless job to no job at all, quitting, or being fired from at least thirty-one different attempts to earn a living. She was only sporadically in contact with her mother, long over the grief of Aunt Sophia's death, but she had inherited her mother's energy and ebullient spirit, and it seemed quite normal to her, except for the brief disruptions of homelessness.
Dawn's Early Light was just a little restaurant squeezed into the first floor of a tall St. Louis office building, a hopelesly hokey place, its walls plastered with off-kilter signs like Come In and Get Fed Up, and Customers Who Find Our Waitresses Rude Ought to See the Manager. Fake diner interior, noisy, tainted by the smell of fried eggs and hashed brown potatoes. But regulars came for the carbo-laden food from six in the morning until three in the afternoon when Dawn flipped the Open sign to Closed.
That February morning, Molly greeted the breakfast customers, the winter air still trapped in their coats. Most of the six o'clock crowd worked at St. Louis' Barnes Hospital complex--interns, nurses, aides. They wore uniforms, some as unbecoming as Molly's starchy dress, but she felt certain their jobs must be far more interesting. They dealt with crises, matters of life and death, bad news, good news. All she dealt with was the choice between ham, sausage or bacon.Day after day.
Molly didn't actually see Vinnie enter the restaurant. She was taking an order from two nurses when he came behind her, spun her around and forced her into a dance, maneuvering her between the tables, singing a snatch of Alice Cooper's lyrics, "I can't do right when all I want to do is wrong."