Waitress in an All-Night Diner, West Virginia

By Rebecca Baggett

Featured art: A small portion of the Fanny Bennett Hemlock Grove on one side of Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Old Mammoth Road by Carol M. Highsmith

Angels visit sometimes, close to dawn.
They cluster by the door, seem to scan the cars
as they turn in, as if waiting for something—
what, she doesn’t have a clue.

She’s forty-three, a bad cough (first cigarette
at fourteen), two divorces, a dragonfly tattoo
on her left shoulder blade. Tumble
of chestnut curls—not a gray hair yet—
imprisoned in a net, magnificent when released.
Terrible feet. She hasn’t told a soul
about the angels, not even her sister,
who knows everything else worth telling.

They aren’t as glorious as she’d imagined.
Their wings, in particular—tight-folded
against their backs—surprise her by their drabness,
dusty-brown as the sparrows that hop around
the parking lot and gorge on stale biscuits
she crumbles on her break. The angels’ eyes—
washed-out blues and greens with strange,
cat-like pupil-slits—track her as she winds
through tables, a pot of coffee in each hand,
or delivers platters heaped with pancakes, sausages,
                       Why me? she wonders,
her back tickling under their eerie gaze,
but can’t imagine. Until the night the boy—
he can’t be more than boy yet—plunges
through the door, white as biscuit dough
except two spots, fever-red, high on either cheek.
The pistol he grips trembling with every
shuddering breath.

The cook’s whistling an old Alabama tune
she almost recognizes. The trucker
in the back booth drops his toast, lunges
to his feet. The pistol wavers toward him,
and then the angel by the door lifts its hand
to beckon her. She feels her lips curl
into the smile she offers worn-out mothers,
fractious teens, men who look as though
they can’t endure another night alone.
Yanks off the net. Shakes down her waterfall
of hair. Takes the first step
toward whatever’s come to her.

Rebecca Baggett is the author of The Woman Who Lives Without Money, which will be published by Regal House Publications in 2022. She is also the author of four poetry chapbooks. Recent work appears or is forthcoming in Sugar House Review, the Southern Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Salt. She lives in Athens, GA.

Originally published in NOR 22.

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