In order to understand this, you must first learn who Noah really is.
I have a rare full night of sleep in me, and somewhere to be. The late construction shifts had been starting to grate on me, making me feel like I was living in reverse, going to work when others were going to dinner, going home when people were waking up. I had jumped at the opportunity to take on a day shift, but I don’t know what to expect from this one. I finally decided to quit one of my two jobs, I never really needed the money anymore since my wife died, but I liked being busy. When you’re busy you tend to forget to think about anything other than the job you’re doing. It also really helped that all of my jobs required me to be in loud spaces.
I sleepwalk through my bathroom and dressing routine, my eyes finally opening once I am on the bus. And then there it is, the banner that has been hanging up for the last month “Sassy’s doing Breakfast, starting May 1st. Steak and Eggs, 7am to 3pm.” There is already smoke curling out of the kitchen vent, and the low thump of bass seeping through the walls. The cook must have figured out how to turn on the stereo, the new system that I had told him to stay away from. Playing his cousin’s death metal band.
He had made a pot of coffee, so I put off the lecture that he wouldn’t hear anyway. Damn, if this wasn’t a loud system. Clear, even sound in any corner of the place, bass that felt like each seat had its own subwoofer. The mixing board was the shiniest thing in this place. As soon as I turn off the cook’s playlist I see Liza on her stool behind the bar.
“Doors open in fifteen, Honey. Turning the lights down in a few.” I had never seen the place with the overhead lights on, much less Liza. She was enough in the dark, a mountain of a woman with the grace and smile of a garbage truck. The best bartender in the Tri-state area, Sassy’s arm-wrestling champ 7 years running, and a source of knowledge of all the things you don’t want to know.
“Good morning, sweetheart!” I try a happy greeting on a frowning Liza.
“I’m not your sweetheart, and if the girls don’t show soon you’re going to have your dancing debut. Show me what a sweetheart is and finish mopping the stage.” By finish mopping, she means start mopping. The empty yellow bucket is already up on the stage. I know the secret mop water recipe: cold water halfway up the side, two caps of bleach and half pint of beer. The bleach takes care of what Liza so lovingly calls “stripper juice”, and the beer gives the floorboards a little traction and covers the bleach smell. Another Liza-ism, “The only thing more suspicious than a smiling cop is a clean smelling strip club.”
Five minutes to open. Shiny mirrors reflecting dim neon lights, hip-hop rumbling back to the sizzling stove full of beef, and an almost non-frowning bartender. All we need is the talent. The closer it gets to opening the more I feel she wasn’t joking about putting me on stage.
The front door opens, slicing a line of morning light through the dark room. The figure in the door pauses, then walks towards me. The door slams, my eyes adjust to the darkness again, and that’s where I lose it. Kendra, my wife dead all these years, stands at the foot of the stage. She looks just like the day I met her, brown hair hanging just over her big, deep eyes. She’s here, finally here to take me away from my meaninglessness and misery. I drop the mop, almost drop to the floor myself, and she smiles and says, “I’m Tequila, the new dancer. You alright?”
“Um, uh, yeah. Yeah, fine. Thought you were a ghost.”
“Ghost, huh? I don’t know her. Sounds like she works at one of those rocker strip clubs on the East side. Think a girl can get a breakfast steak before I start dancing?” I tell her I will ask if the cook is ready. I point her to the dressing room and pick up the mop. This breakfast shift is going to be weirder than I thought.
“Come on, Noah.” Liza is right behind me, reaching for the mop on the ground. “Let’s finish polishing this turd. Sassy’s is open for breakfast.”