Hard Waitress

Haze Madison works the unpainted cinderblock bar out on the lost
western edge of town. Broken-windowed shells of two gas stations,
a small-time propane distributor and a chain-link fence company
all relinquish room for parking. Potholed gravel lots; the damned thirsty
push a thick metal-clad door into the twelve-seater lined along
a wooden carve and spill, an expanse of bar top
with every imaginable human failing and fluid rag-rubbed
into the grain. A tilt of rickety tables fills a dreary center,
three pool rack-em-up opportunities in the back.
Plastic handles of cheap liquor, polystyrene glasses, cans only for beer--
experience teaches: no slammed bottle necks, breaking out extra weapons.

Haze is the only female, handling the callouses who breathe. Day drunks,
bad dudes, guttural whispers outlining criminal consultations. She hears
but doesn’t hear. Info she will stow. The viper pit discovers its arms,
slaps and grabs. Sibilant lout-suave words. Once, Haze got moccasin-bit
as a child—she still tastes venom in her mouth, around her dangerous teeth,
knows living through poison and the carnivorous bravado of wicked men
means the body has a tainted plan for serving up forward momentum,
no matter the yellow-crusting of illness. Her every muscle accepts
the corkscrew drill. She chooses to be bullet-hard. Whip-crack.
Gum-snappy saucy. They will all pay her for being whetstone-honed,
girlish, mean-motherly, snub-nosed .38 in the boot if need be.

Haze pours a drink for a scaly scruff with no eyes, another
for a diamond patchwork of motorcycle grease who burbles
on some snort that makes him madly ache to climb on the roof
and speak with the Divine. Haze Madison ignores and pours;
she fumbles by guess and by God. Steadies, doesn’t spill a drop.
In a joint with no wall clock, time is never more than a minute ahead of Haze. Her way of warily and safely living. She remembers the bright water
of the creek, slapping at the unhinged jaw of the moccasin, its neuro-toxic fangs languid in her calf. She struck, sent the snake flying. But
he was already in her. Compelled, she sharpened a stick as she watched
his slithering downstream return to see if his prey remained in the water hole. Haze knows about slapping tables, a practiced slapping. Some nights,
if need be, she backhands all the serpents gathered around her, hissing;
they coil back, tip their hats to the one who tastes and drinks them in,
the one who savors their corruption, who spits it out, smiles, and forgets
about the portions of a young girl’s body that once turned black
and fell away; Haze is always here for them, the remains
slumping and nesting and basking in her shadow.

March 1, 2020

Scott Hutchison

Scott Hutchison’s previous work has appeared in The Georgia Review and The Southern Review. Poems are forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Concho River Review, Aethlon, The Naugatuck River Review, Soundings East, Steam Ticket and Tar River Poetry. A new book of poetry, Moonshine Narratives, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing.

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