Alternative Truths

by Siegfried Haug

Tammy, the waitress, says: “She is such a dear.”

I know whom she is talking about: the diminutive lady in an Icelandic sweater and matching hat. She eats breakfast at Ms. Flo’s every time I am there.

“Lydia,” I believe, the staff calls her; the “girls” slip into the booth to write down her order. Toast mostly, whole wheat, and a cup of coffee.

Lydia’s wrinkled face lights up when I nod good morning. There is so much undiluted warmth in that smile that I sometimes wonder about ‘second childhood’.

I grieve the time when I was no stranger to such kindness.

“She comes in here every day,” Tammy says. “All the way from Holyoke.” (From Holyoke up Route Five through Northampton into Florence, that’s got to be a good half an hour’s drive. Or more.)

“In a big old car, and I mean bi-ig. And every day she leaves a tip of thirty or forty dollars, depending on what she is having.”

Tammy leans closer into the couple she seems to know.

Their heads come up and they put their forks down.

I, the eavesdropper, also frown and give myself away. Forty dollars? Tip? Every day?

It doesn’t compute.

“We talked to her daughter who came up from New York once. ‘Let her do it,’ she said. ‘It makes her happy.’”

I am driving back up into the hilltowns — yet a jacket colder, as my mother used to say — and huddle around the story like someone protecting a candle flame from ill wind.

My bread has risen in our cold house. I can smell yeast.

The only place dough will rise these days is right under the kitchen cabinet where our furnace breathes warm air.

This very morning, in this unlikely spot yeast cells have multiplied a million-fold.

I wish this story was yeast.

Siegfried Haug is the author of I WANT TO SLEEP, a workbook for insomniacs. A suspense novel, BAD SLEEP, is presently, well, suspended due to writers’ frustration. He used to be a therapist and taught at a Jesuit university before retiring. He lives with his wife, a ceramic artist, in one of the hilltowns. When warmth is hard to come by they migrate to Key West.

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