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CLEAR VIOLET Karen Davidson
aphael was tall with long wavy hair like Jesus. In fact, he probably could have passed for Jesus if Jesus had been in the habit of wearing bicycle shorts and a T-shirt that read: Iâ€™d rather be Naked! The only thing Dinah hated more than that shirt was Raphael himself. He was the new headwaiter at Follow Your Heart. He was the worst waiter Dinah had ever seen, but he was sleeping with Brooke, the manager, so no one said a word. Even though customers complained about cold food when
Raphael served it. Even though he took the best shifts and the best sections. Though he ate on the clock in plain view of diners and had only worked there one month before being promoted. She looked at him now, still wearing his bicycle helmet despite being indoors. His cheeks flushed as a ten year-old’s, hands waving as he told Tammy, the cashier, about his Capeoira dance experience. “It was so stellar,” he said. “I’m still high off everyone’s energy.” Wasn’t that just like him, getting high off other people’s energy. He was like a little bee, buzzing around stealing nectar as he saw fit. She cleared her throat and waited for him to look at her, but he didn’t, so she was forced
to reach her finger to his sweaty shoulder and make contact. “Raphael?” she said. “Sorry to interrupt, but I don’t think I can make that meeting tonight.” Something like hurt crept across his face as he looked at a bright orange sign above the wait station that read: Mandatory Staff Meeting—Saturday! “I made plans,” she told him, “weeks ago.” He put his hand on her shoulder and smiled. “Ummm…I hear where you’re coming from, Dinah? But your not being present isn’t really, you know, an option.” Dinah sidestepped his grasp and dug her hands deep into the pockets of her apron.
“That’s not fair,” she said. “I’m just hearing about this today.” He cocked his head and smiled as he unbuckled the strap of his helmet. “I don’t know what to tell you, girl. The sign’s been up for a week.” She’d been preoccupied lately, that was true—but how she didn’t notice that screaming orange sign was a mystery. Was he lying? She wouldn’t put it past him. “I guess I could make a few calls,” she said, even though he was already walking away from her. She headed through the kitchen, past the phone that hung by the time clock and out the backdoor. She didn’t have plans. That was
a lie. But she could have. No, that was a lie too. She should have and that was the point. It was Saturday night. She was nineteen and single. But Raphael didn’t care about that.
Outside, the twins were poring over the latest issue of Healthy Living at the picnic table so she had to go around to the alley to smoke. They weren’t twins really, but they could have been. One was Mary and one was Willow though she wasn’t sure who was who. They worked in the store portion of Follow Your Heart—the vitamin aisle to be exact. Each was tan, blond and tall. Each had perfect teeth and
doll-like eyes. She was sure Mary, whoever she was, wished she had a name like Willow. Dinah watched them as she smoked though they were totally oblivious to her. She felt like an animal, crouching in the alley, smoking her dirty cigarette. She knew they’d make a show of their mutual disgust if they saw her, wave their hands in unison and cough, probably pop a few B12s down their throats. Relax, Willow, she’d say. You’ll die of skin cancer before my secondhand smoke gets you in its clutches! Or, Take it easy, Mary. Just pretend it’s incense. She thought of other, less memorable retorts as she finished her cigarette because if she didn’t think about the twins she thought about the meeting. And when she thought about the meeting—the
crowded room, the useless chatter and forced camaraderie—she felt like she just might faint.
When she walked back into the dining room, Raphael raised his eyebrows at her because there were two new customers in her section and neither one of them had setups. One was a woman who looked like Stevie Nicks with a huge amethyst around her neck and a book in her hands titled Signs of Mental Illness. Dinah approached the table slowly. “I was beginning to wonder if anyone worked here,” the woman said. “I’ve been waiting.”
“I know. I’m really sorry. What can I get you?” The woman’s lips twitched as she read, like she was chewing down the words one by one. Was she crazy? It was hard to say. One thing was certain; she was a what-do-yourecommend if there ever was one. But Dinah could handle the what-do-you-recommends. She could handle anyone once she knew the kind of customer they were. “Does the Bilbo Baggins Underground Stew have a tomato base?” the woman asked. “Yes.” Dinah said. “It does.” After several grueling minutes in which she weighed the pros and cons of such an adventurous choice, the woman ceremoniously
closed her menu and pushed it to the side of the table. “Tell me,” she said. “What do you recommend?” Dinah smiled and picked up the menu. “Well, I’m a firm believer in trusting your instinct and I think we both know it’s telling you to go for the stew.” The woman clasped her hands, eyeing Dinah with a conspiratorial look that suggested she’d helped her put one over on herself. “Stew it is!” she said, “And a Lemon Zinger tea— decaf!” As Dinah started to step away from the table, the woman caught her arm. “Could you tell me, please, if that gentlemen over there is Raphael?”
Dinah followed her gaze and saw Raphael sitting down at a table, as was his habit, while he took a couple’s order. “The one and only.” she said. The woman looked pleased. “Would you like me to get him?” Dinah asked. “Oh, no. Thanks,” she said. “He’s not expecting me just yet.” Dinah watched the woman eye Raphael. She could see the two of them together, sitting in a candlelit room bursting with aromatherapy where they’d talk about crystals and numerology and think they understood something about one another. They’d review their respective past lives and discover they’d been soul mates for centuries.
At the counter, Paul, a cosmetology student from the school next door, worked on a crossword while he waited to order. Dinah rapped the laminate as she passed by to let him know she’d be right back. “Loving the hair,” she said, regarding a blue sheen he’d applied to the tips of a cut he called a homo-Caesar. Every week it was different; what began as a Prince Valiant mutated into a sho-lo, a shag, a dreaded faux hawk, and ultimately a buzz cut that got the whole evolution started again. She liked Paul, and he liked her, she thought, because she was the only one in the place who didn’t ignore
his Tourette’s. She dropped a Lemon Zinger teabag into a pot of hot water and let it steep. “What can I get you, Paul?” she said. “A cocksucking nutburger-nutburgerBEEEEP.” Dinah wrote his order on a ticket. “Seems we’re fresh out of cocksucking nutburgers today. Will you settle for one without the frills?” He smiled and looked back at his crossword. “I suppose I’ll BEEP-BEEP manage.” “Great. It’ll be right up.” She smoothed her hair and walked to the ticket wheel with a studied nonchalance that fooled no one on the line, including Michael, the head cook and sole reason for the display.
“Order up,” she said. Michael scratched his arm with a spatula and waved her off. “I got eyes.” She grabbed a towel, avoiding his gaze as she wiped the steel expanse between them. “Make sure to put the mayo on the side or he’ll send it back.” Michael sighed as he grabbed the order. “You write it on the ticket?” “Yes.” “Then it will be on the side. End of story.” Above them, the Mandatory Meeting sign loomed as a dismal reminder of the night’s unavoidable outcome. How had she not seen it? It was big as a billboard. Maybe she could
tell Raphael she was sick. It was sort of true, anyway. She was starting to sweat. But if she told him that now he would think she was lying and write her up again. “Hey, Dinah,” Michael said. “Give it a rest, huh?” She stared back at him blankly. “You were tapping your fingers like a maniac. I don’t need that kind of pressure. Shuffle off.” Laughs echoed from the kitchen as she walked to the soup station. She’d been the butt of Michael’s jokes for weeks now—since the night of their date, if you could call it that. He’d asked her over to his apartment to watch Evil Dead because he couldn’t believe she’d
never seen it. They drank long necks on his tiny balcony and talked about their coworkersâ€™ annoying habitsâ€”Raphael at the top of both their lists. Halfway through the movie they had hurried and awkward sex that left her feeling lonely and ashamed. Later, they ordered a veggie pizza and hot wings and she watched him gnaw the tiny bird legs like a scavenger, tossing them one after another onto a pile of bones.
As she ladled out a bowl of the Bilbo Baggins stew, her hands began to shake so badly that she had to stop midway. She wanted a cigarette. She
needed air. She wished Michael wasn’t on the line tonight and felt disgusted that she’d made herself so vulnerable. She was one of them now, part of an incestuous circle of servers, cooks, clerks and cashiers with nothing better to do than sleep with one another, and talk. Balancing the stew in the crook of her hand, she tried to muster a smile, hoping the Stevie Nicks woman was an optimist who would see the bowl half full, not half empty. “Here we go,” she said. “Careful, it’s hot.” Stevie did not look pleased. “It’s an unusual color,” she said, “for a tomato-based soup.” Looking down at the bowl of fluorescent
pink vegetables, Dinah felt nauseous. She wanted to sprint from the room, away from the laughter and the looks but it was her job as a server to examine the bowl with her customer. “It’s the beets,” she said. “That’s the, you know, underground part.” “I see,” Stevie said. “Interesting.” But she wasn’t looking at the bowl. She was looking at Dinah. “Are you all right, honey?” Dinah felt her cheeks flush, embarrassed by the woman’s bold sincerity. “Sure,” she said, “I’m great.” widening the space between them with a pointed tone. It was the one skill she’d learned in this business, the rest of it had come naturally. While far from servile, she enjoyed taking orders because there was no mystery to
it. Every interaction was simply an exchange of information. There was no sweating or panicking as she searched for things to say, no wondering what they were thinking about her because by and large, they didn’t. She was a server, sometimes tour guide, dietician or sympathetic ear, but not a friend. So, when someone crossed that line, she’d make it clear. “Anything else?” she asked. Stevie slowly pulled a napkin to her lap. “No, thank you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” “You’re not prying. So you’re good?” There were no more conspiratorial looks from the woman—no more searching glances. Stevie was cordial and matter of fact.
“You have a violet aura,” she said. “Did you know that? It’s special.” “Thanks,” Dinah said. “I’ll bring you the check when you’re ready.” As she walked behind the counter, she tried to shake off her annoyance at the woman’s comment. Violet aura. What was she supposed to say to that? It was one more thing in a long list of stupid things customers at Follow Your Heart had told her—like the aging hippie who’d said she’d been a teacher in ancient Mesopotamia who was murdered by a student for being arrogant.
Tables started to fill up around the dining room though Raphael didn’t seem to notice. She was tallying a ticket at the side window when he finally finished taking the couple’s order. As he stood from the table, he laughed loud and long at something one of the diners had said then walked to the wheel to put the order in. He wasn’t smiling when he got there. He never smiled when he thought no one was looking at him. Dinah knew this because she always looked at him. But Dinah was nobody to Raphael so he’d never noticed. “I think you’ve got an admirer at table seven,” she told him. “Oh?” he said, craning his neck to get a better look.
“Don’t get too excited; she’s a head case. She just told me the color of my aura.” This got his attention. “I thought that was her,” he said. “I felt it.” He pulled a book from his apron pocket and shoved the cover in Dinah’s face. On it, a crowd of people with bright white smiles hugged beneath a banner with a handpainted rainbow. Block letters across the top read: Outer reflections, Inner selves: Tips to Successful Aura Management. “That’s her,” he said. “Margo Lansing. Can you believe it? She’s here to help us team build our auras at the meeting tonight. Everyone’s totally psyched.” By everyone Dinah was sure he was referring to Brooke and himself. At least that’s
what the term had meant when he’d used it in the past. Everyone thinks your people skills could use some improvement, Dinah. Everyone says you smell like cigarettes. He tapped his order pad against his leg as he looked at her. “Let me take over her table. I want to make sure she gets everything she needs.” Dinah handed him Margo’s ticket, even though she did in fact have everything she needed and all he was going to do was pocket the tip. He made a beeline for the dining room, smiling wide as he sat down with Margo. All around him customers sat waiting to order. Dinah sighed, knowing they were her tables
now. She picked up the book and flipped it over. More happy faces stared at her from the back cover where a headline read: Your True Path. Understanding the color of your personality helps you better understand yourself—your needs and desires. Few people realize that anxiety, depression and fear are nothing more than symptoms of being in opposition with your color—and the colors of those around you.
Michael rang the bell with his spatula, signaling Paul’s order was up. He was red-faced and sweaty from the heat of the grill. “Tell your
girlfriend there’s no wheatloaf tonight,” he said, tossing Raphael’s ticket to the counter. “It’s Saturday.” Dinah nodded and silently grabbed Paul’s burger. For a moment, Michael’s face softened the way it used to before they were enemies and she thought he was about to say something kind, maybe cut the tension with another joke about Raphael. But he didn’t. He just stared at her then shifted his focus to the grill. “What’s an eight letter word for star?” Paul said, as she delivered his plate. “BEEPBEEP Whore. Whore. Whore.” She thought about it as she refilled his water. “Luminary, Paul. I bet it’s luminary.”
He smiled as he filled in the squares, pausing every few letters to jerk his head to the right and beep. Once, he’d told Dinah that having a tic was just like having an itch. “You can try and ignore them,” he’d said, “but it’s just an exercise in futility. Why should I be miserable just because somebody else is uncomfortable? I beep. Get over it.” The dinner rush was brutal and she was thankful. Two full hours when she didn’t really have a chance to think. Now, the place was nearly empty. She had only one table left and they were good as gone. Raphael hadn’t uttered a word to her the entire service and she was thankful for that too. She had seen him annoyed, excited, ridiculous—of course upbeat—but
giddy was a new addition to his emotional repertoire and the sight of him twirling his locks as he hung on Margo’s every syllable made her feel humiliated somehow. She sat down at the far end of the counter, counting her tips, as the two of them huddled near the register like newlyweds, anxiously awaiting guests to their first mixer. By nine o’clock, employees filled the restaurant, segmented into their respective functions. Clerks from the vitamin aisle clustered in the corner. Cashiers filled two tables near the entrance while the kitchen staff hung to the walls, ready for a quick escape. Dinah watched Raphael stroll the room, hands behind his back—the proud peacock.
“Friends, can we come together for a second?” He took a seat at the counter and scanned the crowd. “First off, thanks for coming out. I know we’re all working really hard to make Follow Your Heart the best it can be. And, while we’re totally getting there? We’ve still got some challenges ahead of us. You know, I consider every customer who comes into Follow Your Heart as a guest in my home. Think about it. Would you let a guest in your home use a dirty bathroom? Doubtful. Would you watch as they wandered around aimlessly, or would you say hello? You’d say hello. Listen, I totally respect that we’re all individuals, but we’re also a team. As a team, we’ve got to work together to make our home a sanctuary. I think you’ll all
agree that’s where Team Color Dynamics can really help us. And this special lady to my left is going to make that happen. Please welcome, Margo Lansing.” Margo smiled brightly as she walked to the center of the room, thanking Raphael for his stirring introduction. “I like to start off by saying nothing is black and white in the field of Team Color Dynamics,” she said, pausing for a laugh that never came. “Like people, auras are ever changing. We are energy and surrounding each of us is an oval cloud of shifting color that morphs and pulsates as it feeds off surrounding emotion.” Around the room, blank faces stared at Margo as she continued with a brief life history
that outlined how she’d gotten into her field: the years she spent as a high school guidance counselor, using color to break down barriers with teens, her success in the corporate world “facilitating human moments.” Apparently, Margo had been reading auras all her life. “I used to try and grab hold of them when I was a baby,” she said. Dinah imagined her as a child. How frightening it must have been since, to hear her tell it, everything had an aura, even inanimate objects. How could she have known what was real in that mass of energy? How did she learn what was safe to touch? “I see a lot of Blue in your group,” Margo said. “That’s good, but not surprising.
Blue people are honest, generally remain young at heart, and are more likely to be spiritually inclined.” People bobbed their heads up and down and smiled to let her know, they knew, she was talking about them. “One of the negative aspects of this color is the inclination to start new projects without finishing old ones.” Groans and knowing smiles. Her observations were uncanny. Orange people could be vain or dishonest. Green meant you were a healer. Red was the hallmark of a violent nature. No one in the group seemed to think they were red, or if they did, they didn’t let on.
She moved slowly through the room as she spoke, methodically making eye contact with everyone, then holding her gaze when she reached Dinah. “Violet,” she began, “is an important color that represents spirituality and intellectual progression. One of you is what we call Clear Violet. This is a very intuitive person, an old soul who has lived many lives. Several people looked around the room, straining to catch some glimpse of color. Others studied Margo’s face for some clue as to which of them was magical, but she didn’t let on. “When positively channeled,” she continued, “Clear Violet energy offers limitless potential and boundless opportunity. Ruled
by fear, the violet will languish, degenerating into duller and duller hues until reaching a deep indigo, so dark that it can scarcely be distinguished from a bluish black.” Dinah wished she’d spit in Margo’s soup and hoped she took notice of the shifting swirl of color she was feeling now. Ruled by fear. Was she blind? Dinah wasn’t afraid; she was angry and unwilling to stifle honest emotion for the sake of smiling strangers. “Let’s break into our groups for an exercise,” Margo said. “I think you’re all going to really enjoy this.” She pointed Dinah to a table where Raphael sat waiting with Benji, the political produce clerk, and Bob, a mousy accountant
who was known to be a closet meateater. “Everyone hold their neighbors’ hands,” she said. Fortunately, Raphael was seated across the table so Dinah didn’t have to hold his hand. Bob’s hand was smooth as a child’s; Benji’s, like a wet sock. “Now, I want you to think of two things,” Margo said. “First, a statement of fact about the known universe.” Birds fly, Dinah thought. The sun is hot. People die. “Then think of a question, anything at all, the first thing that pops into your head.” What am I doing here? When can I leave?
“Everyone got a question? Now, in turn, ask the person to your left your question. Person on the left, answer the question with a statement of fact about the known universe.” Dinah turned to Bob. “What am I doing here?” Bob smiled. “Life is work.” He looked embarrassed as he turned to Raphael. ‘Why can’t I find a girlfriend?” Raphael laughed. “Summer only comes once a year.” He turned to Benji: “Should I start a fast tomorrow?” Benji barely looked at him. “Children are starving,” he said, turning to Dinah. “Why doesn’t anyone care?” “People die,” she said.
Margo broke the silence that had taken over the room. “You may have noticed that each question had an answer. Not always, but most of the time it works out. Some say it’s luck, but I like to think there’s more to it than that. I like to think we know one another a little bit better than we think we do. Everyone has second sight and whether you realize or not, you use it every day.” Benji was still holding Dinah’s hand when Margo finished speaking and much to her surprise, didn’t drop it when the realization hit. Instead, he smiled and squeezed her fingers gently before letting go. Moments later, Margo stood at the
front door like a minister, shaking hands as employees filed past. Dinah watched her from the dining room as she swept: the care Margo took with each of them, the way she fondled the crystal around her neck as she spoke, the sincere and understanding smile; they were all part and parcel of her business. She was a server too. No nutburgers, wheatloaf or smoothies but she was taking an order with every person who passedâ€”suggesting a course of action, upselling intentions, reaffirming desires. Dinah wondered if it made her feel lonely too.
After she finished sweeping, Dinah tied up the garbage and was stashing her apron underneath the counter when she noticed Margo heading toward her. “I wanted to thank you for letting me experience your aura.” she said. Dinah smiled and shrugged. “Sure.” “You know, I meet all kinds of people at these events. And let me tell you, there’s no shortage of color. Between you and me, it can be overwhelming at times.” Margo slipped on a bright blue windbreaker then pulled her car keys from a canvas tote as Dinah watched in silence. She wanted to ask her a question but didn’t know what it was. She wished she had something
meaningful to say, but she was not a person who said meaningful things. She was a person who took comfort in manageable tasks, like sweeping. A person who punched a time clock and never forgot to take out the garbage. She was someone who walked to her car alone while people chatted all around her. In this life anyway, she was a person who felt better standing in the shadows, away from the demands of light and color.
Published on Sep 18, 2010