Vignette - When It Used to Snow in February

The kitchen was in full swing as the staff was getting ready for the dinner rush, orders would start pouring in at any minute, and the more that was already prepped the better. Pots of pasta were at full boil, salads being cut, chicken and eggplant were being flowered and breaded. The kitchen hummed with activity orchestrated over decades of practice.

A radio chimed out from behind a long metal counter. Covered in years of flower, and the occasional splatter of pizza sauce, the lone speaker was barely visible behind its white shroud. The window that showed the dial was similarly entombed, with only the current station visible. The pale, pink light glowed from the indicator, like the slowly pulsing heart of Frosty the Snowman. It never moved from this spot, and that is how everyone liked it.

“… previously, some scientists thought that the Earth was cooling off rapidly enough to plunge us into an ice age by the next century, but that theory is no longer supported. There is a possibility the opposite might be true, but it needs more study.  Kevin Jones, 1010 WINS, Washington.”

The music switched back over to its regular programming and the mellow strains of Moonlight Sonata trickled from the speaker.

The cook looked up from the counter where he was making the latest in a series of pizzas that seemed to have started in the Nixon administration. The wind-driven snow blew past the glass door of the restaurant. He grunted quickly to himself, then got the sauce from the five gallon bucket next to the radio.

With a long counter that served to separate the kitchen from the dining space, the restaurant was nothing more than two formica tables with simple wooden chairs and a hanging plastic menu board. Small and enclosed as it was, the restaurant was always broiling hot, with twin gas-fired pizza ovens right behind the counter, and then two more ovens for the rest of the orders behind that. Both doors were usually always open, the one in the back of the kitchen, and then one in the front. Today, as a rarity, both were closed.

The front door swung open, dramatically, with an attendant frigid breeze. It flew so fast that the bell over the door barely had time to chime before it slammed against the glass window and shook with an uneasy vibration. The cook called back to the kitchen and one of the part-time kids  rushed out to push the door back into place.

“We might have to lock that.” he sighed.

The kid ran back to the kitchen after being summoned for something else.

The next minute the door flew open again, slamming against the glass door. The cook was about to call  back, when he looked up and saw that it wasn’t just the wind this time, someone had walked into the restaurant.

The figure struggled with the door to get it to close again. Fighting back the wind, it pushed it closed. Gloved hands covered in snow. No face visible. The cook, readying himself to assist was impressed with the feat before him, and smiled in admiration.

“Thanks!” He said with a grin and an upturn in his voice.

The figure turned back, and from behind a woolen hat and black scarf, both festooned with snow, a pair of olivine eyes smiled back. Quickly she took the scarf off being careful not to throw snow all over the floor. She had delicate features and a broad smile. Her eyes sparkled in the fluorescent lights.

“Oh hi!” The cook said, instantly recognizing her, although he did not remember her name. He looked up at the order board. “Yeah, uhhhh, ten minutes.” He gestured over to the table.

“Thanks, John.” She said, with a voice that was accustomed to instructing people what to do, confident, but relaxed.

“Crazy storm huh?”

John looked up again. “I’ve seen worse. School gonna close tomorrow?”

She sat on one of the chairs with a sigh, and didn’t bother to look back at the windows.

“I’ve never seen one this bad before. Probably.”

“So you get the day off?” John asked, taking a fresh ball of dough out and kneading it.

“I never get the day off.” She said jokingly, her eyes betraying a sullenness.

John nodded, knowing not to press an issue that might upset her.

Over the next few minutes, the activity in the kitchen never let up, and John kept apace with his endless pie making. Customers started coming in, all of which had their individual fights with both nature and an overly light glass door. Everyone had a silent fear that the next customer would smash it to bits.

From behind the bustle of waiting customers, John called out to the woman at the table, “Its ready!” he gestured over to the counter where a pizza box and white paper bag were miraculously on the counter.

She got up and pushed her way to the counter, as John rang up the bill, his flowered hands deftly punching the numbers in on his cash register.

“$11.50” he called to her as she reached into her purse. She threw him a quick look.

“Yeah, we had to raise everything twenty-five cents. Blame Reagan.”

She sighed and counted out the change with an assortment of dimes and nickels.

As she was counting out the change, John looked up as the door flew open yet again.

“Hey Doctor!” He said with a cheery smile.

Doctor? She thought to herself, turning around to see who this person - with the instant recognition amid the crowd - was. All should could see was a wall of bodies of those much taller than she. She looked back and handed the money to John.

“Hey John.” She heard the voice of this supposed ‘Doctor’ call back over the crowd. His voice was deep, and seemed embarrassed over the recognition.

She grabbed the pizza box and bag, pushed her way though the crowd and out the door. An arm reached over the crowd and held it for her, while also keeping it from slamming into her face. She faced into the wind and started walking, head down, trudging through, her scarf nowhere to be seen.

Literally head and shoulders above the rest, the Doctor scanned the restaurant. It was packed, everyone jostled for position. Torn between dealing the crush of humanity, and the maelstrom outside. As usual, he, leaned against the back wall, where the door would fly open if it were not for his foot, stealthily positioned to prevent just such a thing.

“Hang on!” Called John from behind the crowd. In one motion he spun around, grabbed the pizza from the top of the oven, and then spun back to hand the box over the crowd. Again, with ease, The Doctor grabbed the box from over everyone’s head with one hand, and with the other threw a crumpled $10 back to John.

“You owe me two bucks!” He yelled.

John nodded and grabbed another box for an irate customer who had been waiting for a while. They didn’t understand the virtues of calling ahead.

The Doctor smiled and turned to go, when he saw a black scarf over the back of one of the chairs. Thinking quickly, he realized it must have belonged to the woman who had just left, the one he held the door open for.

“John!” He called back, “She left her scarf.” He gestured over with his head.

John looked up and nodded. He’d add it to the lost and found box. Whenever the rush died down.

The Doctor, who had never taken off his black stocking cap, tipped around the door and out into the blinding snow. He looked in either direction for the woman who left, but there was no sign of her. Even her tracks were gone in the spindrift.







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