Bardo – the Between

Ask for directions to the best cup of coffee around and everyone will tell you it’ll be where I work. That’s the coffee that I make.

I pour these words into the scene on my mind.  The things I should have said but didn’t at the time in response to my mother.   Her words whine in my memory.  “But Roz, the water in Bernalillo is never totally clear, so how can it be good coffee?”  Then she tallies up my newly divorced self with my fresh-start job.  “Waitressing is such a nowhere job, don’t you think?”

If it’s such a nowhere job… my anger buzzes in my head until I mix up a breakfast order and I get a frown from a customer and a cross word from Pete in the kitchen.  Enough.  Nowhere or not, it’s my job.  And Mom, what you don’t get is that I actually enjoy it.

I love the background hum that rises as people start their day here. I love how fast I can deliver the steaming hot plates of food.  The sights, the sounds, the smells of my favorite shift– breakfast through morning coffee.  I’ve gone through six pots already, my busiest morning was eight.

‘Order’s up Roz’, I hear from the kitchen. Table 14’s breakfast is ready for the man and woman whom I haven’t seen before.  I’m on it.

Somehow in Pete’s morning he’s got the soup of the day ready and from the smell of things, the day’s pies are coming out of the oven.  It’s one of Pete’s jokes to call himself ‘Cook Pete’ – or sometimes he’s the very ‘La de da Chef Pierre’.  It all helps to make the day go by.  He asks me what type of pies he should make– a little game where I call the shots – and today I asked for Frank and Betty’s favorites.  They are such good people and I’m looking to be kind to them.  Special treats to show I care.  That’s another thing Mom, there’s people here I care about. If I told her that, she’d hiss, like a tire deflating.

It’s a whisper the strangers exchange but it reaches me.

“Do you see her eyebrows?”

It’s my look.  It’s my life.  Why is that so hard to understand?

I’d figured the pasty pair were tourists, but that’s a cincher when the woman calls me over and points at the spoonful of grits beside her eggs.

“How do I eat this?” she asks.

Really? Where do you come from that doesn’t know about grits?  I don’t ask nothing as I tell them the obvious.

“With butter, salt and pepper. Or some like to eat their grits with cream and sugar.”

I keep the dialogue in mind so I can tell the story to Pete later.

It’s pretty busy, but I notice when Frank and Betty come in and I get their coffees P.D.Q.  They look like hell.  Frank talks a bit about his worry– Betty’s grief overwhelms her.  It might not help, but I’m worried with him.  I worry about him too.  I don’t imagine there are any directions that go with losing a grandson.

I have a thought – not a good one, but perfectly clear – my mom wouldn’t grieve too much if I were to die.  Her get-on-with-it attitude would avoid the sorrow nonsense.  I feel a swell of pride for Betty’s hurt, as much as I feel bad for her.

It’s an art to serve people that I’m good at; how I sense what people might order, how I listen with half an ear to make sure my customers are not needing anything.  A waitress hears lots.  Most is hodge-podge in one ear and out the other.  Then on other days everyone is talking about the same thing.  Those aren’t good days.   It’s simmered down about Frank and Betty’s grandson but their faces still show how the accident gutted them.  I pour their coffee like it is a cup of love and healing.  Frank smiles weakly as he pats Betty’s hand.

“Roz’s special coffee, Betty.  None fresher in town.”  His comment drops past Betty unheard.

I leave to bring the tourists their bill.

“What’s around here to see and do?”  The man asks.

The woman’s face narrows, something has worn her patience thin.  I know the feeling.  My mom wants to know if I’ll wait tables for the rest of my life.  It’s like according to her menu, I should be through with the starters.  I should be on to the main course.  Her main course.  Yes or no.

I rub my forehead.  It’s not enough that I have to give my mother an answer.  It’s not enough that this morning is hopping; now I have to offer vacation ideas to a pair of tourists.

“Can I get back to you?  Right now isn’t a good time.”

I hope they just leave, but then I have an idea.  I speak with Frank and Betty.   Would they mind?  I point out the tourists; living the dream, money and travel and yet they are here in Bernalillo, New Mexico at Denny’s.

“They want to know what to see or do here.”

A thread of interest shows on Frank’s face in the way a fish might notice a hook.  Then with one of those looks of the long-married he and Betty share, I am given his okay.

But first, “Hey listen, before I forget.  We have blueberry and deep-dish apple crumble.  What do you think? A piece of pie for breakfast?”

They’ve both lost weight.  Shock and grief has stolen the appetites that I try to tempt.

“Little lady’s got pie!  How about it?  I’ll pick up the tab.”  The tourist fellow interrupts. They’ve followed me.

I see Betty shrink like a turtle pulling back into her shell and Frank takes a long moment to say that he’s not interested in any pie right now.  The strangers sit down at a nearby table.  I let my face tell Frank that I’m sorry if this is a bad idea.  I’ll be watching so these people don’t tire him and Betty.

Busy as it is, I pick up enough from those two tables to understand Frank gives them the run down about some of the ruins here-about, mixing it up with stories of his wrestler days.  Frank fought under the name ‘Bardo the Between’.

A fresh audience then.  Well, good for Frank.  They’ll ask about his stage name.  He’s given me a number of explanations.   Between the rope and the mat he’s told me or between a drop kick and seeing stars.  Between bruised and half dead is something else he’s said.  Then Pete asked around and came back with how a bardo has something to do with Buddha and enlightenment, what you see when reality is cracked open, visions almost.

Visions and vistas and places to visit dominate the conversation within the group.  I overhear as Frank mentions Canyon De Chelly and he adds, “You might go over to Madrid.  Lots of little shops, stuff to do. ”

Madrid is a ghost town haunted by Californians running tourist trap outlets.  Frank knows his stuff.  Both the tourists relax with the easy chatter.  I bring the coffee pot around.

“Can I get you anything else?”  I ask Betty quietly as I pour coffee, and then mention it looks like it could rain.  She tries to give me her generous smile but it wanes small.  The tourist woman tries to include her in the discussion, as well.  Betty remains mute, though occasionally her face works at something.

Then she blurts, ‘We’ve just lost our grandson Sonny.  He was killed in an accident. He was only nineteen years old.’

I say a little prayer that the tourists know how to be gentle.  They are the only ones in the restaurant that don’t know about Frank and Betty’s sorrow, but now they will.

Soon those four are the last customers leftover from the breakfast rush.  A six coffee pot breakfast I’ll tell Pete, when there is a little time to share stories and see how things are going with each other.  Earlier, just to make it firm, I told my plan to Pete.

“It’s sure not scientific but I’ve decided if the blueberry pie is all sold first, I will go back home and help mother after her surgery.  Deep dish apple crumble goes first, then no.”

He says, “Okay.  You’ll know what to do when the last piece of pie is sold.”

That makes me feel better.  He didn’t say, ‘Adults don’t make up their minds like this’ and he didn’t agree with my mother’s words either.  ‘You have to think beyond your next paycheck, Roz.  You’re thirty four.   It’s time you had some direction.’  Her big push, I think.  My big opportunity.  If I want to be right back under her thumb.  Pete knows this isn’t easy for me.

Then suddenly it’s that funny moment when the breakfast orders stop and people start into the coffee treat options.  The pieces of pie start to go.

I might not have my life all mapped out, but here, at least, I don’t feel like a failure.  I’ve got people to josh with. I’ve got customers that feel like family.  I’ve got coffee to deliver.  And pieces of pies.  Customers order Pete’s claim to fame, narrowing my options with every mouthful.  Apple crumble or blueberry, yes, or no, stay or go.

I pass by to overhear Frank say, “Just out of town there is the interpretive center.  The Rio Grande runs through there, not much water this time of year, but you can see what it looks like.”

It seems to me that Frank is running low himself, and I should hurry the tourists along.  But Betty unexpectedly interrupts the travelogue again.

“Our grandson had no chance to get out of the way.  The truck backed up and he was caught between it and the cement wall.”

She hasn’t talked this much to anyone since the accident.   Bits and pieces of the stranger’s lives are shared too, but mostly they sit respectfully; the unintended guests at this eulogy.  To Frank and Betty their grandson had big dreams and much potential.  They lost so much, but for now they have someone to listen long and well.  It’s a life story Frank and Betty share and it takes time.

Then the coffee group begins to disappear.  Another three pots of coffee gone, officially my busiest shift ever.  I’m down to two pieces of pie, one apple, one blueberry; so no clear sign of my future yet.  If the tourists would leave, I could sit with Frank and Betty and get directions myself.  Or encourage them to eat something.

But some people still have appetites.  Even though the stranger only finished his breakfast an hour ago, he offers once more to buy pie.  Just like that Frank agrees and I am told to bring the last two pieces over.

So they will be the ones that make my decision.  A shiver passes over me.  I had hoped for this.  I will have to see which piece gets finished first, that’s all.  I bring the pies with two extra plates and the four forks requested.

Loyalty and duty to family rest on the plates.  Just as being an adult and having my own life is there too.  Could I even stomach being nursemaid to my mother?  Is the money she’s promised enough to pay tuition, if I can decide on a course?  Or am I supposed to wait?  Not just on my customers but to find my destination?

I deliver the pie, but I have no time to stay and watch.  Tables need to be cleared, another customer is ready to pay and a pot of coffee is needed.

It should have been a quick job, but something has happened between the time I was here last and now.  There is coffee on the counter and the floor and now I discover that the glass pot is cracked and leaks almost as fast as it fills.  That’s reality for you, delivering you a mess to clean up.

Life sometimes makes the choice for you while you’re making up your mind and customers can be headed out the door before you know they’re done.  Good to his word the tourist pays the bill for both tables.  I peer over to the little forest of dirty dishes they’ve left behind and see the empty plates that once held the last pieces of pie.

I still have to choose between the rock – agree that I’m stuck and say yes to my mother’s logical plan.  Or the hard place which is to find my own future.  Again.

Frank waits in the entryway while Betty slips off to the restroom.  The tourists reach their car, but I see them bring out a map and with it in hand, return to the building.  I see how Frank points to the map in what must be a final set of directions.  The tourists shake his hand and by this time Betty joins them.  Her step is sturdier, her face has color.  These special members of my coffee community pause for one more exchange.

I know that I’m staring but I can’t turn away.

Then the tourist woman hugs my dear Betty.  Tears spring to my eyes at the gesture and then my breath is caught by the glow that surrounds the group.  Has the sun found a crack between the clouds or is this … an energy? A vision?   Doubt, for an instant, melts away.  It all fits.  My being here.  The directions asked for and given.  From the pieces of pie to the divine forces of the universe, it is all included in this moment of triumph.

Ask for directions to the best cup of coffee around and everyone will tell you it’ll be where I work. That’s the coffee that I make.

I pour these words into the scene on my mind.  The things I should have said but didn’t at the time in response to my mother.   Her words whine in my memory.  “But Roz, the water in Bernalillo is never totally clear, so how can it be good coffee?”  Then she tallies up my newly divorced self with my fresh-start job.  “Waitressing is such a nowhere job, don’t you think?”

If it’s such a nowhere job… my anger buzzes in my head until I mix up a breakfast order and I get a frown from a customer and a cross word from Pete in the kitchen.  Enough.  Nowhere or not, it’s my job.  And Mom, what you don’t get is that I actually enjoy it.

I love the background hum that rises as people start their day here. I love how fast I can deliver the steaming hot plates of food.  The sights, the sounds, the smells of my favorite shift– breakfast through morning coffee.  I’ve gone through six pots already, my busiest morning was eight.

‘Order’s up Roz’, I hear from the kitchen. Table 14’s breakfast is ready for the man and woman whom I haven’t seen before.  I’m on it.

Somehow in Pete’s morning he’s got the soup of the day ready and from the smell of things, the day’s pies are coming out of the oven.  It’s one of Pete’s jokes to call himself ‘Cook Pete’ – or sometimes he’s the very ‘La de da Chef Pierre’.  It all helps to make the day go by.  He asks me what type of pies he should make– a little game where I call the shots – and today I asked for Frank and Betty’s favorites.  They are such good people and I’m looking to be kind to them.  Special treats to show I care.  That’s another thing Mom, there’s people here I care about. If I told her that, she’d hiss, like a tire deflating.

It’s a whisper the strangers exchange but it reaches me.

“Do you see her eyebrows?”

It’s my look.  It’s my life.  Why is that so hard to understand?

I’d figured the pasty pair were tourists, but that’s a cincher when the woman calls me over and points at the spoonful of grits beside her eggs.

“How do I eat this?” she asks.

Really? Where do you come from that doesn’t know about grits?  I don’t ask nothing as I tell them the obvious.

“With butter, salt and pepper. Or some like to eat their grits with cream and sugar.”

I keep the dialogue in mind so I can tell the story to Pete later.

It’s pretty busy, but I notice when Frank and Betty come in and I get their coffees P.D.Q.  They look like hell.  Frank talks a bit about his worry– Betty’s grief overwhelms her.  It might not help, but I’m worried with him.  I worry about him too.  I don’t imagine there are any directions that go with losing a grandson.

I have a thought – not a good one, but perfectly clear – my mom wouldn’t grieve too much if I were to die.  Her get-on-with-it attitude would avoid the sorrow nonsense.  I feel a swell of pride for Betty’s hurt, as much as I feel bad for her.

It’s an art to serve people that I’m good at; how I sense what people might order, how I listen with half an ear to make sure my customers are not needing anything.  A waitress hears lots.  Most is hodge-podge in one ear and out the other.  Then on other days everyone is talking about the same thing.  Those aren’t good days.   It’s simmered down about Frank and Betty’s grandson but their faces still show how the accident gutted them.  I pour their coffee like it is a cup of love and healing.  Frank smiles weakly as he pats Betty’s hand.

“Roz’s special coffee, Betty.  None fresher in town.”  His comment drops past Betty unheard.

I leave to bring the tourists their bill.

“What’s around here to see and do?”  The man asks.

The woman’s face narrows, something has worn her patience thin.  I know the feeling.  My mom wants to know if I’ll wait tables for the rest of my life.  It’s like according to her menu, I should be through with the starters.  I should be on to the main course.  Her main course.  Yes or no.

I rub my forehead.  It’s not enough that I have to give my mother an answer.  It’s not enough that this morning is hopping; now I have to offer vacation ideas to a pair of tourists.

“Can I get back to you?  Right now isn’t a good time.”

I hope they just leave, but then I have an idea.  I speak with Frank and Betty.   Would they mind?  I point out the tourists; living the dream, money and travel and yet they are here in Bernalillo, New Mexico at Denny’s.

“They want to know what to see or do here.”

A thread of interest shows on Frank’s face in the way a fish might notice a hook.  Then with one of those looks of the long-married he and Betty share, I am given his okay.

But first, “Hey listen, before I forget.  We have blueberry and deep-dish apple crumble.  What do you think? A piece of pie for breakfast?”

They’ve both lost weight.  Shock and grief has stolen the appetites that I try to tempt.

“Little lady’s got pie!  How about it?  I’ll pick up the tab.”  The tourist fellow interrupts. They’ve followed me.

I see Betty shrink like a turtle pulling back into her shell and Frank takes a long moment to say that he’s not interested in any pie right now.  The strangers sit down at a nearby table.  I let my face tell Frank that I’m sorry if this is a bad idea.  I’ll be watching so these people don’t tire him and Betty.

Busy as it is, I pick up enough from those two tables to understand Frank gives them the run down about some of the ruins here-about, mixing it up with stories of his wrestler days.  Frank fought under the name ‘Bardo the Between’.

A fresh audience then.  Well, good for Frank.  They’ll ask about his stage name.  He’s given me a number of explanations.   Between the rope and the mat he’s told me or between a drop kick and seeing stars.  Between bruised and half dead is something else he’s said.  Then Pete asked around and came back with how a bardo has something to do with Buddha and enlightenment, what you see when reality is cracked open, visions almost.

Visions and vistas and places to visit dominate the conversation within the group.  I overhear as Frank mentions Canyon De Chelly and he adds, “You might go over to Madrid.  Lots of little shops, stuff to do. ”

Madrid is a ghost town haunted by Californians running tourist trap outlets.  Frank knows his stuff.  Both the tourists relax with the easy chatter.  I bring the coffee pot around.

“Can I get you anything else?”  I ask Betty quietly as I pour coffee, and then mention it looks like it could rain.  She tries to give me her generous smile but it wanes small.  The tourist woman tries to include her in the discussion, as well.  Betty remains mute, though occasionally her face works at something.

Then she blurts, ‘We’ve just lost our grandson Sonny.  He was killed in an accident. He was only nineteen years old.’

I say a little prayer that the tourists know how to be gentle.  They are the only ones in the restaurant that don’t know about Frank and Betty’s sorrow, but now they will.

Soon those four are the last customers leftover from the breakfast rush.  A six coffee pot breakfast I’ll tell Pete, when there is a little time to share stories and see how things are going with each other.  Earlier, just to make it firm, I told my plan to Pete.

“It’s sure not scientific but I’ve decided if the blueberry pie is all sold first, I will go back home and help mother after her surgery.  Deep dish apple crumble goes first, then no.”

He says, “Okay.  You’ll know what to do when the last piece of pie is sold.”

That makes me feel better.  He didn’t say, ‘Adults don’t make up their minds like this’ and he didn’t agree with my mother’s words either.  ‘You have to think beyond your next paycheck, Roz.  You’re thirty four.   It’s time you had some direction.’  Her big push, I think.  My big opportunity.  If I want to be right back under her thumb.  Pete knows this isn’t easy for me.

Then suddenly it’s that funny moment when the breakfast orders stop and people start into the coffee treat options.  The pieces of pie start to go.

I might not have my life all mapped out, but here, at least, I don’t feel like a failure.  I’ve got people to josh with. I’ve got customers that feel like family.  I’ve got coffee to deliver.  And pieces of pies.  Customers order Pete’s claim to fame, narrowing my options with every mouthful.  Apple crumble or blueberry, yes, or no, stay or go.

I pass by to overhear Frank say, “Just out of town there is the interpretive center.  The Rio Grande runs through there, not much water this time of year, but you can see what it looks like.”

It seems to me that Frank is running low himself, and I should hurry the tourists along.  But Betty unexpectedly interrupts the travelogue again.

“Our grandson had no chance to get out of the way.  The truck backed up and he was caught between it and the cement wall.”

She hasn’t talked this much to anyone since the accident.   Bits and pieces of the stranger’s lives are shared too, but mostly they sit respectfully; the unintended guests at this eulogy.  To Frank and Betty their grandson had big dreams and much potential.  They lost so much, but for now they have someone to listen long and well.  It’s a life story Frank and Betty share and it takes time.

Then the coffee group begins to disappear.  Another three pots of coffee gone, officially my busiest shift ever.  I’m down to two pieces of pie, one apple, one blueberry; so no clear sign of my future yet.  If the tourists would leave, I could sit with Frank and Betty and get directions myself.  Or encourage them to eat something.

But some people still have appetites.  Even though the stranger only finished his breakfast an hour ago, he offers once more to buy pie.  Just like that Frank agrees and I am told to bring the last two pieces over.

So they will be the ones that make my decision.  A shiver passes over me.  I had hoped for this.  I will have to see which piece gets finished first, that’s all.  I bring the pies with two extra plates and the four forks requested.

Loyalty and duty to family rest on the plates.  Just as being an adult and having my own life is there too.  Could I even stomach being nursemaid to my mother?  Is the money she’s promised enough to pay tuition, if I can decide on a course?  Or am I supposed to wait?  Not just on my customers but to find my destination?

I deliver the pie, but I have no time to stay and watch.  Tables need to be cleared, another customer is ready to pay and a pot of coffee is needed.

It should have been a quick job, but something has happened between the time I was here last and now.  There is coffee on the counter and the floor and now I discover that the glass pot is cracked and leaks almost as fast as it fills.  That’s reality for you, delivering you a mess to clean up.

Life sometimes makes the choice for you while you’re making up your mind and customers can be headed out the door before you know they’re done.  Good to his word the tourist pays the bill for both tables.  I peer over to the little forest of dirty dishes they’ve left behind and see the empty plates that once held the last pieces of pie.

I still have to choose between the rock – agree that I’m stuck and say yes to my mother’s logical plan.  Or the hard place which is to find my own future.  Again.

Frank waits in the entryway while Betty slips off to the restroom.  The tourists reach their car, but I see them bring out a map and with it in hand, return to the building.  I see how Frank points to the map in what must be a final set of directions.  The tourists shake his hand and by this time Betty joins them.  Her step is sturdier, her face has color.  These special members of my coffee community pause for one more exchange.

I know that I’m staring but I can’t turn away.

Then the tourist woman hugs my dear Betty.  Tears spring to my eyes at the gesture and then my breath is caught by the glow that surrounds the group.  Has the sun found a crack between the clouds or is this … an energy? A vision?   Doubt, for an instant, melts away.  It all fits.  My being here.  The directions asked for and given.  From the pieces of pie to the divine forces of the universe, it is all included in this moment of triumph.


Liz BetzLiz Betz is enjoying her retirement pastime of writing short fiction which has been published in a variety of markets. She writes from rural Alberta, Canada. Follow her writing blog http://lizbetz.blogspot.com for news of her publications.