The Night Shift

2 Aug

The lampposts along East Thirty-Third Street began to brighten from a dull flicker to an amber glow. Kristina smiled at the elderly cab driver as he rounded the corner to continue his night’s work, knowing she would be doing the same. The chains lightly clanked against the glass door as she locked it tight, the wooden sign with the words “Sorry, We Are Closed” now facing the icy sidewalk as the auburn beauty walked towards the register.

Any other day after closing up shop for the night, Kristina would play a record and sing along as she counted the till and dance with the broomstick as she swept up flour from the tile floor. Though wearing her favorite knee-high go-go boots and a heavy-knit turtleneck dress, she would easily crisscross about the room with her apron strings floating behind her like a kite tail; unfortunately, whether she liked it or not, this night was best spent in silence. “How can you stand that blaring racket, Krissy?!” her mother would yell from the kitchen of their old Lower East Side efficiency. Kristina remembered those days well, the days spent fearing to show a smile: too wide and she was rubbing her happiness in her unfulfilled mother’s face; too small and she was showing her mother her ungratefulness.

It had been nearly 15 years since the eviction and over a decade since she last saw her mother, but the smell of the bakery’s pilot lights took her mind back to her old life. It was a life that caused more bruises, scratches and concussions than she would like to think about. After every one-sided bout, Kristina would retreat to the linoleum-tiled kitchen for ice or cold water to soothe her aches. Oftentimes she would sleep there, against the avocado green-colored oven or water-heater for warmth. There was barely enough room on the living room loveseat for her mother and whichever gentleman was staying the night, not to mention a school-aged girl.

The clock chimed nine GONGS as Kristina untied her apron, folding it neatly on a shelf by the refrigerator. She snatched her red pea coat from the coat tree on her way out the door. Carefully holding a twine-tied box of lemon squares under her arm, she checked that the bakery door was locked before turning her back on it.

Turning onto Lexington Avenue, Kristina’s stomach turned into knots. Any other night, this would be a carefree walk to her after-hours job. The disco kings and coke-stoned ladies were easy clientele for a mid-town astrologer like herself. Tonight was different, as she had reminded herself for hours, for days, for weeks, for years. It had been over a decade since she last saw her mother through the plate glass at Riker’s Island, and as the neon sign screaming “Kristal Stargazer” came more into focus, so did the diminutive silhouette beneath it.


One Response to “The Night Shift”

  1. ingridf August 2, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    It’s wonderful. I love the detail… especially lines like “the smell of the bakery’s pilot lights took her mind back to her old life” are so evocative.

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