Imperfect Fiction

Waffle Fingers

Waffle Fingers

Ariel Carter-Rodriguez

“I think I’ll go with the 'Bacon 'n' Maple Waffle,'” said the man with the pork-chop hands.

I popped off the pen cap with my teeth and scribbled on my notepad. There’s something wonderfully refreshing about a blank page. “Anything else? To drink, I mean?”

“Orange juice sounds great, thanks.”

This is especially true of paper without pre-printed lines, which is what I bring to work every day, including this one: bleached, bone-white and clean. Sometimes I even like to buy sheets so thin they could be freshly peeled onion-skins, like you see in bibles. That way I can see through my previous lines of writing and see if they’re perpendicular to the margins and parallel to each other.

I love organization. And hands.

My coworkers don’t seem to share my passion for paper, but that’s okay. I don’t hoard things in my room until they spill out the window or get infatuated with a light switch, but I've been known to herd pens into formations. I’ve been this way since preschool, but back then it was with crayons. Customers always stare at my virgin sheets of paper, especially girls. But my quirk to top all quirks is my love of hands.

“You have any beer?” A fistful of callouses dominated the counter.

“I'm sorry sir, we don't.”

The thick palms slid out of sight. “Then I'll take a water, thanks.”

I maintain that palm reading is a legitimate practice that has been horribly misapplied. I've become fluent in the language. Scars, veins, and cuticles are phonemes, morphemes, and syllables, respectively. Just add some skin cell syntax and you have two open books. My hands tend to be blabbermouths, so I wear gloves on occasion to shut them up. In school, this fluency and my earned me the nickname “Handler.”

A woman with a willow-like posture swayed up to the counter. Her hands resembled the rest of her, long and skeletal. “What is in the 'Tropical Waffle' young man?”

I love being asked questions I know the answer to.

“It’s a waffle served with sliced strawberries, coconut cream, and hot fudge.”

The woman’s fingers stirred in the breeze. “Delightful. What types of drinks do you have?”

“If I were you,” I said, “I’d try the pomegranate lemonade. It’s the special this week. Or this summer, rather. It has some zest to it.”

“Lovely,” purred the willow-woman. The hand on the counter fiddled with her wedding ring, sliding it up and down the length of her finger. “Give me two of them, and two of the waffles too, dear, while you’re at it.”

I grinned, but genuine crow’s feet didn’t mark my eyes. She was being unfaithful. You can tell so much about a person by their hands. Whether they are tough, gentle, hardworking, lazy, sincere, counterfeit—anything, really. I had tried my hand at hands. People focus so intensely on their faces that their hands go unnoticed and unsupervised, and like unsupervised children, they do what they feel like doing. I frowned, thinking about the unknown Mr. Willow, then decided to busy myself by organizing the straws by color. Not only am I expected to look at people in the face, but directly into their eyes. I don’t trust eyes.

“Excuse me,” said a voice.

I snapped out of my methodical reverie. “Yes?”

A new pair of hands had appeared on the bright blue counter. “This is the Waffle Way, right?”

I chuckled. “I hope that’s still what the sign says. Yes, it is.”

The hands were carnation pink, and small. The fingers drummed—no—they tiptoed back and forth, from pinky to thumb. The voice was a girl’s. “I’ve heard a lot about this place. Kind of a funky location though, huh?”

“I suppose it is,” I said. Located on the side of Legal Addiction Espresso, the Waffle Way was a nifty extension of the place with a colorful awning and a fluorescent “open” sign that dangled precariously overhead. To passers by it looks like a bright blue window floating in the middle of a solid brick wall. It was also the favorite pit stop for hipsters, cyclists, and hipster-cyclists, all of whom thought it was a hidden gem of a place.

“Um,” she said, “Anyway, what would you recommend? I mean, if you know your waffles. Or about waffles in general. Or what have you. You get it, yeah?” A forefinger traced invisible circles on the counter, evidently sheepish about its owner's articulacy.

I watched those fingers. The nails had been painted with a glossy polish flecked with glitter. The squares flashed like colored fish scales. “Yeah, I know about our waffles. If you’re into fruit, we have a ‘Summer Combo’ with three kinds of berries, or we have an ‘Apple Cobbler’ waffle that has roasted apples with caramel and cream, or—”

“Er, how many kinds are there?” the girl asked.

“Forty-seven.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

The delicate fingers stopped squirming. “Are all employees supposed to know that off the tops of their heads?”

“Not necessarily, but I’ve counted the menu items a few times.”

She giggled—a sound much like the fizz made by opening a can of soda. Maybe a Cherry Coke or a Dr. Pepper. Her fingers matched her laugh, shivering with glee. “You’re uncanny!”

I had a feeling my face was the same shade as the girl’s fingers. Realistically, probably a shade darker. “Uncanny? As in ‘ghastly’ or as in ‘fantastic’?”

The girl’s right thumb started scraping old nail polish off the other nails. “I was thinking more along the lines of ‘thaumaturgic.’”

I stopped separating straws. “Thaumaturgic?” I followed the wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck until I reached the girl’s face.

She had a small face, pale with a clue of pink like her hands. Her sandy-blonde hair was draped to the side of her neck in a loose, unfussy ponytail. She wore silver stars in her ears.

“In this case it means ‘enchanting.'”

I saw that she had freckles on the bridge of her nose. “I see.”

“I think for now I’ll keep it simple,” she said. “I’ll just have a waffle with maple syrup. Could you do that?” She smiled with bubble-gum lips and peered at me through periwinkle eyes.

“Yes, I can. Would you like anything else?”

“Since you so generously offered, there is something else I would like.”  

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