"Jack!" screeched an elderly woman's coarse voice.
"Coming!" I Called back as I stood, cautiously balancing the tall stack of plates in one hand, and holding numerous dish rags in the other.
It was my job to clean up today. Various people usually came by this Little Diner, none of which had the mannerisms to at least prevent half their food from winding up on the floor. Each time I came out to sweep, I would watch as they shoveled the food down their gullets, allowing most to miss and fall.
Each customer was plump and round, none of which were pleasing to the eye. They were the big shots of the community. They had money, simply by being born into it, or by intimidating others some how without even lifting a finger. I hated them all. Well, not hate. At least, not as much as envied them.
"Hurry up you little cretin!" My boss, an elder woman of eighty years and counting, screeched once again.
"Yes Ma'am." I answered shyly, brushing my short, tangled and rather ugly blond hair out of my powder blue eyes with the hand full of dish towels and slunk up to her.
"Do you see this?" She pointed a long, bony finger down to the ground where a dead roach lay belly up, as though it were admiring the ceiling with it's legs still wavering every which way in a feeble attempt to stand again.
Oh no. I thought. How did I miss that one?
"Yes, M-ma'am." I stuttered, knowing full well what would happen once the Diner closed for the night.
"No you don't!" She yelled.
Suddenly, a sharp pain slammed into my right cheek as she struck me with her ring ridden hand. The plates flew out from my hand and the rags dropped warily to the floor as I tumbled.
The crashing glass made some of the customers look, but none did anything. No one ever did.
I felt the hot caress of blood on my cheek where her back hand had connected with my flesh. Her ring had left a small gash which was currently bleeding profoundly.
"If you knew what that was, then you would have cleaned it up already!" She grabbed me by the hair and forced me to stand. "And look! Now you're getting blood all over everything!"
Her sharp, pointed nose was nearly touching my face as she said that. She was so close I could smell the rancid concoction of bacteria and germs which infested her blackened teeth. Yet, this was by far not the first time I had been in this kind of situation, and over the years, I had grown accustomed to the smell, at least to the point where I no longer felt the need to vomit.
"Sorry Ma'am!" I croaked. "I'll clean it up immediately!"
"Of course you will!" She dropped me.
My knees hit hard on the wooden floors, creating another source of pain for me.
"Now, get to it!" My boss turned and abruptly walked away. All along muttering under her breath. "Honestly! Why I accepted to have him work here is a mystery to me! Blundering idiot!"
I then bent over and began cleaning the broken dishes and blood, all the while holding one of the already dirty dish towels to my newest of various wounds.
My cross patterned brown and white shirt was extremely stained with grime, mud, blood, and especially bug guts.
Don't consider me stupid though. I'm not working here for the fun of it. If any place else was willing to hire me, I'd jump to it in a pinch if I could. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
My parents had died when I was eleven. That had been five years ago, going on six. I had lived alone in a shack on a hillside near the dump since then. I spent my remaining childhood stealing from stalls and stores, as well as pick pocketing as many people as would pass me by. But eventually, I got caught. This was my punishment since I wasn't old enough to be convicted as an adult.
There weren't any juvenile halls here in Cumberton. Nor were there any orphanages, which is why I had lived alone for so long. I still do in fact.
Twice each week the local police check in with the Diner to make sure I'm working off my debt to society. Three more years and I'll be out of this hell hole, and back into my old one. I was lucky in some ways though. They could have easily said I'd go straight to jail once I turned eighteen.
Why they still let me live alone in my run down shack I don't know. I contemplated running so many times, but am too much of a coward to do so.
"Get to work you lazy bastard!" One of the customers shouted at me.
I began to quickly gather the pieces of broken glass into my arms, getting a few new cuts as I did so, and went out back to throw them away.
It was almost closing time. So I did my best to clean up the mess and get rid of the remnants of food left on the floor by the other customers.
When I went in back to change, the old wretch stood there. Her arms were folded over her stained white apron which overlapped her blue dress. Here long white hair was pulled back in a hair net.
I looked down at her left hand which held the large, metal soup spoon, and swallowed hard.
"Come here dear boy." She cooed, unnaturally.
I shook my head.
"Now you don't want me to tell the police that you're not cooperating do you? I'm sure they won't mind finding a worse place for you." She gently threatened.
I couldn't even imagine a worse place than this. So, slowly, I went to her. And just as I expected, as soon as I was in reach, down came the metal spoon, right on my shoulder.
The pain made me cry out. There was no one else here to hear me now, no one cared.
I fell to my knees and held my hands out in front of me as the blows continued. Soon, my hands began to sting and I felt a slight crack in my left wrist which made me pull back. Bad Idea.
An instant migraine shot through my system as the spoon struck my forehead. There was nothing I could do, so I curled up in the fetal position, trying to protect as much of my body as I could from the onslaught.
I was scrawny. I had no muscle mass what so ever. Therefore, I couldn't fight back, even if I wanted to.
Luckily my boss, also known as Mrs. Cecilia, grew tired easily in her old age and ceased her attack.
"That will be all for tonight. Now get lost and I'll be expecting you in the morning." She croaked.
Weakly, like a new born pup just learning to walk, I stood and limped out. It was a long way to my shack, and I needed to get there before some one else noticed me.