Artificial Stupidity by D.I. Jolly
For Adam, Wednesday had started out cold, with a window left open overnight letting in some unseasonably icy weather. But it also hadn’t been a bad day. He’d gone to work, gotten what he needed to get done, done, and was feeling so good about himself that he decided to stop off at a café on his way home.
He had walked past it almost every workday for over two years but had only ever gone in three times. Once because of rain, once at the suggestion of a drink from a co-worker and once to ask if they had a phone charger. They had not.
The place was set up to look like an American diner, complete with faded turquoise booth seats, waitresses in uniform, and an open window to the kitchen where the fry cook could ding a bell and yell, “order up!” when he needed attention.
Adam had liked the place each time he’d gone in, save for the lack of a phone charger. It was just in a weird spot for him. To close to work and not close enough to home. So, when he walked past, he was either not hungry, not focused on where he was, or somewhere in between. Today, however, he felt different, today he wanted to stop by and see what they had to offer.
He found himself a seat and as the waitress dropped off the menu on her way to deliver some drinks, he noticed that the blue of her uniform complimented the blue of her eyes. He’d only ever gotten coffee before, which he planned to get again now, but as he was there, he thought he’d read the menu. See if inspiration would strike or maybe the smell of frying food would trigger something. But when the waitress came back, he handed her the menu, smiled, and said.
“I’ll just have some coffee please.”
She smiled back and said.
“No problem sweetie, and if you change your mind that’s ok too. I’ll be around, you just give me a little wave.”
She struck him as sweet, and while he recognised that she wore a name tag, he couldn’t pull his focus away from her eyes long to see what it said. He’d never been too comfortable reading name tags anyway, specifically on women. Looking at their boobs to learn their name always felt like something a guy had decided was a really great idea.
She dropped off his coffee along with another smile on her way to take menus to a new table of four and he slipped into the quiet space in his mind. On the way there he thought about the waitress’s smile and the smell of fried food. He then wondered if she had to spend extra money on shampoo because of all the grease in the air. Then he thought about the grease in the air’s affected on the taste of the coffee and if maybe that was the secret to why it seemed so especially good. And then he thought about nothing. For an instant it felt like he could feel the power going off in his head, his thoughts evaporated, his vision unfocused, and then he was just there. The machine of his body kept working, his lungs filled with air, his heart pushed blood through his veins and even his arm continued to lift the cup to his mouth to take sips of coffee, and time passed. Eventually though as his hand tilted the cup and his mouth realised that it was empty. The systems of his mind started to come back to life and he formed his first thought, ‘do I want more coffee? Yes.’
He then blinked and wondered if he had remembered to blink in the few minutes of nothing or if he’d just stared like a psychopath into the room. His ears then tuned back into the sounds of the café and he heard the general chatter of people being social. He lifted the mug to his lips and discovered again that he’d finished the coffee. The waitress’s voice played in his head. “I’ll be around, you just give me a little wave.”
So, he blinked a few more times and looked around for the waitress, who was taking the order from another table.
She smiled at them exactly the same way she had smiled at him and chatted with them with the same sweet manners. Her language was kind, her movements were sweet and she gave the impression of the perfect café diner waitress. One person taking care of everyone else there. The table count had gone up to seven, not counting his and he realised he’d have to wait his turn, but his focus had locked onto the waitress. He wasn’t watching her, exactly, but he was aware of her going from table to table, giving the same little speech, pausing in the same places, and making the same little jokes.
“Oh, I always forget this one, the second special for today is…. Oh, the double, double, that’s right. I swear if my head wasn’t attached…”
It got the same reaction every time and by the third table, Adam started to feel like he was looking behind the curtain. Like he’d read the script. One after another he watched her play up a slightly ditsy but sweet waitress who was pretty enough to get the boys attention but not threatening enough to activate the competitive nature of the women. When a guy was alone, she just played the sweet, when it was just a woman, she played the innocent. All the while holding a notepad she never wrote on, instead inputting the orders into the computerised till from memory. She prepared the drinks herself in the order they were ordered, even though she’d been to four tables and within ten minutes all the people who’d walked in while he was zoned out had gotten their drinks and their food was being cooked.
Then she was at his table. He was so impressed by her act that he’d forgotten to ‘give her a little wave’ but she’d seen him, and came over already holding a pot of coffee.
“Time for a refill?”
“Uummm… yeah, yeah thank you.”
“That’s no problem at all sweetie. Just doing my job. I mean I don’t think I could even stand without coffee so I know how important it is.”
She smiled at him and it was sweet and kind and perfect. So perfect in fact that as she stood there in front of him, he couldn’t see the act. Even though he knew it was there.
“Do you think you’ll be wanting food or is it just a coffee night?”
Adam looked down at his cup, then back up at the waitress.
“Just a coffee night. In fact, can I have my bill?”
“Oh, no need to rush, you just come up and pay at the counter when you’re ready.”
And then she was gone, back to check on the other tables. Adam took a sip of coffee and realised again that it was excellent. Then he turned his attention to the other tables. Not to stare, just to notice them, to see if anyone else had seen what he’d seen. But every other table had people talking or eating or zoning out like he’d done, and none of them seemed to notice the waitress, or her magic. What they’d seen was only and exactly what she’d shown them. The flawless performance of what they expected to see. It was so perfect that he wondered if he’d even recognise her if he saw her out in the real world, or if she literally transformed into another person for the job.
It was so perfect he wondered if he’d only seen passed the veil because she’d let him. But that he instantly dismissed as wishful thinking. But for that instant he entertained the two separate ideas; One being that seeing the magic made him special, and two, being shown the magic made him special, so either way he won. But that was just for an instant. The truth was he was having a good day, and the world was still the world. But he dismissed that too, deciding that there was no need to ruin something perfect with too much realistic thinking. He then finished his coffee and went to the counter to pay.
He looked into her blue eyes and wondered if he was brave enough to say he’d really seen her and how impressed he was with her. But even in his head, it sounded far too creepy for him to say out loud, so instead, he thanked her, promised to come back, and went home.