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A gripping, tragic,drama about a lesbian confused.
Her father was dead, her step-father was a pedophile and her dysfunctional mother was in denial. Pam felt abused, misunderstood and unloved until she met Faina. Life was good - for a while - until a man named Darryl walked into her life and her world came crashing down. Pain, denial, mistrust, lust, jealousy, confusion, love, loyalty and survival fill the pages of this dramatic novel about a woman finding herself.
The tiny raindrops that formed a misty haze as Pam pushed her way through the crowded city streets were progressively turning to pelting rain. She was late for work again.
Stopping to catch her breath, she wiped the tiny stray strands of her thick auburn hair, that had escaped the tight knot on the back of her head from her damp brow, as she studied the flashing sign over the doorway of the run down diner across the street.
The “e” in Pete was dark, making it read ‘Pet‘s Place’ instead of ‘Pete’s Place’. Pam chuckled to herself as she watched one of Pete’s regular customers, Chuck, forge his way through the pelting rain and venture in. Chuck was a perfect reason why Pete’s Place should actually be called Pet’s Place. He was a pig if ever she had met one.
Lowering her umbrella, Pam hunched her shoulders against the elements while she merged with the crowd as they crossed the street. Maybe if she showed up soaked from the rain, Pete would be a little less antagonistic about her tardiness. It was worth a try.
It was ten years ago to the day since Pam walked into Pete’s Diner. She had been a shy introvert who was looking for a job to help pay her way through college. Her mother, Ida, was against the idea. Ida had been given an enormous insurance settlement after the death of her father, and a not-too-shabby divorce settlement after that, and saw no reason for Pam to pay her own way through school. But, Pam wanted nothing to do with her mother’s money especially the money that came from her stepfather. He was one of the main reasons for her hatred and mistrust in men.
Pam had left home as soon as she could; even though Ida had divorced by then. She was resentful that it had taken her mother so long to open her eyes and believe her when she complained about Chester’s pedophile touching. Touching that eventually led to more.
Pam wondered if Ida had not walked in on them the night Chester had decided to rape her, if she would have ever believed that her beloved Chester was capable of being so diabolical.
Ida’s remorse and actions came too late for her daughter. Her blindness had driven a thick wedge between them and Ida wondered if it could ever be removed.
Now, Pam’s college diploma rested on a shelf in the back of her closet and her work routine had remained the same. For one full decade, still shy and introverted, she had shown up faithfully to serve breakfast in the greasy diner with the faulty sign.
The damp wind followed her in as she slipped through the entry of the building, relatively unnoticed. Pete was barking orders at Sylvia, while she pushed her buxom body through a small crowd of people who were waiting at the register to pay their bill. Spotting Pam’s entrance, Sylvia shook her head and clucked her tongue as she sped past to a crowded booth in the corner of the room where she dispensed the dishes from her overly laden tray.
Pam searched the room that was bursting with the noise and commotion of blue collar workers gearing up for the day and noticed that the other server, Caroline, was also missing. This meant that they were short not just her help, but Caroline’s as well! Poor Sylvia was working all alone and the dining area was packed! Guilt for her laziness and oversleeping swept through Pam as she rushed to the back room to hang her coat and tuck away her handbag and umbrella.
“Good morning Sleeping Beauty. I hope we didn’t disturb you this morning.” Pete’s sarcasm rubbed Pam raw to the bone. She often questioned herself as to why she kept coming to this flea bag of a diner to work and suffer the verbal attacks that Pete flung at her on a daily basis; not to mention the crap she took from the customers. Although, she had to admit that she deserved Pete’s chastising today. She had no excuse for being late, except for the fact that she had stayed out late last night with Faina and overslept.
Pam nodded briskly at Pete as she swept past him to grab her apron and an order pad. Pete scowled, shook his head and turned his attention back to the home fries that were piled high as they sizzled in a pool of grease on the grill.
“It’s a madhouse in here today. It’s bad enough with one of you out, but two... damn!” Sylvia slammed several cups on the counter and immediately started filling them with coffee. “Chuck just sat down in your station and we can split Caroline’s; starting at table seven. I go up, you go down.”
“Shit. Why do I always get stuck with Chuck?” Pam groaned.
“He loves ya, baby,” Sylvia chuckled as she loaded her tray with the filled coffee cups and sped on past Pam. “Chop! Chop! Time’s wasting!”
Pam took her time making her way to the booth where Chuck sat, chewing on a toothpick. She could feel his eyes leering at her every move. She stopped to check on an obese dark haired woman who was so deeply engrossed in eating her breakfast that she did not notice Pam’s approach and merely grunted a “no” when Pam asked her if she needed anything.
Chuck stretched back into the booth and sipped on the water that the bus- boy had delivered. Pam reluctantly approached his booth. “What can I get you today, Chuck?”
Chuck lit a cigarette and smoked it languidly while he looked Pam up and down, “Just coffee today, sweet thing; and you, if you’re up for it.”
A wave of repulsion swept over Pam as Chuck’s words assaulted her ears. He had no idea she was a lesbian; no one at the diner did. But, even if she was straight, there was no way she could ever be attracted to this middle aged letch. Hideous strands of thin gold chains hung gaudily against his hairy chest in the ‘V’ that was created by his shirt that was buttoned only half way up. Pam noticed that there were some buttons missing at the top, but was sure that, even if they were intact, he would still expose himself in a ridiculous attempt to look sexy.
The gold on Chuck’s wrists was equally thin and gaudy and his thick burly fingers touted even more cheap gold. He had obviously struggled to cover his balding head with long stringy hair that he pulled back in a short pony tail. Pam sighted. Chuck was the epitome of ridiculous. “Booths are for food orders, which you well know. If you only want coffee you’ll have to sit at the counter.”
“Then give me some toast with jelly along with the coffee. Okay doll?” Chuck’s attempt at a sensual smile displayed crooked teeth that had been stained by years of coffee and cigarettes. No matter how many times he entered the diner and forced Pam to wait on him she could not get used to his creepy demeanor. It was a never ending struggle to subdue the shudder that came naturally whenever she looked at him.
“Whole wheat,” Chuck continued, “make the toast whole wheat with butter, lots of butter.” His words trailed after her as she hurried toward the kitchen and as far away from him as she could get.
Chuck looked over at the fat woman who is noisily eating her bacon. Put off by his intrusive stare, she hesitated and glowered threateningly at him briefly before returning her attention to her breakfast.
Pam returned with a small pot of coffee, a creamer and a cup. “Careful, the coffee is really hot,” she mumbled as she filled the cup with coffee; secretly delighting in the thought of pouring it in his lap instead.
Chuck grabbed Pam’s wrist as she set the cup of steaming liquid on the table in front of him. “The coffee’s not the only hot thing in this place, is it?”
Pam yanked her arm free and, ignoring the insinuation behind Chuck’s remark, grabbed a menu and flipped it open. “Well, there’s a Mexican section on the menu that’s pretty damned spicy. Knock yourself out.”
Slamming the menu on the table in front of Chuck, she locked eyes with his; hoping that her expression would relay to him the disgust and repulsion she felt for him.
Their brief silence was broken by his deep throated chuckle, “Thanks, the toast will due just fine today.”
“Suit yourself,” Pam tossed the words over he shoulder as she wasted no time in making herself busy at a task that would take her into the kitchen and away from this repulsive excuse for a human.
Pete’s angry eyes glowered at Pam as he waived the phone in her direction. Pam flinched. Pete hated it when she received calls while on the clock. Today it must have been doubly annoying for him. “How many times have I said no phone calls during work, huh? Every day it’s the same thing. Every damned day!... I should fire your ass. One day I will. I will fire your damned ass. Keep it up... you’ll see! Son-of-a-bitch! No one listens to me. No one gives a damn what I say around here.”
She had barely grasped the phone from Pete’s outstretched hand before he released it and returned to the grill. Placing the receiver reluctantly to her ear, she shoved a finger in her free ear to help drown out Pete’s loud vocalizing of his dissatisfaction with her this morning that combined with the normal clanging noised of dishes, pots and pans. “Hello?”
“When are you coming home?” Faina’s sultry Russian voice purred through the receiver, sending sensual chills up Pam’s spine.
“I just got here,” Pam cooed.
“I miss you. Come home. Come home and make love to me.” Pam shuddered with sheer delight as Faina’s words caressed her. She had never known anyone who could touch her in the way that Faina could.
She recalled the shiver that ran down her spine the night she met Faina, three years ago, at a gallery that was showing Faina’s photography. Appalled at the concept of lesbianism, Pam resisted her body’s natural reactions to Faina’s alluring presence. But, with time and patience, Faina was able to help Pam step past her boundaries and into a new world of sexual awareness and self satisfaction. Within a matter of months, they were nesting together in an apartment in Greenwich Village, blissfully oblivious to the world around them.
“Are you drinking already?” Pam worried about Faina’s addictive behavior and inability to be alone for extended periods of time. Lately, it was getting progressively worse and more extreme.
“I miss you. Do I have to be drinking to miss you? It’s lonely, when are you coming home?”
“What am I going to do with you? You know I have to work.” Pam’s tone was far from scolding, but firm enough to set Faina off.
Faina’s words slurred forcefully through the telephone receiver. “The hell you do. You don’t need to work. You never need to work. You just want to be away from me, I think. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Pam’s attention was pulled back to her surroundings by Pete’s bellowing voice. “Toast, God damn it! Toast! I’m gonna fire your ass!”
“Toast sounds delicious. Bring me some toast,” Faina cooed, “with jelly.”
“She’s pushing me... Toast! God damn it, now!” Pete’s bellowing echoed through the kitchen.
Pam had worked with Pete long enough to recognize when he had reached his limit. “I have to go.”
Sylvia walked past her with her arms supporting a tray that was loaded with plates of food. Pam often marveled at her coworker’s ability to carry such a heavy load on a consistent basis.
“Give it a rest Cookie. You’re not firing anyone.” Sylvia leaned close and spoke softly for only Pam to hear. “Hey Pamie, you’d better get your buns moving or Cookie might surprise us all and follow through with some of that hot air he’s always blowing out of that big gut of his. Move it!”
“I hate that place. Why do you stay?” Faina whined.
“I’ll be home soon. Order in something; I have to go.” Pam placed the receiver back in its cradle without waiting for Faina to respond. She hated it when Faina got in these moods; which were becoming more and more frequent.
Pam made her way to the serving line to pick up Chuck’s order of toast. Her hand was just touching the plate when Pete grabbed it and picked up the toast, waiving it ferociously in the air while growling. Satisfied that his message had been conveyed, Pete dropped the cold and soggy toast back onto the plate and went about his business, leaving her to figure out how she was going to explain to Chuck that the cook was mad at her and would not replace his cold toast with hot.
Confused & Wounded in a Mercless World by Reader Views
Reviewed by Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson for Reader Views (5/09)
Pam's life has never been easy. Having lost her father early in life, she was then repeatedly raped by her stepfather as a child. It then came as no surprise that, when old enough, she got involved in a sexual relationship with a woman, having lost her trust in men a long time ago. But life did not get much more merciful with her. Caught in a dead-end waitressing job, mostly due to her refusal to be close to her mother, both her personal and her work life are getting less and less pleasant. Her live-in-lover, Faina, is getting moodier and moodier. As for Faina being faithful, it seems that not being lonely ranks way higher on Faina's list than being faithful. Then Pam meets Darryl, a strangely appealing young man, and starts a whirlwind romance with him. She also gets a different job, which is way better paid, but also way more detrimental to Pam's sanity and safety. Dealing with her confused sexuality, perennial lack of luck (can you say beating, betrayal, rape and more?) and unresolved feelings towards her badly messed-up mother, Pam is caught in an ill-fated quest for her true self, love, respect and a safe harbor.
E. F. Sheehan's "Toast With Jelly" is a heart-breakingly sad and scary book. Deeply touching, with a fluid, fast moving storyline that is both relevant and contemporary, dealing with one woman's pursuit of happiness and her perennial sexual confusion, this is a book without any heroes, just victims and villains. While I cannot say I got particularly emotionally close to any of the characters, I have to say that they were believable, realistic and three-dimensional. E. F. Sheehan's writing is honest and oftentimes raw, always vivid and hard-hitting. Pam's utter confusion is tangible, if not completely understandable to me. While I can clearly understand the desire to pile all the ills of the world upon Pam, a part of me was begging for a break for this unfortunate victim of pitiless, clearly male-dominated world. It was just really hard to see the "heroine," who's anything but heroic, go from a lackluster existence to incredible, nightmarish depths of misery and self-loathing. If this book was written as a catharsis, I sure hope it helped E. F. Sheehan.
If you do not shy from raw and bleak facets of life, if you are accepting of the "alternative" lifestyles and if a happy ending is not a requirement for you to enjoy a book, pick up E. F. Sheehan's "Toast With Jelly" and get ready for an emotional, dramatic and profoundly genuine book.
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