As I walk reluctantly into Cafe 5:48, an odd smell assaults my senses. A mixture of musk, grease, and bleach brings a slight watering to my eyes, but the growling of my stomach urges me towards a booth. I wish I had never bought a stupid car off Craigslist. If I had just dealt with catching the bus every day, I would already be home by now. But I had to go against my better judgment and buy the car, and now I’m stuck at this dingy café waiting for the old, smoking mechanic next door to fix my old, smoking car.
I keep my eyes plastered on a laminated menu so as not to focus on the café walls, stained with all sorts of unidentifiable matter.
“Hi, my name is Brandy, and I will be your server today. May I take your order?” An overly-cheery—dare I say forced—voice chirped. I ordered a club sandwich (again, against my better judgement), fries, and a bottle of water. Brandy nodded intently after every word I spoke, slightly creeping me out. After taking down my order, she ripped a sheet of paper from her pad and placed it down on the table.
“Is this correct?” she asked. I looked lazily at the paper, expecting to see exactly what I had ordered written in ink, but was sent into a state of panic by what was actually there. On the palm-sized paper were scribbled the words Please help me. Call 911.
I sat dazed, staring at the paper before finally coming to my senses. Eventually, I nodded so as not to be conspicuous, before saying,
“That’s exactly it, except no mayo.” Only then was I aware that nobody else was dining in Cafe 5:48 anymore but me. The couple that had been all over each other when I had entered had probably left while I was busy judging the 1×1 black and white floor tiling. Only at that moment did I notice the cook in the kitchen, with his plump face, rough skin, and unsettling scar running diagonally from the middle of his forehead to his jaw. I felt my heart rate increase upon noticing the possessive and demanding way that he looked at Brandy as she handed him my order. I sighed at the unfortunate luck of being placed in this situation, and with a still racing heart, began to form a plan.
I tried something simple at first. I walked outside and dialed 911, only to realize that my cell service was nonexistent. I took a deep breath and walked back in. The cook was now sitting at the center of the Café, staring directly at me. Brandy was nowhere in sight.
“Fries take a while,” he explained with a hearty chuckle,
“Sorry, there’s no cell service to keep you entertained.”
I afforded him a tight-lipped smile and explained weakly, “If that’s the case, I’m going to go see how my car is doing.” The cook nodded and waved his fingers almost tauntingly.
I almost cried in relief when I saw the mechanic. Another person. Thank goodness. I was not alone in this insane dystopia of a place. I went to him immediately, and most of the built-up tension in my head started to disappear.
“Do you have a phone, sir?” I asked.
He ignored my question and said instead, “Oh there you are, my good man. Did you finish eating already? I’m not quite done fixing her up yet.” Despite being a little annoyed with the man, I tried again,
“Can I borrow your phone? It’s important.”
He smiled at me and handed me a wrench saying, “Maybe you can help me fix your car. It’ll get done a lot faster that way.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said firmly and through clenched teeth muttered, “I need your phone. May I borrow it?” His smile immediately turned into a frown, and his once warm tone became chillingly hostile.
“She doesn’t need you. You’re not going to call the police.”
At his words, my blood ran cold. He knew about her, about Brandy. It was in that moment that realization struck me. I started slowly, “Is… she crazy or something?” The stone expression slowly eased off the mechanic’s face, and he nodded cautiously.
“Yes,” he began hesitantly, “She has some sort of mental illness; always forgets who she is and that she works at the café, so she goes and tells people she’s been kidnapped. Look, I’m sorry things got a little tense just then. It’s just frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for the poor girl, but even more so, I feel for her husband. Imagine having a wife like that, one who tries to run away from you and gets men to call the police on you every other day. It’s insanity; I’m sure you understand where I was coming from.”
“I do,” I affirmed, “I’m sorry you have to work right next to that craziness every day, and I’m sorry I played into it. I won’t keep you from your work any longer, thank you so much. You’re doing a great job,” and with that, I strode back to the café.
Brandy was there when I got back. She looked crushed, as if she knew what had been said and had experienced this defeat before. Without a word, she set my food on the table and left. After I had finished eating, Brandy showed up with the bill. This time, there was no writing on the paper receipt. I slipped in my card and wrote the tip down on the receipt, then I started counting. 13… 12… 11…. When I reached 4, I stood up from my table. When I reached 2, I was opening the door. When I reached 1, I saw Brandy sprinting after me, and by 0, we were halfway to my car. The mechanic did not have the time to react as we wrenched open the doors of my car and hauled out of the station. We left just in time to see the cook come sprinting out of Café 5:48, screaming and cussing us out.
If I learned anything that day, it would be that Café 5:48 was named after the exact time Brandy Allen was kidnapped 5 years ago, and that I will never ever use Craigslist again.