Jersey Fresh

by Kate Delany

You come home for a visit (your parents paid) and I pick you up at the airport, of course. We hug tight at the arrival’s gate and I feel convinced and a little flattered. Right away, you want to eat, famished and indignant about the lack of anything fresh at the airport. You had pockets stuffed with plums but they took them away when you went through security. So we swing by the diner, which couldn’t be more like coming home, you say. It’s the same diner we killed so much time in as kids but now you revel in the kitsch, telling me you’re seeing with fresh eyes. You just love how authentic and unpretentious everything is: the hyper-laminated menus, the dumpy wait-staff, the enormous windows with a view of the highway on one side, of a brick wall on the other. A mother in a nearby booth swats her whiny kid and you point, grinning, saying, no one would ever do that in Cali. No way! Now I’m definitely home! For several minutes, you marvel over the chocolate chip muffin on the menu which no one, you insist, would ever eat on the West Coast and that’s what’s so great about being back here! No one gives a shit! I place my order with our waitress, a girl you don’t recognize but who went to school with us, who works here nights and weekends while her mom watches the kids. You interrupt my “just a bagel and cream cheese” saying, “wait, aren’t you vegan yet? Why did I think you were? Still just vegetarian? Huh.” After you order scrapple, eggs, toast, you say, really, I should do it. I should become vegan. It’s so much healthier, so much better for the environment. When you get back to Cali, you’re going to become a raw foodist. Do I know about raw food, you ask? You tell me it’s the new thing. Nothing above 114 degrees. So pure, so fresh! You tell me about a friend who made you a raw dessert the other day and it was so simple, so delicious. You can’t wait to get home and get started, actually. You’re saying this as your breakfast arrives. You dig in, shoveling in scrapple, blinding the eyes of the sunny side up eggs on your plate. Of course you don’t actually have any cash on you so you put the whole thing—eight dollars—on a credit card. As for the tip, with a dramatic little flourish, you loosen your scarf made by some Tibetan monks and rope it around our waitress’s neck, muttering shanti, shanti. After you head outside to bum a smoke off an old man leaning on his walker, who just looks so Jersey, you tell me, I press a fresh five into our waitress’s palm. I watch her ball it up in her hand. Anything that fresh, she tells me, you gotta crumble up a little or else it sticks.

KATE DELANY’s previous publications include a book of poetry, Reading Darwin, published by Poets Corner Press. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in such magazines and journals as Art Times, Barrelhouse, Chicken Piñata, Jabberwock Review, Philadelphia Stories and Spire Press. She teaches in the English department at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ.

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