The tip jar remained empty all day. Patience adjusted it every so often, making sure that the label could be optimally viewed by customers. She wasn't even supposed to have one out, but she knew her boss, an older cousin named Jeb, was down at the lake drinking, and every time he was gone, she knew she could get away with the tip jar.
She wiped the counter by the register down, again and again. She made herself a shake and drank it until her stomach hurt. She mopped the floor, and stood by the window, underneath the buzzing neon sign. She vacantly watched dirt swirl across the road on the wind. There were never very many customers.
In the morning came a family that included several bawling, sticky children. They ordered ice cream cones and soda. The father complained that there wasn't any coffee. The mother complained that there wasn't a restroom. She took one of children outside, right in front of the window, to urinate in a tiny puddle, then vocally reprimanded the kid for not really having to pee. They left pools of melted ice cream on several of the tables and chairs after the kids were left to roam on their own recognizance throughout the dining area. When they were gone, Patience bused the tables and wiped away every sticky remnant.
A large, bearded trucker with thick glasses came in and silently bought a chocolate milkshake. He took a long slurp before handing Patience a crumpled up five dollar bill. He took all of his change and left slowly.
In the afternoon, a group of three college-age kids in a beat up sedan came in and ordered hamburgers, fries, and sodas. They spoke loudly of the cross-country road-trip they were currently enjoying. They remarked on the desolation of the town they were stopped in. They said that it could be the setting for a horror movie where college students on a road-trip could be attacked by inbred townspeople and then chopped up with chainsaws and repurposed lawnmower parts. There was laughter. Patience peered out at them from the corner of her eye, pretending not to listen, and pretending not to want to be one of them, only temporarily stopped in the town instead of permanently stuck, frozen in space, if not time.
In the evening her ex-boyfriend came in with his pregnant wife.
"Hey Pat, what's up?" he said, not really interested in any possible answer.
"Same old, same old," said Patience. The wife glared at her, and ordered a milkshake, The ex-boyfriend patted his wife's belly and laughed. Patience watched them sitting and slurping and chatting and touching knees under the table.
When it was time to close, when the sun was down for a couple of hours, Patience gave the horizontal surfaces one last wipe down, turned off the neon light, and locked the door. She walked out into the middle of the street, under the few flickering soda lamp posts, and walked down the double yellow strip. A coyote crossed the road ahead of her, pausing to surreptitiously sniff her from a distance, then hop-ran off into the dark. Patience stopped under a lamp post and looked up into the orange tinted light, listening to the faint buzzing. She closed her eyes and looked at the blue after-image, wishing she could invert her entire life the same way. She opened her eyes, and crossed to the sidewalk, and walked home.