She often wondered at what point the owner would concede. The place had mortal wounds and it was simply a matter of time.
Friday night closing was devoid of laughter and conversation. That it was familiar made it no less oppressive: watching the weariness in the manager’s eyes and her clamped lips that barely seemed to move, even when she spoke, lent little impetus to breaking the silence.
Soap over the bench, over the irritatingly persistent sticky patch; a leaning metal bench propped up by a doorstop; a broken fridge light that the manager had told them would be fixed in the next week, four months ago. A speaker played a less-than-inspiring mashup playlist of late-2000s pop and late-2010s gym music. Three staff spent the close in silence, scrubbing, drying, wiping, and drying again. This was the ambience of the venue at 11:30 pm, 2 hours before the website said they were due to close.
No knockoffs—although the staff wouldn’t want them even if the venue could afford them. They wanted to pour the last of the scummy soap water down the kitchen drain, rush to the tiny changing room one by one and change out of work clothes that were barely dirtied and make their way to their trams, and eventually, their beds.
A couple of weeks ago, the manager, Georgie, had lit up a cigarette when walking home with one of the closing staff, Lydia. Before they parted ways at the lights, Georgia told Lydia that she could quit if she wanted to.
“You’re not getting fired. I can just tell you’re not happy. Go home and think about it.”
In spite of herself, Lydia came back—but only because she thought of Will, the other waiter. She couldn’t imagine closing with just Georgie and her misery, so she felt it was harsh to consign him to that fate. Maybe if they hired someone new—but of course, Lydia knew that a new staff member was not in the venue’s budget. Nor was the fridge light. Nor were the necessary repairs. She often wondered at what point the owner would concede. The place had mortal wounds and it was simply a matter of time. Surely it would be better to give up now rather than flush away tens of thousands more dollars?
Maybe Saturday, the next day, would be better, but good Saturdays only flared the embers of the owner’s dying faith. They had already stopped trading on Tuesdays, and Wednesdays pointlessly remained. During weekdays last week, Georgie had told Lydia they had made $1,700: barely enough to cover their wages.
Silent Fridays, then, felt particularly despondent. A failed weekend night, a venue that couldn’t even lure desperate corporates who couldn’t get in anywhere else.
The three clocked off and made their way out. Georgie discovered one of their few guests that night had left some chewing gum on the door handle, and let her employees go out ahead while she dealt with it. Will walked Lydia to the street corner where they usually said goodbye.
“Want a drink?” he asked her.
They didn’t part ways—an hour later, they sat at a warm little rooftop bar, surrounded by their cups. Buildings towered over them. Lydia watched the yellow squares of light. In one, a cleaner vacuumed a hall; in another, a man sat at a desk with his back to them. After a while, he stood and faced the window. Lydia couldn’t quite tell, but she felt as though their eyes met.
Will paid their bill; apparently, she had helped him out with a shift a while ago. They took the lift down. They didn’t speak the whole way, but it didn’t feel like the silences between them at work; rather, it was a relaxed, companionable quiet. Will took her to her tram stop.
“That was fun,” Lydia told him, and then she jumped on her tram. She spent the trip leaned against the side of the carriage, staring at the mesh of yellow poles and rubber handles all down its interior. Her next shift would start all too soon; her eyes felt heavy. A drunk pair of girls laughed at something the whole way home. An older man in a loose-fitting suit sat by himself and brought a hand up to his mouth as he yawned.