Don't Worry, Leonardo Has a Plan


Getting drunk at the Golden Fleece is the opposite of being an archetype of human potential

Darlene is giving her paycheque the finger again. “Honest to God,” she says. “What a bunch of shit.” I watch her flip the paycheque off hard like it’s a sleazy face. “Uh-uh-uh,” she grunts with each middle-finger jab.

“Boo.” She smacks the cheque with the back of her hand and shoves it into her apron, sweeping the pocket until locating a chocolate bar.

Faded wrapper, likely stolen from the glass display case under the cash register.

We’re leaning against the wall beside the outside washrooms. Darlene’s eyes skip blankly from oil stain to oil stain across the cracked parking lot as she unwraps her chocolate. Gator-skinned, the truckers call it. I watch her slide the bar in, not even bothering to snap the squares off at the grids. She sighs through her nose, nostrils flaring, deep-sucking chocolate off her teeth.

I hate to say it, but Darlene’s sort of supersad. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never be Darlene, working this job for the next millennium. Because I’m perpetually self-improving, getting ready for the real world, for when I’m out of high school. Similar to Leonardo da Vinci, who taught himself to juggle to focus the mind-body. From that foldout I read in Nan’s Wonderland of Knowledge encyclopedias: Da Vinci, “an archetype of human potential.” This is why I never write down my customers’ orders. Unlike Darlene, they’re committed to memory, thus freeing the order pad for observations about chocolate bar stealing and general humanity.

I take out my order pad and pen.

“Christ, Nancy,” Darlene says. “Your fifteen’s up.”

Darlene is so bossy. Furthermore, she’s always telling me my break is up. Last I checked, Darlene, your word isn’t law. Of course I’m not about to argue with a middle-finger-thrusting adult. Instead, I’ll put another Darlene complaint in the suggestion box, cleverly disguising my own handwriting. Or I’ll unlock the dog flap going into the buffet area and feign innocence when one of Monsieur Paternoster’s bichons frisés escapes into the kitchen, putting the suspicion on Darlene, the only other day waitress.

Paternoster’s bichons are strictly forbidden in the restaurant. People around here spend a lot of time talking about this: dogs should be left outside; dogs are dirty; dogs don’t know how to stop barking, or whimpering, or licking their balls.

Yet everyone is willing to ignore all that during the Sunday seafood buffet. On Sundays, Paternoster’s trained them to trot in with napkins in their mouths. He stands at the kitchen door and claps them off their nest wad of hairy tablecloths and into the dining room in a neat line where they circle the tables and daintily drop napkins into the hands of each customer. Everyone loves this, even Mrs. Humphreys.

Years ago, Mrs. Humphreys stink-eyed me when I didn’t take one of her Victoria Day chocolates. It’s not that I don’t like chocolate, but she was singing Earthen Vessel at the top of her lungs—and with the opposite look one would expect, less like enraptured joy and more like that time Uncle Rodrigo’s organs contracted all at once after he got back from Vegas.

Darlene said that Paternoster originally thought the napkin delivery would be a way to warm locals up to having dogs in the restaurant. “In France, dogs are under every table,” she said. “Sometimes they even get their own chair and dish, like children.”

Right—as if Darlene has ever been to France.


I started working at the Golden Fleece a month ago, at the beginning of summer break. The first thing Darlene told me was how she can always tell a good waitress by her eyes. The eyes should never be still; even when you’re talking they should be roving for a low coffee cup or an empty plate. And you have to pick, she said—but no picking with my regulars. She had dibs on a handful of truckers who made the weekly run. Most long-haulers are lonely, she said, get a smile and pick with them—you know, put your hand on their shoulder and make them feel like it’s nice to see them again, like this is home.

Like this is home? I’d thought. The Fleece has the same big-rig wallpaper as a little brother’s bedroom. There’s a shelf above the faux-wood panelling where model trucks with stuttering tail lights are plugged into an overloaded extension cord. It’s a full-service stop, which means that behind the restaurant and pumps, away from the groan of air-brakes, are a half-dozen private bedrooms attached to shared bathrooms decorated with pinups of women in frayed jean shorts and bikini tops standing by cabs with sprung hoods. Mind you, the lacy curtains are a homey touch—like a grandma’s house. I figure the Fleece is probably more like a fantasy home for truckers. But Darlene is right, most of them look like they could use a little cheering up.


Later that evening I’m sitting on a patch of grass by the garbage bins on my break and I overhear Darlene talking to Warren. She is so obvious—leaning against Pump 4 and literally adjusting her bra straps. Everyone knows Paternoster hates it when Warren is distracted. My first day he told me the pumps were the money-makers and the restaurant operates mainly off gas profits. Yet there’s Darlene, messing with the guy manning the pumps. And Warren, only being polite. Although there are some observations: Warren shifting his wiener, but privately, when he turns to flick the meter valve.

I take out my order pad and pencil. Warren hot for Darlene?

“She’s no Gina Vanderham,” Darlene says.

Gina left for college in June. She’s talking about me again, Gina’s replacement. It’s so obvious Darlene focuses on the wrong stuff. Darlene lets a bad tip ruin her whole day, rolls her eyes when I spend a microsecond at the pick-up window trying to balance three plates on one arm, yet consumes two hours a day rubbing her feet beside the milkshake maker.

I search Warren’s face. Who could ever be hot for Darlene? Darlene with her corny feet, who obviously throws her uniform in the laundry with the nametag still attached, whose break is over and now bleeding into mine.

“But who else is Paternoster going to get to work this dump?” her voice clear over the reefer trucks cycling. Lately she’s been taking more verbal chances, because Paternoster’s made some changes. He cleaned out the pantry and when the seafood truck rolled in, unloaded a large tank of murky water. At first it looked like a tank of old shoes, but inside were two lethargic carp. A couple days later, a freakishly thin man no one had ever seen before, wearing a bandana and rubber boots clonked in with a black garbage bag full of wild mushrooms. Paternoster took them out back to dry on an old bedsheet behind the bulk propane refill tower.

“What the eff,” Darlene had said after returning from the tower for her smoke break. “How the hell are we supposed to work in this environment?”

For the next two hours she served tables while growling “shroom shroom” and pretending to be an eighteen-wheeler climbing a steep incline, picking her regulars into weak smiles.


“It’s been a month since he’s changed the fry oil,” Darlene says as she sniffs the cook’s station and I load the dishwasher. She’s convinced Paternoster’s laundering his money. “What else could he be doing with it? He’s obviously not using it to pay us. He’s sending it back to France. To some overseas bank account.” For the rest of the day, money laundering is all Darlene talks about.

“Who ever heard of a Frenchie running a truck stop anyway?”

“They don’t have truck drivers in France?” I ask.

“What? The hell should I know.” She glares at me. “The Golden Fleece, what kind of a name is that anyway? Know what this place should be called? Bone Daddies. That’s the type of name that spells success.”

I’m cashing out while she’s laying down menus at a new table and I hear her say, “Welcome to Bone Daddies, how can I get you started?”

Darlene should just get another job. Stuck in a job she hates—and we all know how that happens: the world poops on you. And then you spend the rest of your life squirming for freedom because world-poop is like quicksand. Quicksand, the ruthlessness of nature, the more you struggle the stronger it sucks you down.

One day, while vacationing, quicksand is on the to-do list. The exact location where Xena Warrior Princess was shot, the scene where she saves her trusted sidekick from peril. Being a warrior princess is a lot like being an archetype of human potential, like Leonardo. Xena had pure mortal blood status; all it took was some martial arts training and a moral one-eighty when she decided she no longer wanted to be a power-hungry warlord. All those slave girls she saved from assured doom.

I take out my order pad and pencil.

See that girl at Table 5 playing with the straw? She loves that straw because it reminds her of her pet rabbit at home who is a chronic pot smoker. Every time she tries to tell her rabbit to quit smoking pot, he says to her—You need to relax, maybe you want a hit too? Take the edge off? But the rabbit doesn’t know any better; his parents had perpetual glaucoma and they essentially hot-boxed the cave until the pet rabbit was addicted before he could even hop. The little girl has no friends because her parents live in the woods and only come into town once a month to buy bags of powdered milk and dried beans. They leave her alone all day so they can pick rocks that they sell for five cents a bag. One day she steals that bong and uses it for something more practical than hot-boxing a rabbit. She uses it for science. She uses it for progress. Leonardo didn’t even have bongs, all he had were insights into the internal organs. She attaches gears and a vacuum and makes it into a robot that crushes loneliness or at least picks rocks while everyone relaxes.

Don’t worry Table 5, Leonardo has a plan!


The next morning Darlene and I are taking trash out to the Dumpster when a dusty taxicab pulls up to Pump 3. First off, where did a cab come from? Second off, could the woman unloading suitcases be Paternoster’s wife?

“Bonjour,” the woman says as she walks up to the door. “Hello.”

“We know what bonjour means,” Darlene says.

Madame looks at her appraisingly. I should warn her not to mess with Darlene. She hasn’t seen her finger-jabs, or the way she can make your life miserable when she shows up in the morning still a little pickled and then eats an entire pie à la mode while calling everyone she works with a dipshit. Just then Paternoster emerges from the building, his hair slicked into a new wave.

Madame is staring at the Travel Plaza sign that advertises gas pump prices in numerals with several segments burnt out; the faded FREE BREAKFAST WITH 100GAL MINIMUM; the blinking arrow on the side of the road pointing to the twelve-foot-tall sheep covered in chipped gold foil. She lingers momentarily on the sheep’s head—an eroded oblong onto which two uneven eyes were thickly painted.

“Jesus, Louis,” Madame says under her breath, her eyes still fixed on the sheep. She blinks heavily and turns towards the road: the bare, single-lane artery that links the Fleece with the rest of the world, the expectant raptors squatting on power lines scanning the ditch for roadkill. “Where are my dogs?”

Paternoster whistles. The dogs reel around the corner, powder-puffed, ears lifting in the breeze of their tear-ass, pink bowties, tongues lolling in the dry heat of summer, all eyes trained on Madame—until one of them trips over a loose flap of gator skin and goes down. “Non, non, non,” Madame Paternoster yells, running over. She scoops him up and shoots Monsieur a murderous look.


The truckers love Madame Paternoster.

She wears long silky jackets that waft behind her as she tops up coffee cups and hums old show tunes. It’s only been two weeks and already she’s ordered new uniforms and rewritten the menu, adding items like Steak au jus. Everyone has heard about the improvements, and the restaurant has been crammed.

Darlene keeps saying how “au jus” is just Bisto instant gravy mix and how could everyone be so frickin’ moronic and Madame Hooch-ass should basically au revoir. She hasn’t even bothered to wear the new uniform and continues to come in with the same greased one with the nametag barely hanging on.

Darlene’s just pissed because her picking is no longer effective. In the presence of Madame Paternoster, Darlene’s picking makes her regulars sigh; their eyes blink slower than usual, whereas they follow Madame from the rim of their coffee cups.

Darlene blames Madame for the shitty tips she’s been getting, but she has been shitty lately. She doesn’t bother working on Madame’s laminated duty checklists and instead slumps over the cash register during the afternoon lull, lighting her Zippo over and over on her forearm.


A couple weeks later, the Paternosters are in town putting an ad in the paper for another day waitress when Darlene accidentally spills a milkshake on the counter and wipes it back into the cup with her hand. She slams it down in front of Arjun, one of her better tippers. He reads Louis L’Amour while he eats and stacks his tip loonies in a neat pile by his plate. His signature, Darlene calls it. Once Darlene left the loonies balancing for an afternoon just to see if the rumble from a Rocky Mountain Double Roller would knock them over when it pulled into the pumps. For the past hour she’s been popping in and out of the pantry for no reason.

I’m in the back refilling the coffee pot when I hear a crash in the pantry and some loud cursing. I cautiously open the door to Darlene, slumped in the corner drinking Sunset Blush.

“Just look at me,” she says, spreading her arms wide so I can digest the whole picture. “It’s that fucking douchewad Julio. Have you met my man? R.E.S.P.E.C.T., show you what it means to me.” She holds out her mug, “Slurp?”

Getting drunk at work is definitely the opposite of being an archetype of human potential. She turns the spigot on the Sunset Blush box to refill her cup and a purple splash hits the carp tank.

“He used to be so nice. Have I ever told you about May long weekends in Oswagootchie? Oswagootchie by the coast? All that fresh air that made us go savage? I swear to god there was once a time when that man would grab my ass out of the blue. Once, we were hitting it hard and this little yellow bird landed beside us and chirped, and Julio stopped because he didn’t think it was right to keep banging because it was perverting nature.”

I don’t want to hear about Oswagootchie.

“But you love them no matter what, am I right?”

Mom used to reminisce like this before Dad left and it always made me nervous.

Now we live with Uncle Dwayne, Nan and cousin Tippy. And it’s not Nan’s fault she can’t run around after Tippy all day because she had five kids of her own and doesn’t feel inclined to do it all over again—especially not for a little brat who takes off and gets his foot caught in the floorboards of Mr. Boyjack’s expensive machinery shed that Boyjack swore was locked and how does a six year old know how to pick a lock, anyway? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s from his Uncle Dwayne who’s been on unemployment since being run over by a dump truck and blood squirted out of his eyes and now he isn’t able to see far away, only close up and somehow, he swears to god, this makes his eyes especially excellent for things like lock picking.

Mom works laundry at the hospital but lately she’s been stiffed shifts by her bulljive boss. I could never imagine working in that bleach hole, spending all day stuffing puke sheets and pee sheets and shit sheets into the industrial washer. Mom was once probably good-looking, but now when you look at her all you see is the years of bacterial sanitizer and nervous exhaustion.

“I’m really killing this wine,” Darlene says, looking into her cup. “New day waitresses,” she mutters. “This place used to be great.” She pours another drink.

“You know,” she says, suddenly on her feet. “You should hit that Warren.”

I pretend I’m in the pantry only to fetch a box of butter pats and leave. Flirting with Warren is how you get stuck waitressing at the Fleece for the rest of your life, Darlene.

A half-hour later and she’s over by fluids using the bug-wash tower to hold herself upright while Warren’s on the payphone trying to find someone to pick her up before the Paternosters return. Finally a jacked Toyota skids in. A man climbs out, grabs Darlene by the arm and leads her into the cab. Two kids dangle their arms over the side of the truck’s box. When the truck screeches out, they lift their arms and roll back in with the momentum.

I take out my order pad and pencil.

See that young man at Table 6? He is having a secret love affair with an older mermaid. The world is your oyster, she told him; you can have anything you want, including me. It seemed like a good deal. He had a mother who never hugged him. She was born without any arms. And is it the mermaid’s fault the Ocean King doesn’t love her anymore and instead pokes her with his pitchfork whenever she comes near?

By the time he realizes the King hired a hitman, it’s too late. They were found in her clam bed, not a plush pink one, but an old grey rubbery one similar to those currently drowning in Madame’s carpy “mother sauce” in the buffet.

“Help,” the young man cries, but the only things that come out of his mouth are bubbles. Some bubbles are lethargic, he notes, while others are angry or greasy or slim. His curiosity has been jolted! He harnesses the angry ones and uses them to fight neglect. Or at least float himself out of the oyster shell and away from the King’s hitman.

Don’t worry Table 6, Leonardo has a plan!


The next day Darlene comes in a full ten minutes early for her shift, blurry-eyed and pale. For the first time, she’s wearing her new uniform with the truck airbrushed across the back. Her nametag’s on straight, and not the old one but the Madame-inspired version with Darlene arched above a tiny sheep.

She doesn’t even bother working front of house and instead spends her entire morning plugging quarters in the jukebox, washing down Pepto with coffee and singing along to “Barracuda” as she peels about twenty pounds of potatoes for mash without complaining.

Madame doesn’t notice the Darlene transformation. She’s spent the morning with the dogs, conceptualizing a new Sunday buffet half-time show.

“It’s not that they don’t like dogs. It’s the pioneering influence of this country,” she says. “The early émigré. People here think dogs are for work.” She had a series of costumes designed for the bichons. Some of them have felted miner’s hats that tie underneath the chin while the others are wearing starched white bonnets and ribbons in their ears. Madame trained dogs for a living in France, mostly for television before she branched into something called French Ring Sport. I watch Bruno doggie-dance on his hind legs, yips squeezing from his delicate jaws with each tiny hop. She tells me how training builds their confidence and makes them interact better with their environment.

“Tricks are important for dogs,” Madame says. “Mental stimulation equals a richer life experience.”

It’s exactly like that foldout from Nan’s Wonderland of Knowledge encyclopedias. And this is when I see it: Xena and her sidekick straining in the quicksand and the bichons in the trees barking—not in a hysterical way, but in a communicative way. They’re barking out a plan to lower vines down to the quicksand by passing them one-by-one with their mouths. Leonardo is there too, with his back to my mind’s eye, building a lever mechanism using an animal tusk and a coconut, his tunic blowing out behind him due to the inherent breeze of his brainpower.

It’s decided, I’m going to build something for the dog show.


It makes me pensive, this decision to make something for the show. For the rest of my shift, I’m distracted as I bus tables and take orders. I lean on the counter by the till and watch people chew and imagine them pointing at my invention and whispering, This shall bend paradigms. I smile serenely at myself in the pie-case glass like I would at the crowd, I am at your service; my brain dispensed to all humanity. When I focus back on the floor, there’s a customer burning at me, pissed because I screwed up.

But I figure it’s irrelevant in the larger picture and I offer him a complimentary piece of pie. This is temporary, because soon I’ll have scholarships and let my hair go full-Einstein and I’ll never have to do dishes or sleep on stained sheets stolen from the hospital or pretend to like Uncle Dwayne’s jokes or remove a disgusting packrat den from under Nan’s trailer or watch Cousin Tippy eat Hot Pockets or pretend I don’t hear Mom muttering and crying in her bedroom.

All I’ll have to do is think.


Later at home, it’s just Mom and Uncle Dwayne and Tippy. Uncle Dwayne’s sprawled on the sofa with the dog at his feet, watching Sunday Beatdown. He’s got his shirt yanked up and a smug look on his face like he’s just invented penicillin. He’s pouring salt into his bellybutton to use as a dip-hole for his celery sticks.

I grab a snack and walk to Nan’s shop next door. Her shop is full of stuff she uses when she contracts an artistic outbreak. Lately, she’s been working on a scale model of the neighbourhood. There’s a piece of plywood on the workbench where she’s paved a miniature road and formed trees from pine bits and the mud bog by Pauling looks like real mud but it’s actually Smooth-on.

There’s a miniature Fleece and the graveyard by Uncle Rodrigo’s trailer and the houses that lead to the highway, the boarded-up post office, and derelict subdivision by China Nose Mountain.

I’ve decided to build a chuckwagon for the dog show, which is basically a modern-day single-axle Euro trailer. The dogs, in their bonnets, can pull it behind them with little leashes.

I spend all evening working on my wagon, deeply involved with each detail from the wheels to the pots and pans secured with rivet nails to the bed. Eventually I fall asleep with my head on the workbench and wake up early with paint chips stuck to my cheek.


I pull into the Fleece with the wagon bungeed to the rattrap on my bike and prop it against the side of the building. I’m on my first break when I run into Madame crouching beside it, poking it cautiously with a stick.

“What do you think it is?” she asks.

Slumped against the building, it doesn’t look much like a wagon. The wooden slats and the stretched canvas tarp painted brown make it appear less like a wagon and more like a loaf of bread with wheels.

“That?” I say, shrugging. “Maybe one of the oil crates?”

“Merde. Did it get run over by a semi hauler?” She kneels and gently jabs it with her finger as if to wake it from a nap. “Maybe Louis can fix it,” she sighs.

I take out my order pad and pencil.

See that man at Table 9? The one with the tight suspenders and the hairs burnt off his forearms and his hands resting on his round stomach. He stares at that stomach as if patiently waiting for it to answer a question. Usually these truckers are jittery in the restaurant, like they don’t get the value in sitting without rolling. But this man has been searching for something his whole life. It was something his grandmother lost when she bent down to scratch her leg. It rolled into the ditch, but which ditch was never documented because the item was so valuable she croaked immediately due to remorse.

Now the man spends every weekend in ditches with his pointer stick, sifting through chip bags and tossed cigarettes. Once he came across the love of his life sitting cross-legged but he didn’t recognize her because he had just hoisted a rotten tire full of mould and thought he saw a corner of his grandmother’s thing under the severed hand and soiled underwear.

One day he catches trench foot and despair while crawling in the ditch near the dump where the teenagers party. He becomes feverish—feverishly inventive. And while squatting he begins to investigate the science of water. He uses this to calculate how far something can roll away before one forgets about it.

Don’t worry Table 9, Leonardo has a plan!


I’ve been finding it harder to be an archetype of human potential ever since Darlene came to work with a spray-painted boulder in the back of her truck.

“It’s a gold nugget,” she said.

“A nugget!” Madame exclaimed to Paternoster.

“Oh, happy day,” Paternoster replied. Madame ordered him to drag it into the buffet room and slide it under the chafing dishes.

Now Darlene struts around the place spurting new ideas like, “How about we change the slogan to Life’s too short for average food. Or, how about we name a menu item King of the Road?” And she keeps petting the dogs and snuggling them and giving them random French names that are mostly English names pronounced with a fake French accent.

She isn’t even complaining about the magnetic chit board with the days of the week and every employee’s smiling face glued to each stupid chit. It’s obviously because her chit isn’t on cleaning duty. Instead, it’s permanently stuck on floor manager. In what universe does the Fleece need a floor manager?


The night before the show Madame empties the suggestion box and the two of them spend an hour laughing over the notes.

“Someone’s in love with you,” Madame says. “C’est amour.” She tosses another of my comments onto the messy pile on the table.

They’re lounging at a booth with their shoes off, squinting through the lacy curtains at the sunset as it quivers off the parking lot. I button my coat as a brand new International LoneStar eighteen-wheeler pulls in with pneumatic grace: pearly blue enamel, shiny chrome gas tanks, a blush of running light hovering below like a noontime shadow.

The light lengthens and glints off a windshield, flaring momentarily before being absorbed by the dropped sun visor of a parked chicken transport. Sometimes the universe sends you a sign, like when you’re at the beach and a whale breaches.


It’s the day of the show and my magnetic chit is on cleaning the washrooms again. I take the buckets and the yellow gloves and scoop the pucks out of the urinals—the pastilles, Paternoster calls them. Even from here I can hear the cheers in the buffet room and Mrs. Humphreys laughing hysterically. It’s the part when Leo and Pierre jump onto the gold nugget and bark out the first bars to Old Dan Tucker. Chairs screech back as everyone stands to applaud.

I look in the mirror. My nametag is crooked. There’s another mirror hanging on the wall opposite and my face repeats itself over and over for eternity. I wonder if Leonardo had mirrors and that was how he dreamed up perspective. Getting fired from your first job isn’t being an archetype of human potential. I pull on the gloves. What would Leonardo do? He was in worse places than the men’s—the morgue, for example. I remove the gloves and put the bucket on the floor.

I take out my order pad and pencil.

See that young woman in the bathroom? Who knows what she will do—maybe she’ll get sucked into world-poop and invent a new snorkel on the way down. Or maybe she will become a veterinarian’s assistant and wear a stethoscope. In the waiting room, she’ll feed the dogs biscuits and offer words of encouragement. Even though they are weak and arthritic and on buckets of medication, she will listen to their flubbery hearts and they will sound like a moose’s mating call but she will smile like it’s the best music in the world. As if listening to all of life’s satisfying sounds at once: bottles popping, fires crackling, rain on a roof when going to sleep. With their last effort, the dogs will thump their tails on the examination bed paper cover and with their rheumatic eyes, say:

You are special!

You are special!

You are special!



K’ari Fisher has been published in the Malahat Review, Prairie Fire and Riddle Fence. Her story “Mercy Beatrice Wrestles the Noose” was nominated for the 2015 Journey Prize and appeared in the Journey Prize anthology, published by McClelland and Stewart and the Writers’ Trust of Canada. She is currently completing a short story collection. She lives in Victoria.


Toby Sharpe


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