At the Diner
He took a seat at the counter. The café was a nice place. Not too clean, but home like. Comfortable. The food should be good.
The waitress sat on a stool at the other end of the counter within arm’s reach of the cash register. She was bent over a magazine, her chin resting in the palm of her hand.
The light made her seem old, otherworldly old, like she had already crossed over whatever barrier exists between the natural world and what lies beyond. The light in the diner was too bright he thought, but on the other hand he could see everything. He examined the flaws, the peeling paint, the mismatched colors where a hole had been patched over and even a little beauty where it existed. Like in the beer sign with its neon deco waterfall. The sparkles and moving colors in the waterfall, now that was pretty.
He decided he liked all the light. He had been too many places, been in too many rooms where the lack of symmetry was hidden in shadows, where the true appearance of worn and broken tables and chairs and couches, all the dangerous jagged edges was concealed in the dark places where the eye, keen or opaque with cataracts, could not penetrate.
He sat for a few minutes perusing the menu that had been propped up between the aluminum napkin holder and half empty salt and pepper shakers. The shakers were glass with little bumps on the sides and matching silver tops.
The waitress made no move to leave her stool and walk the half dozen steps it would take to stand before him and solicit his order. That was okay with him. He looked up and waggled the menu unconsciously in his hands as he re-inspected the interior of the diner.
No one else was at the counter and only one of the booths was occupied. An older couple sat there, across from each other, eating their food slowly, taking one bite at a time and chewing thoroughly before swallowing. They never looked at each other. They didn’t speak. There was no newspaper, no electronic device in front of them either. They were occupied with nothing but the laborious mastication of their meal.
He leaned the menu back against the napkin holder and crossed his hands like he did as a small, good little boy back in grammar school. The waitress got off her stool and while still reading her article smoothed out her skirt in preparation for the short walk to his place. The skirt was badly wrinkled. It fit her loosely.
She placed her magazine down on the counter and took a last sip of her coffee, cold the way she liked it. As she approached him she pulled out her order book and flipped over the cover and the first few pages. She pulled a pen that had been lodged over her ear and without ever once looking directly at him asked, “What’s your pleasure, Mister?”
“Oh, many things”, he replied with a smile. He thought his remark clever if a little flirtatious. Not too flirtatious. A man could get in trouble for that nowadays.
She waited. She never replied at all. She didn’t smile nor did she frown. He guessed she wasn’t in the mood to flirt. Maybe the light made him look less than handsome. He looked in the mirrored backsplash behind the row of dishes and glasses on the shelves. He considered himself handsome, but he had to admit the light didn’t set him off to his best advantage. He looked too pale. He hoped she wasn’t mad about his remark.
“So, what would you recommend, uh,” and he looked at her nametag above her breast, “May?”
She didn’t reply but pointed to a chalk board leaned against the cash register. Across the top in large hand drawn script was the word “Specials”. Below it listed in the same scrawl preceded by a number were five food choices with the price to the side. He perused the list.
“The Meatloaf? How’s the meatloaf?”
He said, “My mother used to make the best meatloaf. Bless her heart. She did it for my dad, before he passed away, Rest in Peace.”
He waited. She didn’t reply. She didn’t look up. She kept waiting with her pen poised over the order book.
He said, “She always said meatloaf was perfect for a nice comforting meal. Nourishing and stick to your ribs. Well, she was always saying something like that. Rest in Peace.”
The waitress’s mouth opened slightly but only to take in a breath. She breathed in through her nose and it came out a snort. He thought she must have a sinus problem.
“Anyway, I always hated having to eat that meatloaf. Don’t get me wrong. It was the best meatloaf you could hope for, but you can have too much of a good thing, you know? Meatloaf six days a week is way too much. That will drive you crazy. I mean after a week and somebody puts a plate of meatloaf down in front of you, you want to kill them. Just shoot them in the head, or cut their throat, and then take the plate and push it in their face.”
The waitress looked directly at him at that. For the first time. A confused wrinkle came across her brow. That at least had piqued her interest, he thought. Talking about killing someone always did that.
“Well, she’s gone now,” he said. “And I don’t eat meatloaf anymore. Not that I don’t believe there is not just as good meatloaf out there as she made, I just don’t have to eat meatloaf anymore and so I don’t. I do what I want now.”
The waitress nodded her head up and down slightly but then looked back down at her pad. She was losing interest again.
“Do you think it is important to do what you want? I do. Just live my own life the way I want. Sometimes it interferes with what other people want, but that really is not my problem, you know?”
No reply. She was now even more bored than before he thought.
He heard a noise behind him. He slowly swirled on his stool to see that the man had eased himself out of his booth and stood there waiting for his wife who was still chewing on her last bite. He figured from the look on the man’s face he had been listening to him. At least he was interested even if the waitress was not.
“How about you, Mister?” he said to the old man. “You think a fella should be able to just do what he wants? Think a guy ’s entitled to do that?”
The man was a little shocked at being addressed. He glanced back at his wife who was chewing no longer. She appeared as confused as he did. They weren’t used to having strangers address them.
“Well, I don’t know, sir. I guess as long as it don’t hurt someone else, it’s okay,” the old man said.
“Hurt somebody? Who?” The man’s tone got the waitress’ attention. It was challenging, belligerent.
“Okay. Well, what would you like to order?” She hoped her question would divert attention away from the old couple.
“No. I want to know what he meant by that,” the man said. “Who, pops, who you think I’m going to hurt by just doing what I feel like, huh?”
“Uh, I didn’t mean anything by that, Mister. Just answering your question, you know. Well, we have to go, the Missus and I, getting late for us.”
The old man smiled and put his hand under his wife’s elbow to escort her out of the diner.
“Well, let’s just hold on. I don’t know why I have to worry about hurting someone if all I’m doing is what I want.” His hand went inside his coat. He brought out a knife. It was large, but folded up. He pushed a button on the side. It unfolded with a snap. The blade shined in the bright light in the diner. The point was very sharp.
The old man backed up. His wife had already moved all the way to the end of the counter. Problem was there was no exit in that direction. The man with the knife sat at the counter between them and the front door.
The waitress had also retreated, but she wisely took a few steps in the direction of the front door. She tried again to distract the man.
“Okay, Mister. How about putting the knife away? You are scaring the customers.”
“But you see, I want this knife right where it is. I do what I want now. I don’t eat meatloaf and I do what I want. And I like this knife where it is.”
He stood up from the stool. He blinked once, then twice, and looked up in to the glare coming from the overhead lights. He glanced in the mirror. He still looked too pale. The knife was held in his right hand, straight down toward the floor. He turned toward the old man who had caught up with his wife. They were both huddled up against the far wall beyond the cash register and just outside a door with a restroom sign over the top.
The man walked toward them. The old woman grabbed her husband’s arm and pulled him. They both went into the restroom with the woman’s symbol on the front. The door closed behind them. He heard a click. They have locked the door. As if that could do them any good.
The man turned toward the waitress. She didn’t waste any time and scrambled through the swinging silver doors into the kitchen.
“Shssh! Come on.” He could hear her say to someone in the kitchen and then he heard a door being opened and slammed shut.
The man walked to the end of the counter. He stared for a moment at the door to the women’s restroom. He then leaned over the counter and pushed a button on the cash register. There was a ding and the drawer came open. He pulled it the rest of the way open and reached in with his left hand and removed the cash. He stuffed the money in his coat pocket. He slammed the drawer shut. He twirled the knife in his right hand. He was deft with the knife. He knew a lot of fancy moves. He looked at his self in the mirror and smiled. He looked better out of the direct light. He took a step toward the restroom door when a siren sounded in the distance.
He stopped for a second listening. He smiled again. He then turned and walked out of the diner.