(I’m up at my cabin, working on my novel. I wrote this short scene tonight – the setting is an all night diner in a small mid-west town.)
Shortly after midnight on Angela’s first night waitressing at the Town Friar, a late twentyish man with dark bags under his blue eyes and dishwater blonde hair neatly parted on the left side walked in alone and took a seat in the last booth. It was a Thursday night, officially having just rolled over to Friday, and as it was a week night and still almost two hours before the bars closed, the restaurant was nearly empty.
Angela approached the table with a coffee pot and a menu in hand. She handed him the menu and asked, “Coffee?”
He didn’t look up as he turned his cup upright and took the menu. He muttered a “thanks” and buried his nose in the menu as she poured. When she was finished with the coffee, she asked “Do you need a couple of minutes?”
“No, I’m set.” Then he ordered bacon and eggs, sunny side up, not lifting his eyes until he was done, when he saw her for the first time. “Say,” he said, “You’re new, aren’t you?”
“First night,” she smiled.
“Well, nice to meet you,” he replied as his eyes dropped down to her breast, where her uniform proudly displayed her name plate, “Angela.”
The following Monday, shortly after midnight, he stopped in again. This time, when she bought the menu and the coffee pot, he looked straight at her, and smiled.
“Hi, Angela. Do you remember me?”
“Yeah, I remember you. You were here Thursday night. Bacon and eggs, sunny side up.”
“That’s right. You must have a good memory, or else I really made an impression on you.”
“I never forget a face. Or a tip,” she said.
“Well,” he said, “I never forget anything. I have what they call a pornographic memory.”
She laughed. As she poured his coffee, she said, “I suppose next you’re going to tell me you like your coffee like your women.”
“Not my coffee, my eggs. I like my eggs like I like my women. Sunny side up.” She smiled and shook her head.
Once Angela settled into her schedule, the night shift Thursdays thru Mondays, he became a regular, always stopping in at about five past midnight every Monday and Thursday, always at the same booth, always with some new cheesy lines for Angela. She found something endearing about the way he delivered them. He was just self-effacing enough not to take himself too seriously, and at the same time, there was something sad about him, a sorrow that seemed to settle in his shoulders.
She learned a little bit about him, that his first name was Jim. When she asked him what his last name was, he answered, “Nasium.”
“Nasium,” she said. “You’re name is Jim Nasium.”
“That’s right,” he replied. “And trust me, I could put you through a real workout.”
She learned that he worked 2nd shift at the plastics factory. When she asked what he did there, he answered, “I’m the foreman, because I’ve got the sexual stamina of four men.”
“You’re wife is a very lucky woman,” Angela frequently replied, reminding him of the wedding band on his finger, and trying to preemptively douse any sparks that might have been igniting between them.
He’d say things like, “You must be exhausted.”
Ever the trusty straight man, she’d reply, “Why’s that?”
“Because you were running thru my dreams all night.”
The cornier the lines were, the harder she laughed. She appreciated that he came armed with the lines, touched that he’d thought about her outside of the Town Friar even if only for a moment or two. She found herself looking forward to his visits.
As reliable as his business was on Mondays and Thursdays, he was never part of the weekend bar closing scene that was the busiest time for the Friar. Angela only saw him once on a weekend, on a Saturday night in September. He came in and sat at a table in the center of the room instead of his usual corner booth, and then she saw he wasn’t alone. There was a woman with him, seated across the table from him, and it couldn’t be clearer that it was his wife. The table was still Angela’s to serve. As she approached them she saw him wince. Rather than the customary greeting she gave him the nights after work, she went the generic route, pretending she didn’t know him, and he did the same.
Angela recognized Jim’s wife as one of the many same small town girls she’d gone to high school with back in Indiana. She was still pretty, but early childbirth had expanded her hips and added a shapeless softness to her waist and face. As she watched the two of them, an image became clear, an image of what their lives were like. This was a big night out, a birthday or anniversary, long awaited and eagerly anticipated. They’d gotten a sitter to leave the kids with, and now, at 10:30 on a Saturday night, their big evening was already winding down, and they sat there, wordless and tired, with nothing to say to one another. As Angela served them, Jim couldn’t even look her in the eye, and the source of the sadness she’d always observed in him became clear, and a part of her felt like crying.