Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The concept for this one was a collaboration with Parker Feierbach.
It's a draft that I haven't been particularly stringent with on the editing, so forgive me if it's a little patchy.

The door of the diner creaked open reluctantly on its too-tight hinges. A family of four led by a timid looking father and a beleaguered mother made their way into the fluorescent buzz. Waiting patiently but not without a certain air of desperation, the father maintained a painful looking smile as they stood silently near the front of the diner. Realizing that nobody was coming to seat them, the mother strode off towards the nearest booth, stabbing the linoleum with her heels with each step while her children, shoving each other along the way, stay quick at her side. The waiter, shaken from his reverie behind the counter, made his way over to the table, ignoring the look of obvious distaste the mother is wearing as she wipes off crumbs with an unnecessarily thick stack of napkins.
“What can I get you folks?” the waiter asked, nervously eyeing the kids who had begun to pour splenda packets directly into their mouths and onto the floor.
“Well, we haven’t quite made up our minds here yet, think we could get a couple of coffees and a few more minutes?” replied the father good-naturedly.
“Sure thing. I’ll be right back with that.”
The waiter quickly retreats to the counter where his gum-snapping coworker is leaning and daydreaming with her mouth falling slightly open. Grabbing the coffee pot and two of the least chipped mugs, he makes his way back to the table and silently fills the cups. The father thanks him graciously while the mother continues to stare out of the window at the great, flat nothing outside.
Replacing the coffee pot in its customary place, the waiter rejoins his coworker leaning on the counter with a suppressed sigh. The waitress, shaking her unruly hair out of a large sunflower scrunchie and then wrangling it back in, turns to him with a look that says she has a topic that she’s eager to gossip about.
“So guess what Davie tol’ me last night?”
“I have no idea, Darleen.” The waiter rests his head on his hands, ready for a storm of brainless chatter.
“He told me that those people, you ‘member me telling you about them big-shot LA guys that came saw him do his magic show? Well he says that those people are considering giving him his own show on cable TV, doing his tricks and stuff. I told him, I says, I’m happy for you Davie, but where’s that leave me if you’re gonna run off to LA? And he told me I was worrying for nothin’, and he’d make me his assistant on his TV show, y’know, like the girl he saws in half and stuff. You know how men are, though, Jim, right, because you’re gay and all. They’ll promise you the moon and back and not mean a damn word of it. You know what I mean?"
In truth, the waiter has not listened to a word that Darleen said since she opened her mouth. While normally distracted when Darleen begins her tirades that usually end with an allusion to him being gay in a way that suggested that she felt she deeply understood what he, as a gay man, stood for, today he was particularly so. He was focusing his attention on a man in a gray coat seated in a booth in the far corner who was thumbing through the paper leisurely. The man had been coming in every day for months, and yet the waiter still knew nothing about him. He liked that. In a town where people will tell you their life story as quick as their first name, it was hard not to appreciate a glimmer of mystery. Anyway, it was better than most of the asshole regulars that the diner attracted—the scumbags who spoke to him lewdly and the bible-thumpers who wanted to save his soul. When he saved up enough money, he was out of there—his parents would be glad to be rid of him, God knows. He was quickly and literally snapped out of his reverie by the mother, who had begun to snap loudly to get his attention, long red nails flashing.
The waiter made his way over to the table where the surly woman had sunken back into her seat.
“Ready to order?”
The father was the first to respond. “I think we are. I will have… give me the scrambler plate, I’ll have that, and the kids’ll both have pancakes. You kids like pancakes, right?”
“I told you I want a fucking milkshake, dad!” yelled the son, snatching the menu from his hands.
“It’s seven in the morning, Michael, you can’t have a milkshake,” replied the father, in tense good humor.
“You never let me have freaking anything! Kate wants a milkshake too, don’t you?” The little sister nodded firmly while wiping her dripping nose down the length of her sleeve.
“You’re going to have pancakes, kids, and that’s, that’s that!” The father plucked the menu from his scowling son’s hands and handed it back to the waiter.
“And you, ma’am? What can I get for you?” The waiter was interrupted by a long yawn from the next booth. A prostitute sat up on the bench seat, rubbing at the reservoirs of mascara under her eyes and adjusting her red wig, which had gone slightly askew while she slept.
“More coffee.” The woman stared down at her hands, clenching and unclenching the manicured fingers.
“Alright, I’ll have that out for you in a few minutes.”
The father looked across the table at his kids, who had begun to hit each other in an argument over the last splenda packet. He wondered how he had let them grow up to be such unpleasant creatures. He had always thought he would never be that kind of dad. Then again, there were a lot of things about his life he never would have thought. That was what this road trip was about. Taking the wife and kids up to Chicago to see his family and where he had grown up, and maybe even breaking through the icy fa├žade his wife had carefully constructed over the past couple of weeks.
He looked over at her. She didn’t turn to meet his gaze. Instead, she began fussing at the children—their son had been punching their daughter in the arm, and her little face forecasted rapidly approaching tears.
He’d never meant to hurt his wife. They had gotten married so young, and so in love that he had never considered the possibility that it could, and would, fade over the years. Then there had been the tension between he and one of his coworkers for months-- he never really considered it much because he was so much older, but he felt it, and he was fairly sure she did too. He never would have done anything about it, but there was that damn company party, and she had had far too much to drink, and he couldn’t have let her drive herself home. He wished he’d dropped her off at the door. He wished they hadn’t sat talking for over an hour. He wished she weren’t so beautiful, and so interesting, and so young. He wished he wouldn’t have kissed her back. He never thought he would be the type of man to cheat on his wife. He regretted dragging his resentful family out on this roadtrip—he regretted just about everything.
He refocused on his surroundings. The waitress was handing a man in a gray coat a plate of toast. He thought it looked so peaceful, being able to sit and read the paper uninterrupted. It was a thought he often had; what it would have been like if he had never gotten married. He liked the idea of himself as a free agent—nobody to disappoint, nobody to hold him accountable. He thought the man in the gray coat had the right idea. He looked down into his empty coffee cup. He needed a refill.
The waitress, still holding a pot brimming with fresh coffee, had made her way over to an adjacent table where a stony-faced pastor sat, making notes on that day’s sermon. The pastor looked up at her chipper face, hidden under liberally-applied blue eyeshadow and pancake foundation, and shook his head.
“You women, always trying to flaunt your looks in defiance of God. Take my wife for example!” a thin projectile of saliva shot its way through his clenched teeth onto the table.
“I know pastor, you’ve told me. Sounds to me like she was a real nut.” The waitress winced inwardly, knowing full well what was about to happen.
“Ran off after a holy cow of all things! She was a worshipper of false idols, that woman, and it was the death of her! She was always getting those crazy ideas in her head. You women always are. I never’d thought that she’d up and leave one day, but sure enough, one morning I wake up and what do you know but she was gone. Left a note saying she’d gone to follow some cow with a bunch of other loons runnin’ after a false prophet. Got her killed. It sure did. You women are all alike. Tell me, Darleen, have you ever read the good book?”
“Sure, I’ve read parts, but it’s real long. I sure am sorry about your wife, Pastor,” the waitress repeated, as she always did when he began his tirades. Her mind began to drift off, as it always did, but this time she was thinking about the man in the gray coat. She had never noticed before how remarkably handsome he was. In fact, now that she was thinking about it, she was willing to bet anything that he was some kind of movie star—or television, at least. She figured that was probably why he’d never said much, trying to keep up his cover. She read celebrity magazines and she knew how they like their privacy. A real celebrity, she thought. She could hardly believe it.
The pastor continued to talk of vanity and hell-fire and his wayward, sinning wife, while the waitress intently watched the man in the gray coat stand up, place a few bills on the table, and slowly make his way towards the exit.
“You have a nice day, now!” She called after him.

The man in the gray coat made his way out to his car. The weather had gotten a little colder than he had expected for this time of fall, and most of the leaves had already settled onto the ground. He drove in silence on the way home, not bothering to turn on the radio and search through the handful of static-filled stations. When he arrived, he could make out the faint blue glow of the television through the slightly gapped blinds of the front window. On the way up the door, he could even hear the electric voices and heavy-handed music coming from inside. He was not surprised when he came in to find his elderly mother quietly snoring in front of the blaring television, but still felt a small pang of guilt. She must have slept there all night. Switching off the TV, he turned to her and gently hoisted her up enough to transfer her onto her wheelchair. He rolled her into her adjoining bedroom and placed her onto the bed, half-awake and blearily inquiring into his night of work, pulling the covers up to her chin. He gave her a small kiss on the forehead and left the room, shutting the door softly.
He settled down into the chair she had been sitting in, still warm from her body. The windows rattled softly with the wind. He fell asleep.

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