The young man chose that particular diner on that particular day out of boredom and because he thought it was owned by young women. The chime of a small bell above the door announced his arrival.
He chose a booth across from the counter and a middle-aged woman wearing a pink waitress uniform approached with a pot of coffee. Strands of black and silver hair poked through her hair-net and made her head resemble an angry badger.
She poured him a cup of coffee without asking if he wanted one and said, “I know what you want. Baklava. You boys always come in here for the baklava.” She said it in a matter of fact way as if there was no decision to be made. The young man smiled at her, thinking she had been pretty once, and agreed to try the baklava.
He watched her as she went behind the yellow Formica counter, opened a large glass fronted cooler and removed a pan covered with plastic wrap. She had just removed the wrap and begun cutting the contents when the telephone rang. She continued cutting, letting it ring seven times before she lit a cigarette, took a couple of short ashy drags and walked over to answer on the eleventh.
“Half Moon Diner, can I help you?” She paused to listen. “Yes, she’s here, and if you ask me, I think she’s lost another wheel from her wagon.” Her tone was exasperated and the young man wondered who she was talking about. He poked his head out of the booth and saw a young woman sitting at the far end of the counter spinning on a red stool, talking softly to herself. He hadn’t noticed her when he came in.
The waitress listened to the caller for another moment and then hung up abruptly.
“You promised you wouldn’t tell.” The young woman jumped up on the counter and began pleading. “Please… call back and say I’m not here.”
“I didn’t promise and I won’t call.” The waitress returned to the baklava, her cigarette an arc of ash.
The woman noticed the young man watching her and posed like a fifties pin-up girl. She said to him, “It’s not true that I’ve lost my wagon wheels. I’ve just lost a pair of cats. They’ll come back.”
The waitress brought him more coffee and whispered, “Mostly she talks nonsense. I’ll bring you the baklava now.”
Before the waitress could return the young woman jumped off the counter and slid into the booth with the young man. She leaned close to him and gestured him nearer. “He’s dead, you know. Or he was, but it could have been prevented.” Her voice was excited and conspiratorial.
“Who’s dead?” the young man was curious, but cautious, and looked to see if the waitress was near.
“Superman, silly. Don’t you know anything?” She paused and curled herself deeper into the booth. “He didn’t have to die fighting Doomsday. All of that destruction didn’t have to happen. All of Metropolis was destroyed.” She was disturbed by this and cried a little. The young man tried to catch the waitress’ eye, but she made sure not to look, standing and smoking as if she were waiting for a bus with a group of strangers.
“He could have been stronger if he exercised, you know.” The conspiracy had returned to the young woman’s voice.
The young man sipped his coffee. “What kind of exercise could have made him stronger? He was pretty strong.”
“Isometric exercise!” She said it as if she were answering a question on a quiz show. She put her hands in front of her chest and began slowly pulling and pushing them against each other. “See? The Charles Altas way!”
The young man stayed silent and considered this. The young woman continued her demonstration until the bell above the diner door sounded.
“That’s for me,” she said.
A man with his hair tied into a top knot approached the booth. “I hope my wife hasn’t disturbed you.” It was neither an apology nor a question. He gently took the woman’s arm and led her away.
She waved goodbye saying, “I like to eat cold plums.”
The young man returned the wave and then sat back and toyed with the sugar dispenser.
“I’ll warm that up for you,” the waitress said, reaching across the table for his cup. She put the baklava in front of him and carefully placed a fork wrapped in a paper napkin beside it. “She would have taken it from you.” And, as if it would explain, added, “She used to be a teacher.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She was in an accident of some kind. Hit her head, poor thing. She learns by looking at pictures of things.” The waitress smiled. “She would only talk about porcelain last week. Her husband took her to the art gallery.”
The waitress walked away and he ate his baklava, not bothering to brush away the ashes. He left the waitress a generous tip.
As he stepped out of the diner he looked at the sky. It’s deep blue shade made him hesitate and remember the violets he gave his mother when he was six, the varicose veins in his ex-wife’s calves and an evening last summer when he had seen a blue Buick with arrogant tail fins roll a stop sign and knock down a woman, scattering her groceries. By the time he crossed the street several people were helping her, so he continued on, carefully stepping over some tangerines, a head of cabbage and several plums.
The story first appeared in Zygote in Vol. 3 No. 1.
Copyright © Todd Besant. All rights reserved.
Best paired with a slushed Tanqueray. Add a dash of Boker’s Bitters.
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