February 25, 2008

The stiff in the suit asks the jerk for another cup of coffee for himself and a glass of water for his consort, an auburn-haired beauty in a saucy little red number.  He’s not even looking at her, sending her the message loud and clear that he doesn’t need her around, and she’d better keep that straight.  He’s the square-jawed Dick-Tracy type, though the years of turmoil and stress are starting to carve extra lines into his chiseled cheeks.  The girl’s checking the polish on her manicured nails, desparately pretending that she doesn’t care either, but every so often she steals glances over at him to see if he’s noticed her indifference. 

The clerk keeps polishing and repolishing the cups.  Looks like he’s gone through his entire checklist for the night and has nothing left to complete, so he’s finding any excuse to stay in here with us.  He keeps looking up at the stiff expectantly, like a dog seeking any hint of affection from a distracted master.  Unfortunately for him, the stiff is too busy ignoring the girl, who’s too busy pretending that she doesn’t mind being ignored.  This doesn’t discourage the cup-filler.  Any company’s better than none, in a diner on a dark night.

Beyond the glass panes around us, the street lays sleeping.  Not a peep, not even a stray dog.  No one goes out on this night.  Just us ghosts.  We sit in our fishbowl, turning our backs to the silence and loneliness around us, warming our hands and faces with bad coffee and garish fluorescent lights.  But each of us is spiritually quarantined.  The stiff, the girl, the jerk, and me, the faceless guy in the brown hat.

I drop my dime on the counter but don’t move.  I hate being in here, listening to the symphonic diffidence of the customers and the perky white-noise of the clerk’s clinking and jangling.  But it’s better than the dark.  It’s better than the dark.