Running in from the rain, he covered the Valentine’s Day bouquet with his suit coat. Standing in the vestibule, it surprised him how quiet it was inside the Diner. The only noise he could hear was the rain falling on the black tar of the parking lot. In the two and a half decades that were his life, he had never been there in the daylight hours and for a fleeting moment, the stillness made him feel lonely.
What time was it? Wiping a few remaining drops of rain from his face he looked at the very large black and white clock on the cool steel wall above the white tiled counter. It read 12:00. It always read 12:00.
He looked at his Timex watch and cringed. It was 10:30 AM. He hated 10:30 AM he thought and then corrected himself. He didn’t hate it. He disliked it. Hate is such a strong word especially in such a trivial matter as disliking a time of day. But he allowed himself the satisfaction that there is something conceited about that time of the day. It was too aloof, pretentious. It wasn’t the beginning of the morning nor was it close to lunchtime. It was just a stupid, pointless time and he wondered why they had the clock on the wall if it didn’t work and never worked. Time means nothing to the people who work here.
He once had a theory, for he was a young man with many theories on many things, that there should just be the officially recognized, important hours. Nine o’clock would be one of them. That was when everything started and people answered their phones. Lunchtime, of course, and he was willing to bend the rules on that exact time, say between twelve and one thirty. He was open minded on the exact time. In fact, as a benign dictator in his private world he could be quite magnanimous about these things. Five o’clock would be the time when everybody went home. And everyone had to go home or go out or go somewhere but no one would be allowed to stay at the office. People who worked past five made him suspicious and he wasn’t comfortable being suspicious because he wasn’t very good at it. He trusted people. So he would keep five o’clock. He’d also keep six o’clock, the approximate time when he ate dinner. He’d keep 8:00 o’clock because he liked the number eight. He thought that if the number eight were a person, it would be a round and jolly person, so 8 stayed and 9:00 PM would stay around as well since that was when the better television programs were on. So other than the numbers 9, 12 ish, 5, 6, 8, and 9, all the other numbers would have to go.
His mind was wandering again and once again, he fought an epic losing battle to stay focused in his thinking. He filed his important hour theory to the archive of his mind and took in the stillness of the Diner. In an hour or so, the lunch crowd would start to trickle in and the place would liven up, but now the calm made him uneasy and the darkness of the day and the incessant droning of the rain on the tar outside made him sad. He had a tendency to make himself needlessly miserable, so sad came easy to him.
Standing inside the entrance, he was differential to a small but stern sign written in pen on a single sheet of paper that directed him and all others to wait to be seated.
“Just sit anywhere,” came a disembodied voice that came from behind the black swinging door that led to the kitchen.
He obediently sat himself at the counter. It was the restaurant equivalent of economy class where he held desolate court, except for a seemingly ancient and equally lonely piece of blueberry pie. It was strangely inviting, despite its top crust having collapsed into the sticky filling in some sort of architectural pie catastrophe.
Over thinking the pie issue, for he had a habit of over thinking the irrelevant, he figured the scenario of events was that the blueberry filing, in a desperate last chance dashed for either a longer shelf life or possibly an escape back to the mother pie. After that, it had slipped out of the crust, leaked its way slowly across the silver plate, and gathered in one last-ditch syrupy blob along the rounded edges before it apparently died a silent but sweet death. The hardened crust, made even harder by its death, was the only witness to the filling’s last moments. He thought that he would have made a fantastic detective.
If it weren’t for the tapping of the clean black soles from his highly shined brown loafers on the white tile floor, the place would have been completely silent. The sound of a passing truck’s tires splashing against the rain snapped him out of his pie trance. He once again promised himself he would start thinking about more important things and stop affixing background stories to inanimate objects, if only because by society’s standards, regarding pie filling and the like, they were not entitled to life stories. He would join the rest of productive society in thinking productive thoughts no matter how spiritless and boring those thoughts were. He was a man now and about to head into the mysterious and uncharted land of serious responsibility.
He turned the stool completely around, fighting the very strong urge to take a few spins. Adult men were not entitled to such things because society, that bane in his otherwise happy existence of his life, had an official cutoff age on people spinning on counter stools…..in public.
Bored, he gazed down the rows of the empty booths with their overstuffed red Naugahyde coverings that fit too tautly so that the seat resembled a fat man wrapped in a blanket. He pictured a fat man in a tight blanket and smiled, but shook his head and promised himself to think about only important things. If he could not find any important things to think about, he would, at the least, think about things that are more realistic. So he played with his tie, his lucky tie with the picture of the Palm Tree that looked like it came from Hawaii and he fought the notion to consider everyone in Hawaii being forced by law to wear grass skirts.
His tie, the lucky tie, was one of three ties that he owned and was part of the clothes he wore only for important things like today. His brown loafers, his good shoes, still held enough of their high shine from the store where he bought them five years ago that the invading raindrops gathered on their surface, grouped into tiny clear smears and slid into the tile floor in defeat. He wished he owned black shoes since he was fairly certain you were supposed to wear black shoes with a black suit, and his good suit was black. His only suit, actually. Sears. His mother had gotten it for him for his grandmother’s funeral last year. He didn’t know what else to wear for this occasion but he did know that whenever he saw a guy on television ask anyone to get married, the guy was always wearing a suit.
The proposal itself wasn’t a surprise. She had pretty much laid it out for him in no uncertain terms. “Marry me or lose me.” But it wasn’t like he was being forced to marry her. He hadn’t asked her to marry him because like most men who have ever walked the planet he assumed the girl would tell him when it was time to get married, and when the time came, he’d just go along with it.
He didn’t want to lose her that was for sure. He loved her. Not in some complicated and big important way, the kind they write poems about, but in the only way he knew how to love someone… deeply, truly and forever. He loved her because he could tell her all the things that raced through his mind, including those odd and offbeat thoughts that sat down in the coffee shop of his brain and stayed a while. She never disapproved of his thinking colorful thoughts that he told her about, or found them silly, strange, or odd even though they so often were all those things. Once, after he had shared his important hour’s time theory with her, she had laughed and told him he was weird. He thought better of his openness and told her that he intended to stop thinking about that sort of thing and get serious. She gave a worried look and then smiled her angelic smile and said, “You can’t not be who you are Ludwig, and I love who you are, weirdness and all.” It was, she thought, her job to protect this rare species of human being.
He was a young man, and unlike most young men, was wise enough to know that he didn’t know much but he knew he was lucky to have a girl like Katherine, who loved him and his weird thoughts and undisciplined mind. He looked up at the very large clock on the cool steel wall above the white tiled counter. It was stuck. The clock was stuck in time. She would be there in another hour because he had asked her to take an early lunch.
The rain had stopped and the slightest bit of sunlight was peeking out from behind a cloud and he thought that was pretty funny, so he smiled. He liked the rain and rainy days but sometimes he liked the sun too, and he particularly liked the often-dramatic way the sun stepped onto the stage of the play of daily life.
He did not want anything to eat or drink. However, he felt that since he was taking up valuable counter space in the empty Diner that he should order something. As though on cue a homely little man, draped in a white bib, appeared before him. The black door with the small window in the middle of it, the kind they have on ships, swung back and forth behind him.
“What’ll you have?” asked the homely little man who limped badly.
“I’d like…” he began, but the little man cut him off.
“The waitress isn’t here,” he said.
He felt that he should ask where she was. “Where is she?” He didn’t care, it just seemed appropriate to ask.
“Her name is Dolores,” the little man answered. “She went to pick up her daughter but she’s not supposed to leave work so don’t tell anybody. What’ll you have?”
“I’d like that piece of pie,” he said pointing towards the strangely inviting ancient piece of pie with the escaping blueberry filing.
“That one there? The one that died an ugly death?”
The little man leaned forward to look at the pie and he could see that his face was scarred and his left eye drooped. His lower lip seemed to be shoved across to the right side of his face.
“Looks like the filling was trying to make a run for it,” he said.
The little man looked confused and said, “What do you mean?”
The pie was served, and alone now, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small black felt box, and opened it. He stared at the quarter-karat diamond nestled in a bed of bright white satin-ish material. He figured it was about the best diamond ring in the world and he was proud of it.
He reached under his suit coat and gently pulled out a bouquet of Peonies and clearing off an area of counter space with his forearm, laid them down gently as the sunbeams burst in through the windows.