Silence, they say, can be deafening. The lack of noise from my blog over the last two weeks* has finally made itself felt and I have written this for your entertainment.
This was inspired by a visit to a fantastic diner in downtown Philadelphia; all Formica, swivel seats and neat aprons. This dishevelled guy came in and sat down. Without a word passing between him and the waitress, she served him coffee, cream and a menu. It got me thinking and hey presto! The diner in question is Mrs K’s Koffee Shop and you must go there if you happen to be in Philly. It will now be my regular lunch spot when I’m in town.
*My excuse for the silence: multiple jet lag plus a trip to Kew Gardens to see Jamie Cullen last Friday and a weekend sailing the Solent with friends. I was even allowed to steer the boat for a couple of hours. All very Howard’s Way. (If you know what that means you must be (a) British and (b) over 40.)
As always, comments and feedback very welcome and I promise to read as many #fridayflash stories as possible.
Old Jack’s seat was hallowed ground. Despite the fact the he hadn’t shown up for a few weeks, Cassie had dutifully kept it empty; mainly because he wouldn’t want to sit anyplace else, but also out of respect and loyalty for the diner’s most faithful customer.
The door swung open.
‘Take a seat, hon. I’ll be with you in a minute.’
Not a regular, thought Cassie. Looks like she just smelt shit. If they don’t like diners, why do they come in? Plenty of delis and salad bars to go to.
‘Leave that one empty though.’
Typical. A regular just wouldn’t do that. Cassie placed a menu and coffee on the counter in front of Jack’s seat; didn’t matter if it wasn’t drunk.
‘Specials today are French Onion soup, Meatloaf and Key Lime Pie.’
The woman stared at Cassie’s name badge for at least five seconds.
God, she hated that. They always thought it would intimidate you; make you wait on them better or something. Bullshit.
Cassie walked back to the counter, tapping Old Jack’s seat gently as she passed it.
He always had the meatloaf on Thursdays.
‘So, what’ll it be?’
‘I’ll take the chicken salad.’
I knew it, thought Cassie.
‘Can I ask a question, Cassie?’
Here we go.
‘You waiting for someone?’ The woman points to Old Jack’s place.
‘We keep that one for a regular. He likes it there. I’ll get the salad.’
Nosey bitch. Cassie didn’t like questions from strangers; they always led someplace she didn’t care to go. What did she want anyway?
‘Doesn’t look much like he’s coming for his coffee, does it?’
‘Your regular. He hasn’t been here all day.’
‘And how would you know that?’
‘He hasn’t though, has he? Cassie.’
Cassie slipped into the booth.
‘Do I know you?’
The woman shook her head, eyes locked onto Cassie’s.
‘Old Jack? You know him, don’t you?’
‘Naturally. Although of course,’ and here the woman paused, suspending her knockout punch above the table for just long enough, ‘that wasn’t how his family knew him.’
Breathe, Cassie, breathe.
‘He’s dead then.’
‘That he is.’
‘I thought as much.’
‘But you still set a place for him? Why Cassie?’
‘We care for our customers here.’
‘Even if they have no business eating downtown?’
‘What did you say your name was?’
Cassie stood, arms folded.
‘As I said, we look after our customers, and that’s what I’m going to do now. I’ll talk to you after the rush; I do not expect you to leave this table. Got it?’
‘Leave? Before finishing this fine salad?’
The coffee remained in place during the lunchtime period, turning colder with each customer opening the door. Finally Cassie wiped the empty counter clean and removed the cup before sitting down in the booth.
‘What do you want to know?’
‘What was my father to you, Cassie?’
Cassie sat back in the seat, open mouthed.
‘How dare you!’
‘You can spare me the sordid details, Cassie, but please don’t deny it.’
‘What’s your name?’
‘Right, Jane. Listen very carefully. Your father came in here every day for five years. Sat there at the counter, had his coffee and a plate of food. We spoke a little then he left. That’s it. Nothing else.’
‘So how do explain this?’
She pushed an envelope across the table. Official looking. Thick paper.
‘Open it. It’s addressed to you.’
Cassie read the envelope. “Cassie, Waitress, K’s Diner, Main Street, Philadelphia.”
‘I don’t understand.’
‘You’re in his will, Cassie. Why would that be?’
Cassie felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.
‘I don’t know. He was just a customer; came in one day, said he couldn’t work. He looked terrible, so I told him to take a seat and that he could always find a plate of food and an ear to listen. That was it.’
Jane put down her coffee.
‘Dad had a breakdown and quit the business; but it was still his. Funny though; I remember him storming out one morning muttering something about not having space to think.’ She looked round the Formica interior of the dinner, flaring her nostrils. ‘And this is where he found it.’
Cassie reached across the table for Jane’s hand.
‘There was nothing going on; Old Jack was just a customer. I liked him. In fact, it was him who listened to me mostly, grumbling about my divorce, the kids, you know.’
Jane was silent for a minute, then straightened her back and placed her hands together on the table.
‘Cassie, I apologise for my rudeness. It’s just that none of understood what was going on. We knew he was getting better but not why; I guess we assumed there was someone, you know, helping him.’
Cassie grabbed a napkin from the dispenser and wiped her eyes.
‘I suppose I must have helped him, in my own way.’
‘He obviously thought so.’
‘If I thought for one minute I was keeping him from his family,’ Cassie began.
Now Jane reached out for Cassie’s hand.
‘Don’t,’ she said firmly. ‘The truth is, we didn’t know how to help him.’ Jane paused for a second. ‘It was his heart, by the way.’
Cassie looked at Jane and nodded.
‘I’ll miss him.’
The door opened suddenly, its draft sending a napkin flying off the table.
‘You have a customer,’ said Jane softly.
Cassie turned her head; a dishevelled looking man with greying hair and an unruly beard was looking round, deciding on a seat. He turned to the counter and headed for Old Jack’s. Cassie stifled a gasp and gripped the edge of the table until he’d settled himself.
‘Don’t let me keep you,’ said Jane, ‘besides, looks like someone needs a coffee.’
© flyingscribbler 2011