This piece of flash fiction was written after talking to a friend who was reminiscing about how we used to have brunch at a certain diner every week or so, and how much she missed it. We got to know most of the waitstaff there, and the cook – all of whom were sweet and decent human beings. Going there was like visiting with a good friend’s family. We knew about their kids, their hopes, their dreams. And they always welcomed us like good friends – though really, they knew nothing at all about us and our lives. The diner was like a little bubble of goodness that shut out the rest of the world for the hour or so we were there. Anyway, hope you enjoy this, it is yet another of the “weird” genre.
I looked up from my appointment book, smiled and nodded. She was birdlike, thin and frail looking – maybe in her late 30’s but then, I am a poor judge of age.
“Thanks,” I said as she topped off my mug, “I hope it is okay that I am lingering a bit, my next appointment is a little while from now – just trying to catch up on the paperwork. The breakfast was great, by the way!”
“Its fine, the trucker rush is over. Stay as long as you want. And I’ll tell the cook you liked the breakfast, it’ll make his day.” She hesitated a moment, then added, “I’m Kathy, I think I waited on you last week, too.”
“You’ve got a good memory!” I said and smiled, even though I know I am probably the only single woman customer that has been in this diner aside from one or two woman truckers. This part of the country being what it is – it made me wonder about the appointments I had been assigned.
“It isn’t because of what you think…” she said, as though reading my mind.
“No?” I asked, genuinely curious now, I put down my pen and took a sip from the mug – it was freshly brewed and strong, exactly how I like it.
“I remember you,” her voice got lower, and almost a whisper, “because of the tip you left me.”
I had a moment of panic, hoping I had left enough, straining to remember the previous week, but my weeks all seemed to blur together these days. Because I didn’t immediately say anything, she continued.
“My little girl, she’d been wanting these shoes, I guess they’re all the rage at her school. I can’t afford to get her many of the things she wants, but the tip you left – well, it was enough to add to what I’d saved, so I got her the shoes. She was so happy when I brought them home to her. She hardly ever takes them off.” As she spoke of her little girl, it seemed the weight of world was lifted from her shoulders in that moment, and she stood tall and proud.
“What’s her name?” I asked, not knowing what else to say.
“Erin. She’s in third grade. She’s smart, too.” Kathy beamed.
“Erin.” I repeated and nodded and smiled with her mother, looking at her name tag – Kathy G. Erin, I thought to myself, glancing down at my appointment book. Erin Grady –my next appointment. I closed the appointment book, and took another long sip of the coffee.
“I’ve got a picture of her if you’d like to see?”
“Of course!” I smiled, and told her how lovely her daughter was, now knowing for certain, that this was my next appointment.
Another table was being seated and Kathy, still smiling, went to tell them the specials, and answer any questions.
I packed up my briefcase, finished my coffee and left a huge tip. While it wouldn’t help my conscience at all, it might help Kathy have a few more hours of contentment.
Because at 11:47 am Erin will swap lunches with her new friend, a friend she made because of the shoes her Mom was able to get her.
And at 11:49 am she will bite into her friend’s sandwich, and have an immediate allergic reaction to one of the ingredients. A reaction that her friend, and teachers will not recognize until it is too late. And the EMTs will not be able to resuscitate her.
I will be there, at 11:57 am, to collect her soul and escort her to her next destination. And I will tell her how proud her Mom is of her, and how much she is loved.