The night is velvet black. The streetlights are switched off; a would be cold dank street is illuminated by the fluorescent beam of the all-night diner, which watches the street, glancing through my window, an apartment above the hardware store. It could’ve disturbed my slumber but I wasn’t in. I hadn’t been in for a long time and tonight, I sat in the diner, a safe haven for vagrants and nomads. I’m alone. There are two other customers in the diner and a bartender but I’m alone.
My body needs sleep but my mind won’t allow it; it’s been a long day. I must have travelled for several hours but I can’t recall a second on the road. My head is a train station of thoughts, coming and going. As I peer upwards I’m forced to squint; the vibrant light burns my eyes from under my hat. From what I can see of the place’s inhabitants, it’s the most alive thing in here tonight, dancing along the oak veneer counter and blazing into the bottom of my cup, creating a reflection. I gaze into my own eyes. The man I see is not the man I am; he’s grotesque with vile features and battle scar-like wrinkles. He’s definitely not the man who woke up the previous morning in Baltimore in a fully occupied double bed.
I’ve had countless Irish coffees but my mind still feels sober. The kid behind the counter looks at me tentatively for the usual impersonal small talk, attempting to catch my empty eyes. I resist, he doesn’t remember me. His mother used to run this place but she’s probably long dead. Besides, I’m not here to remember. I’m here to forget.
It was a rough Manhattan neighbourhood but the street was as clean as any up town, to me this was largely because of the diner. It protected a once dim noisome street and brought together the community. Back when I was just an ignorant wiseacre before it all started, before the epiphany that was meeting her.
I am awoken back to consciousness by the hushed whispers of the couple opposite, who look uneasy and not just because this apparent hobo is eyeballing them, there was something else, something deeper. I guess they too must have their reasons for not being at home, tucked up in bed. The man was young and handsome with wired caffeine-powered eyes; I’d seen him a thousand times before waltzing around up town in a suit. I can’t tell whether he’s paying for his company or not, I’m guessing not because if I was I’d demand a refund, she seems more interested in her hands than his voice, gazing intensely as if reading her palms, deeply occupied in her thoughts.
She feels my stare. I’d better look away and play it cool but I can’t. Even as she gazes back, I’m lost. She sends me a plaintive smile but I remain emotionless. I can tell she’s still thinking hard of other things, half-heartedly raising a cigarette to her rouged lips, barely bothering to inhale. I watch its lacklustre droop for what feels like hours. She’s entranced me. They always do this. She always does this.
I bring my refilled cup back to my lips not letting anything slip to the broad. I remain motionless, my insides decomposing; she’s not scared of me but childishly curious. She’s attractive in obvious ways but her true beauty is esoteric, only I who have known her for so long could understand. We both maintain this level of equanimity as my eyes are starting to leak. I can’t tell whether it’s for lack of sleep or that I haven’t blinked in many minutes. It’s neither; I realise as that pain in my stomach that urged me to drive all this way home is becoming more tolerable. The drink only shielded me temporarily but my emotions are now releasing themselves all over the counter and into my half empty cup. She either doesn’t mind or notice but I terminate my tears anyway.
The suit next to her grabs her coat.
“D’you wanna’ get outta’ here?”
He can’t have seen me. She’ll make a fool out of him. She humours these lowlifes but I always know she’ll be mine at the end of the night even if she makes me doubt it sometimes.
“Yeah, sure. I’ve just been waiting for you.”
I don’t understand.
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“Because I didn’t want you following me home.”
Of course, always one step ahead of me. He storms passed me muttering vulgar terms, I hear “slut” and would hurt him but I’ve long since learnt that’s not what she wants. I look back to her. She is now standing. In a matter of seconds she’s brushing passed my chair ignoring me, she’s changed her perfume; she’s changed her appearance. She’s left me again but I still love her. I’ve loved her from the moment I set eyes on her in this very diner. I loved her when we settled down near her parents in South Baltimore, Maryland. I loved her when she told me why we weren’t physically intimate and I loved her for years until the inevitable happened today. Until it happened today. I see her face on every blonde I’ve seen since and I don’t doubt I will for a while.
The barman looks suggestively at the clock. I’ve overstayed my welcome. My sojourn is over; tomorrow I must return to my new home. I glance up at the old apartment and the lights inside are on. I can still make out the other two figures on opposite sides of the street but I’m alone. I feel even together in the diner, we were all alone.
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