A diner off rutted dirtroads on the Tennessee-Georgia line, breathing a sigh far outside the urban edge. A creek along the road.
In the equally rutted lot a Chevy 5-window pickup—not battered, not pristine.
A neon light atop a much-scarred and leaning utility pole. If it were night the light would buzz and wink in hot pink. Diner Diner Diner.
Nobody comes down the road anymore. No one ever came down the road.
A phone rings. The man in the truck waits a beat, picks it up, listens a moment, leans across the seat, dangles the receiver out the window.
A woman comes out the diner door: Is that her? Is that her? Hang the damn thing up!
The man: She’s lonely. She likes to listen to the sound of the place. She doesn’t like it there.
The woman: Goddammit! You don’t hang it up, I’ll rip it off!
The man: Don’t do that. It ain’t right.
The woman: Right? You wanna talk about right? It ain’t right for a man to let his wife listen in to his new family’s life. It ain’t normal. It ain’t anyways normal. She’s gotta let you go.
A boy wanders out the diner door: Let who go?
The woman: The “lady” that keeps calling your daddy on the telephone, has got to let your daddy loose.
Boy: You mean Margaret?
The woman: What do you mean “Margaret”?
Boy: That’s her name, Delores. Her name’s Margaret!
Delores, defeated: I know, I just. . . I just. . . She spins on tennies, flees into the diner.
Boy: Can I talk to her?
The man: Sure son.
The boy climbs in the bed of the truck, reels in the receiver, chats it up.
Interior: The restroom end of the diner is a walled-off bedroom now. The rest is much the same, now working as everything else. Dining room, living room, breakfast counter, rec room. The boy sleeps in an old booth. Table-top juke players remain on the counter and booth tops. The jukebox itself on the unmolested end-wall. The kitchen behind the counter intact.
The man, spinning a stool with his finger: Honey, I’m sorry. It just don’t seem right to hang up on her. She’s a long way from home. And it’s not what she expected. She doesn’t recognize anybody.
Delores: I don’t care. She was sposed to be out of your life. Just you and me and Timmy and this dammed old diner. I loved it then, when it was like that, the four of us.
The man, moving closer: I’m sorry, like I said. Truly sorry. It ain’t me. She never called when Timmy and I were here all alone. I love you, I surely do. She’s just lonely. What else can I do?
Delores: Hang up! Don’t answer – we don’t get any other calls. Say you can’t talk now! Anything! Just keep her out of our lives.
The man: Would you rather have her out here moving things around? Knocking stacks of plates off the shelves? Putting on records we don’t like? She could do that maybe if I made her mad. I don’t know what all she would do.
Delores, mollified some: I just hate it. Hate it. It was peaceful before. Before she remembered the number. Us, the diner, the creek. It was so new, and fresh. I’d never been in the country before. I’d never heard silence.
Timmy, coming in from the truck: I love talking to her. It’s like old times. She had to go somewheres. I hung the phone up like you showed me. What’s for dinner?
Delores: What do you think? Hamburgers, fries, and a shake. Go wash up.
Timmy hustles into the bedroom.
Delores: I still think it ain’t right. She’s dead and buried three years. Three damn years.
photo RJ’s Corner, https://rjscorner.net/2016/11/16/diners/
2 thoughts on “The Diner”
Well I enjoyed this Jim, thanks. For a long time I kept voicemails from my mom after she died. When I switched phones I moved them to the computer, this piece has inspired me to see if I can find any of them.
I have a cassette tape of my mom chatting with us in absentia. From that long ago. Maybe every 10 years or so I see it and play a little bit of it..