Diner Day Blues

Short Stories Jun 02, 2021

He watches, he waits. Scarcely taking his searching eyes from the line of customers, Calvin Rademacher momentarily glances at his watch then abruptly resumes his surveillance.

3:28 pm. He’s been here almost 6 hours.

From the seclusion of a small window table in Large Marge’s Diner, on a corner of the intersection, Cal’s eyes have barely blinked. Since 9:30 this morning, aided by the pungency of cheap bottomless-cup coffee, he’s observed the comings and goings of hordes of customers at the Donut Time store, sited diagonally across the road. He dares not relax his vigil. The future of his unrequited love life depends on it, but his bladder is urging him to take a break soon. Damn! He hadn’t thought of that when he ordered the bottomless-cup of espresso. American cups are seriously huge.

Three days ago a late spring snowstorm had swept eastwards across the front range of the Rockies and plummeted the temperatures in Boulder, Colorado. Traces of snow still linger in the shaded areas of Canyon Boulevarde. Remnants of melting ice loiter in sidewalk planter boxes where enthusiastic tulip bulbs had bloomed only a week ago prior to wet snow being unceremoniously dumped on them. Nearby, a small wizened and white-haired old lady in a thick military duffel coat is busking with a concert harp seemingly taller than herself. A growing pile of greenbacks and coins in her hat, and a small crowd of appreciative onlookers, indicates talent and hints at classical training in the past. Several blue and white buses glide to a stop nearby. They disgorge throngs of Varsity students then roar off towards other University of Colorado bus stops and Folsom Stadium. The young waitress in the diner is beginning to look more regularly in Cal’s direction. Perhaps he’ll be asked to move on shortly.

The line of customers at Donut Time has waxed and waned all day. It’s almost non-existent now as the warmth of a wan sun diminishes. Shadows begin lengthening and steal across the asphalt on the street. He reflects on the past 4 months of internet messages between each other. A conga-line of ‘what ifs’ flood his head. What if Terri isn’t really her name? The online matching site is supposedly reputable, and their website claims that all their clients are vetted. She’d been so refreshing, so alive, so exciting. Terri and Cal hadn’t met and Terri had been reluctant to forward a photo of herself. Said she’d been stung before and was very wary of facial recognition technology and identity theft. After four months she was willing to meet, but only in a public place.

He’d driven down to Boulder from Estes Park for the meeting. Terri had given him the name and location of the Donut Time store and asked for him to watch the line of customers. He’d need keen powers of observation, but she assured him that a woman in the line would make a small gesture that would indicate she was Terri.

“Watch closely for it,” she’d reiterated online. “If you miss my cue, we could merely be ships passing in the night,” she’d teased.

Watching closely is what he’d done all day. He’d watched hands, facial expressions, eye movements. He’d watched hips and buttocks of various sizes… watched for a deliberate jiggle of the hips, or a brief pout of the lips. His heart rate elevated momentarily when he spied the word Cal on the back of a sweatshirt, only to realise it was part of the word California. And throughout his day of scrutiny, a constant thought gnawed away at his conscience. How would he explain to Terri that he’d fudged his age by almost twenty years. In his exuberance for on-line love he’d rounded down his age from mid-fifties to thirty-seven. Would she care, would it matter?

But love appears to have eluded Cal again. He absent-mindedly folds his paper napkin several times until he can fold it no more, then screws it roughly into a ball and drops it into the cold dregs of coffee at the bottom of his cup. Damn, he mutters inaudibly and reaches for his coat and scarf lying on the benchseat beside him. Were there any cues he’d missed today? He turns to stand, and the smiling face of the young coffee waitress appears before him. Her eyes still sparkle even after a long shift, and despite a dearth of tips. He’s hopeful. Could she be… Terri? But no, a whiney, nasal voice with a Wisconsin accent informs Cal that Large Marge’s Diner is about to close. Would he please leave.

Finally Cal relieves his tormented bladder with a much needed bathroom break, then steps out onto Canyon Boulevarde. Warm breath meets chilly air and he exhales small clouds of white. Pedestrians scurry, presumably homewards, under layers of warm clothing. There are no customers at Donut Time now, and the wizened old busker is wrestling her harp away into its wheeled case. Cal, hyped up on excess caffeine and excess self-pity, commences a purposeful walk towards his Walnut St carpark.

He is a lonely comet hurtling through a universe of infinite disappointments; a mere speck of insignificant fly shit in the neverending space-time continuum. He obliviously passes by the elderly grey haired harpist in her ill-fitting duffel coat; she's just another of the infinitesmal bodies randomly tracking through the lonely cosmos. She turns as he strides by, observing his hasty exit. Then old harp lady mutters inaudibly towards his retreating back, “What a time waster! You shouldn’t have lied about your age, Cal. Sorry, but I like ‘em young, real young. Have a nice life…”

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