The diner was cold. No other shops were open, closed and boarded-up with Free Rent! blazing red on warping plywood. No more trains visited a once bustling Taj Mahal station. Free prime real estate for quiet nesting birds. Quiet enough to heal broken wings. You could tell just by looking up from the swirling green marble floors below. Dead grass and bits of murky stretched plastic in ceiling openings with fresh dripping rainwater. Old paperback books rotted in the damp darkness two shops down, new cash registers rusted shut. Small books with women on the cover in sweaters two sizes small, where in the opening paragraph(I heard once)the boss ran steadying fingers down his secretary's unbuttoned blouse, right there in his office, but no one was warming to it from the spinning carousel rack hidden by plywood.
The coffee was steaming beyond the chrome-edged counter in the solitary diner. Black rings stained white-chipped porcelain cups just like staining teeth, circles too, on the clean tables, and on purple saucers. They talked almost in whispers at a table, a man and a woman, seemingly trying to build up long lost pressured steam of their own.
She had been crying; permanent creases shadowed above her brow. He reached across a number of times, she repelled, turned her gaze, and caught my eyes twice briefly, perched on the cat bird seat spinning cushion. I snapped back to my bulging egg salad on fresh white bread, quite surprised it was so good in a sparsely visited, unmarked establishment. The fountain was refreshing too, sparkling fizz in clear cubed buoyant ice.
A hollow shattering coffee cup striking the floor made me turn one last time. The Proprietor swathed The Waitress in his arms, close enough to smell her hair, and she wasn't resisting. I felt a burning on the back of my neck. I tucked a dollar under my plate and two quarters on the counter, tracking spilled coffee for the exit. Outside the vacant sinking brick building a car drove by slow, the flash of a camera from the backseat to capture the old place before it would be demolished, instead a picture of a lone man standing like a statue by an ancient building for all time, but with lots to do. It started to rain. A train whistle in the distance reminded me of how hollow my heart was, and that I had no woman's hair to smell. My neck shivered as I thought of a simple cup of hot coffee, black.
Joseph Lorusso painting.