Matthew Ryan Fischer
His feet hurt; his feet always hurt. Marvin had been walking for so long and had traveled so far. But the road stretched out so far ahead and it seemed as if it would be forevermore.
The sign hanging in the window read ‘Always Open’ in faded red neon letters. Marvin wondered if the restaurant really lived up to that promise. He imagined that sometimes on certain holidays they most certainly would have to be closed. Tonight though, he was glad to see the lights on inside, and wasn’t about to challenge their premise. He did however notice that the neon light in the sign was not actually turned on, even though the diner was in fact open for business.
It was called ‘The Perpetual Diner,’ and it looked like a railroad dining car from the front, but once inside, the room stretched on and was far deeper than any railroad car could possibly be. Still, it was quaint from the outside and it was quaint from the inside. It was a holdover from another time. The design was simple and retro, not in a gaudy or cartoonish way, but in a somewhat authentic attempt at recreating a particular mood sort of manner. There were red leather booths and tabletops with grooved aluminum edging. And chrome. There was a lot of chrome throughout the diner.
There was a handwritten sign taped on the door as he entered. It said they featured “A VERY GOOD cup of coffee. Some might say ‘a damn fine cup of coffee,’ but really that might be overstating things. This is just a roadside diner after all.” Marvin questioned some of their prose and the strange humor-humility to the sign. He would order a cup of the coffee though, and he would be the judge of it.
Marvin liked tables that had a half-booth, half-chair style of seating. He liked to sit on the booth side of things, not just for comfort, but also so that he could look out across the room. The lack of an opposite bench seat meant his view was unobstructed and he could see more of the room. He liked watching the room. He liked watching as people came and went.
The diner was understaffed. One of the waitresses, Charlotte, had called in sick. Andre, the cashier, was on the phone in between customers, calling and calling and calling, over and over and over, but she never answered. Business was slow. It didn’t seem like he was calling because he needed the assistance. Marvin figured that he wasn’t as concerned with finding out what happened to her, or getting her into work, as he was with annoying her.
Marvin looked out the window. He thought of the path his life had taken, the roads traveled, the journey he had made for himself. He thought of her. So much time and so many years and gone by. Yet it was only yesterday. A blink of an eye. It was like it had just happened. He remembered everything. He could never forget.
Marvin waited and waited. He looked out the window. He watched the people. He ordered coffee and food and waited more. He actually thought she would show up. He had to believe. It was all he had.
When he grew bored with waiting, he looked around the room at the other people and made private little predictions as to who they were and what they were doing there. They all had special stories; it was up to him to guess what they were.
A man in the booth next to him was reading a book. The book was old, the dust cover cracked and worn. The man looked like a librarian. He had no awareness of the people around him or what was happening in the diner. He was absorbed in what he read. He had a highlighter and a spare notebook where he wrote down particular points of interest. Marvin wanted to believe he was a man deciphering some long lost secret. Perhaps it was a bit of hidden history, or a clue to man’s purpose in life or their place in the universe. Maybe the man was the carrier of secret information and it was his job to get it from one place to another and here he was stealing scraps and transcribing them for himself.
When the man went to the restroom, Marvin leaned over and read the title of the book – “Rites, Rituals and Ruins: An account of the travels of Mortimer Thornewill.” Marvin had never heard of the book or the man it was about.
Meanwhile, Andre the cashier was still on the phone. A cat could be seen sleeping down by his feet. Maybe it was Andre’s. Or maybe the cat belonged to the owner of the diner. Perhaps it was his beloved pet that he let run around in the back. Maybe it killed rodents. Or maybe it was actually self-aware and was in charge of the owner and the restaurant. Whatever the case, it couldn’t possibly be sanitary having it here in the restaurant, thought Marvin.
Two old men sat in a booth in the back corner of the room. If Marvin strained he could hear their conversation. They talked about life and love over a pot of coffee. Marvin didn’t hear the beginning, but he could make out parts of it now.
“What have you been doing?” asked one of the men.
“Just watching the waves.”
“I heard they gave you a watch.”
“Yeah. Kind of nice I guess. Reminds me that I have too much time on my hands.”
Over at another table, two women talked. A kid sat on the floor next to his mother, playing with a red toy race car. As he leaned over, something else fell out of his pocket. Marvin couldn’t see what it was. The kid didn’t seem to notice or care, so Martin didn’t either.
Marvin noticed that someone had left 17 cents on the table. Perhaps it was a tip. Or an insult to denote bad service. Or maybe the person that sat here before him didn’t like carrying pocket change.
Marvin picked it up and looked at it and was quite shocked to see what he saw. The pennies and nickel were quite ordinary. But the dime wasn’t ordinary at all. It was quite special – an 1894-s Barber Dime. Marvin knew enough to know that was worth a great deal of money. Marvin took it and put it in his pocket and didn’t think twice about it.
In the men’s room, the bathroom mirrors were cracked and one had been totally broken. They reflected so many things, but none of them correctly. Marvin looked at his fractured self and thought about all the possibilities of who he could have been. He always liked to imagine his other self in the mirror was somehow part of another universe, with another life. The fractured mirror gave him so many glimpses of who he could have been. He got to take so many journeys.
When he got back, he saw there was a cup of coffee waiting for him on the table. The waitress had come by while he was gone. This was a moment. It would be a moment he would remember. He always judged a restaurant by its coffee. The aroma was fine, but nothing special. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Flavored coffees were a turnoff and Marvin was in no mood for something that was trying to be more than it really was. He took a sip – no sugar or cream yet. If it was good coffee, he wouldn’t need them. If it was bad, he would make his way through it, he hardly ever left a cup unfinished, but he would need help.
He sipped the coffee. It was dark, bitter and strong. He smiled. The sign was right – it really was a ‘very good cup of coffee.’
Marvin looked across the room to his waitress and gave her the thumbs up signal. When she came back around with his food he would tell her that he would need the cup refilled as often and as quickly as she could. He would give her little trouble other than that, and always promised to tip well for prompt service.
It seemed as if she was never going to arrive. Marvin wasn’t sure how long he would wait. He would wait a little longer. He had to do that. He had to give it enough of a chance. His food hadn’t come yet – certainly he could wait for that. He was here after all and he didn’t feel like walking again quite yet.
Things should have been easier, but that wasn’t the case. Communication was everywhere, in everything. There shouldn’t ever be any missed opportunities anymore. Except that all that communication relied upon the people actually communicating. No technology could replace that.
He had abandoned much of modern convenience in a misguided attempt to forge some semblance of privacy. He couldn’t be easily found, and that of course meant he couldn’t find anyone either. He missed her. He was sure she missed him. If he thought of her daily, there had to be some small chance that she thought of him from time to time.
Marvin was sure she would have been there. It was so hard to tell. Signals weren’t always signals and it was easy to flirt, but harder to commit. Perhaps she never felt what he felt. Perhaps she never believed what he believed. He didn’t think that was true. Maybe there should have been a simple lost and found for lovers. That couldn’t be misunderstood.
Marvin leaned back against the seat and sipped his coffee and let his mind wander and his imagination take him off to another place where other things could happen. Wherever she was, whatever was keeping her, he was convinced that it was what was supposed to be happening. Everything that was happening had happened before or would happen again, and in the end it would all work out the way it was supposed to work out. The road was long and winding. He had been taught that when he was young. He just wished it was shorter sometimes and didn’t take as long as it did to get to where it was going.