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BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations having nothing to do with each other. Duality and such …
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The Pie Hour
Three A.M. hour was her most serene. Not a lot of traffic and pretty much the same people came in regular; couple of sheriff’s deputies and a highway patrolman, truckers or travelers off the adjacent state highway who were trying to avoid the interstate or get to it, a few locals who just seemed regularly up at that hour. But this guy was different.
He came in wearing a big Aussie style cowboy hat and a wide grin, twinkling eyes that pierced right through her. He stepped up and sat at the counter, paying no mind to anyone else, and said happily, “Hey there.” Only a half dozen people were scattered across the diner and all of them looked up at him. The patrolman and the deputy seated together over coffee and pie checked him against the list of suspicions in their head. But nobody took the wide-eyed interest the Old Man did.
She picked up the coffee carafe and a cup and saucer and stepped towards him. “Hi,” she said.
“You read my mind,” he said, nodding at the coffee as she sat the cup down and poured into it.
“Not hard to do,” she said, pleasant but not too friendly.
He sipped. “You make it good and strong,” he approved.
“The owner’s idea,” she smiled, though she was the one that made it that way. She made it almost twice as strong as he’d taught her to when she started a dozen years ago. “Cream or sugar?”
“You read my mind again,” he beamed and called her by her first name, which she guessed he’d read on her name tag.
“Anything to eat?” Kid back by the griddle, only other employee, was paying attention as he scraped off a cheeseburger.
“Got pie?” he asked.
“Pie’s our main thing,” she said, and she wasn’t exaggerating. The menu shrank to cheeseburgers, fries, a few other sandwiches overnight, but it was usually pie people wanted. The owner always ordered three fresh ones be brought in late evening by the Mennonite lady who baked them: two fruit and one cream pie.
“Just sold the last one,” she said, and a little higher came the chin of the Old Man, alone in a booth against the big windows, who’d bit into the last slice just minutes earlier.
“Well, heck fire.”
“Got strawberry and banana cream.”
“We’ll make do with strawberry, then.”
The Old Man, she noticed, hadn’t stopped watching them. He always seemed to study people when they came in, but as she moved to the glass case and carefully removed a slice from its round pan onto a plate it occurred to her how uncharacteristically alert his attention was. The Old Man had started showing up, oh, four or five years ago, she thought. Nearly every night, somewhere between 2:45 and 3:30 he’d show, walking down from the ramshackle houses on the rise back behind the diner. Couldn’t sleep, he’d told her once. Never seemed to want to talk to anybody; sat and sipped coffee and picked at a pie until close to 5a before stiffly making his way back up the rise.
“Haven’t seen you around before,” she said to the guy. It was by experience she’d learned not to ask questions like ‘where are you from’ or ‘where you headed’ because people sometimes just turned evasive. Statements were more benign. If people wanted to volunteer information after that it usually flowed freely.
But he said, “Really? Thought you might have seen me by now. I’ve been around,” he grinned as he forked the tip from the slice of pie into his mouth. “Mmmmmmm! Darn good!”
That told her nothing. She left him alone as he ate. Noticed that the patrolman wasn’t particularly interested, and he and the deputy were just shootin’ the bull now. The trucker clearly needed more coffee and she picked up the carafe and went to fill his cup. One of the three travelers needed a refill too. By the time she got back behind the counter the guy was finishing his pie and gulping the rest of his coffee.
“Hit the spot, perfect!” he declared as he swept a napkin across his mouth. She smiled at him. He said, “Shame I hadn’t time to get here before.”
“Well,” she said, “You know where to find us now. We’re always open.”
“Well, sure!” he said, and she thought he started to say something else, but stopped himself. He seemed to pause, tossed a few bills onto the counter, then got up from his stool and turned to the Old Man as though he’d known he was there all along. “You ready, my friend?”
The Old Man didn’t seem the least bit surprised. She was, and her mouth came open a little. The Old Man said, “I’ve been ready.”
“Let’s hit it, then,” the guy said.
The Old Man awkwardly pulled himself out of his booth, his back not quite straightening up and his knees not quite bending as they should, nor bearing the weight of his long life as he tried to move through just a little more of it. The guy very tenderly took one of his elbows and helped him, a gentle picture of care. As they moved slowly out the door, the guy smiled back at her and said, “Thanks! Be seeing you!”
She’d started to nod, but they were gone by then. She watched through the window as they moved behind the parked semi, then disappeared. And never returned.
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.