I have no idea what in the world to call this thing. The best I got it "Spooky Eerie thing that's reminiscent of Twilight Zone."
After the Jump
The familiar round of tinkles and one thud accepted a new patron to the Ruby Rosie’s experience. People talk in hushed tones all throughout town about Double R’s. Some say the short order with the map of scars crisscrossing his face was a Russian spy that got this white bread assignment after going off the deep end. No one has any idea who Rosie was or if there was ever a Rosie, yet everyone is certain that there’s a ruby the size of a cow’s bolus hidden beneath the counter; specifically the yellow cake stand cracked in the middle. And everyone in town knows you never order the blueberry pie at Ruby Rosie’s after 9 PM.
No one bothered to tell the out of towner as he plopped down and buried his face in his iPhone. He’d learn eventually, they all do.
Jack stirred his fork around the half eaten remains of his dessert, the berries far greener than he’d seen for something labeled as blue, and sipped cautiously at the coffee nervously flipping through his phone.
Knock it the fuck off, he chided himself, maybe she’s trapped in class or walking home. Slipping the phone back into his coat jacket sheepishly he turned back to his rotting pie.
“I haven’t seen you around here much.”
An elderly man settled himself at the counter next to Jack, the waitress placing a mug in front of him and wandering off not bothering to feign interest. He hugged the cup to himself as if trying to fight off the non-existent chill in August.
If that one guy who was always going on about his “films” called Jack up and said “Jackie my boy, I need a clichéd old librarian. The kind of guy everyone wishes their grandfather was for a wild new film. Oh and you got anymore blow?” all his hopes and dreams curled up beside him.
Checking to make sure he hadn’t missed a text in the past 10 seconds, Jack looked up at the man, “I’m passing through. Just a quick stop them I’m outta here.”
The man turned, a “your first fishing trip” smile lighting up his face. Jack steeled himself expecting that eu de elderly; a scent that always put him in mind of when a freezer full of meat went bad and they didn’t find it for a week. But instead he was hit by the crisp cold aroma of snow; his nostrils burned from the ice and the incense of firewood.
“I used to come here all the time with my daughter, she loved their pancakes. They’d put powdered sugar on top.”
“Uh huh,” still nothing from her. Does she ever check her god damn e-mail?!
“This was one of my happier memories. I’ll be sad to lose it.”
Just one more text message, I don’t want to show up to find a locked apartment again, “Well you’ll always have your . . . wait, what?”
The man turned to watch the cook who was wandering the front, a bear in search of a dumpster, “What’s your name?”
“What’s it matter?”
The old man sighed, “Already lost it?”
“What are you on? Jack, okay, my name’s Jack. There, now if you’ll excuse me.” Here it comes.
“What are you doing?”
His roommate told him it was a bad idea, it being finals week and all, but damn it he had to know. “Talking to my girlfriend all right, except she refuses to answer her damn phone,” he punched SEND before dropping the phone back into his pocket, “And if you must know, I’m on my way to see her. We’re doing the long distance thing you know . . .”
God that sounded so pathetic, he took a sip of his coffee and twisted up his face. Ice cold, when they hell did that happen? He’d only walked in a few minutes ago.
The old man resumed his vigil, reading his fortune in the coffee dregs, “Been here long?”
“Just a few minutes and as soon as I get the check I’m bolting. Got hours still to go.”
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Look, I’m sure you’re very nice,” because I’m scared as hell, “and you read all those stories about frogs and mice having tea on the ceiling to the children,” that my girlfriend is fucking someone else, “but I have enough grandparents to last a lifetime and don’t need another. So please.”
Reaching into his wallet, Jack tossed down a ten and checking his phone one last time headed for the door.
The old man looked down at the money and half eaten pie waiting for the change.
The twin bells jangled and the last rusted one thudded. No one looked up to watch Jack go.
“You’ve tried so many times, but it won’t work yet” The voice drifted past his ear.
“Leave me alone, I don’t have any depends okay,” Jack kept his eyes peeled on the phone stirring his pie with a fork. A shudder danced up Jack’s spine as the corner of his eye caught a ten dollar bill waiting on the counter.
But, he’d just walked in a minute ago to get something to eat before the last leg to see Stephanie. He must be losing his mind, too many nights half awake cramming textbooks into his brain then taking whatever he could find in the bathroom to knock himself out for a few hours.
“You can’t remember, can you?”
“I said piss off, old man,” frustration twined with terror lapped over Jack’s face.
The old man stared around the diner taking in each patron entrenched in their own play: the couple in the far left corner silently eating a distasteful meal looking past each other’s shoulder, a young woman swinging her legs at the end of the counter surrounded by text books a siege weapon couldn’t break, the waitress resting her weight upon the little coffeepot table, the cook burning unbidden threats into the eggs.
“What is your name, son? Can you still remember it?”
“Of course I remember my own name, I told you a minute ago when I got in and . . . it’s Jack. Yeah I know my parents are as creative as a can of spam.”
“Good, that’s good. Hold on to that, Jack. Names are the yarn knitting a person together, without one you’re nothing but a jumble of moments in time.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you? Did you wander in from the Home or something?” Jack stared at the man, dropping his phone back into his pocket.
The old man raised his mug pointing in each direction, “Notice everyone here, see how they all shy away and keep us out of the corner of their eye.”
With each salute of the coffee each person shied away turning to face the outside world.
“Yeah, so? They’re people living their own damn lives. Not everyone is a nosey old bastard.”
Sighing, the old man stood up. Cradling his cup, he walked behind the counter trailing his fingers along the cracking life-stained linoleum. He walked up to the waitress and gently touched her on the arm. Her hard lined face contorted and she rubbed her arm furiously as if it his touch burned and moved out of the way.
The old man refilled his cup of coffee and settled back down in his seat.
He savored his cup of coffee, breathing in the aroma, “Ah, just as I remembered it.”
Jack couldn’t take his eyes off the waitress; she stared out towards the door while her vision was three miles down the road watching her little daughter sleep a fitful sleep. She looked as though she hadn’t had a break in years, hard mahogany roots showed half way down her blonde hair. Her nails were in a state he hadn’t seen since his roommate last quit smoking and a face that couldn’t have been much past 35 molded and twisted under the fluorescents to make her appear undead.
The thought nagging at the back of Jack’s mind finally took hold, “She never looked at you.”
The old man set down his cup, a mist coming over his face, “I used to bring my daughter here when she was younger. Every Saturday we’d get up extra early just me and her. She’d get the pancakes, they did them up the way kids like ‘em you know with the fruit rearranged to make a face. She’d always eat the strawberries first because she said she couldn’t stand having her food watch her eat it. And I had to eat the mouth, I wasn’t allowed to talk ‘til I ate the mouth.
“This was our special place, but you know life took over and we just stopped coming. I tried bringing her back once when she was a teenager, she barely finished half a grapefruit and said the place made her hair stink of chicken. We never came again.”
The past lifted from the old man’s face as he turned to find Jack staring at him, “Sorry, my mind got away with me. But it’s good for the soul to remember the places that built you.”
“Why didn’t that woman look at you? Why isn’t anyone staring at us? And why am I eating moldy pie?!” that green blueberry pie sunk into his jumbled brain and he pushed the plate far from him clattering across the counter, the fork slipping off and hitting the floor.
Every patron in the restaurant paused for a brief second as the fork reverberated across the floor but no one looked over. “Hello?! You’re all acting like I’m a . . . ghost.”
The old man reached over laying a hand lightly on Jack’s, his touch was cold like a sunless January morning. “Do you remember how you got here?”
Jack stared at his pie splattered and oozing across the counter and floor, “My car, of course.” Any taste of sarcasm slipped off as his eyes met the mans, “How else could I get here?” The panic singed his ears, pulling his hand away he buried his face back in his phone.
“I was somewhere warm and safe, like someone swaddled me in a flannel blanket. And it was so peaceful, the wind carried a light whisper of love. I can’t recall any details anymore, it’s as though my brain was wiped clean but my heart still remembers.”
Jack stared without looking at his phone. Memories floated back of a dull ache lived but not felt, a smell of antiseptic, pain from those who knew him best. “I was at my apartment, debating about whether I should catch my girlfriend cheating or pass Econ 212.” He knew it was a lie but desperately wanted to believe it.
The old man looked over at him, disappointment and yet also understanding playing with his face.
“A lot of people talk about moving on, but they always ignore the forgetting part,” He shook his head and quietly got up, taking one last swig of coffee. His cup rocked as he set it down and walked around the diner taking in each patron frozen in their pantomime of life.
His fingers traced the door frame watched so intently by the bored couple giving the working bells a flick the sound startling the couple enough they stared into each others eyes for the first time in months.
The bells broke the waitress out of her reverie, jarring her out of the land of fluffy bunnies and closet monsters to the jagged edge of night and the rising scent of escaped flame.
Tapping down her surprise she slipped straight into mother mode, picking up the coffee pot and showering the leaping flames of oil and eggs. Through the hiss of steam and smoke the short order cook twisted up a side smile and a shrug, the best he could manage for nearly burning down the kitchen.
She sighed and headed back to the broom closet, the moment of mortality passing so uneventfully everyone turned back to their own lives. Jack should have felt something, ever since that firecracker incident when he was 10 he’d always had a to him rational fear of open flames. But where the fear should be all he felt was an open pit.
The ravaging flames did little to deter the old man who having finished two of his tasks headed over to the young woman swamped by education.
She didn’t even flinch as he leaned over her shoulder staring down at her paper. Vapidly trying to stretch out as much BS to 1,000 words she tapped her pen against the counter keeping a rather steady beat.
Jack tried to take his eyes off the pair, feeling as though he were intruding on a personal moment, but it was so bizarre to watch a young woman lost in thought completely unaware of the senior citizen poised a few inches behind her.
The old man’s face lit up as he devoured her paper, his eyes bouncing back and forth. If this were a play, Jack would’ve accused him of chewing the scenery. The chin tapping really put him over the line.
Chuckling quietly the old man stole one of her pens and jotted something onto a card he pulled out of his pocket. He slipped it into her pile and reading over the same sentence once more smiled benevolently. Taking one long look around, breathing in the last of this remembrance he then turned towards the door.
“What’s your name?”
The old man paused, his back turned to Jack, “Pardon?”
He had no idea why he’d blurted it out but suddenly it was the only thing in the world Jack needed an answer to, “You’ve asked me all these personal questions, trying to get under my skin, it seems only fair you at least tell me your name.”
The back stood a little prouder but also sadder, “Here, it’s just Daddy. Daddy, can I have the milkshake today? Daddy, you won’t believe what I found under the table. Daddy, they have waffles! This was the best trip yet, Daddy,” he sighed, turning to look back at Jack.
The harsh diner lights morphed the old man’s face, he no longer looked like the friendly old grandfather teaching young ones how to whittle. Now he stared vacantly out of marble eyes, his face the gray lifeless hue of the man laid out in his last home.
Jack screwed up his eyes as the light around the old man surged, “What are you doing here?”
He smiled, warmth lighting up his long cold face, “Shouldn’t the better question be, what are you doing here?” Turning he made for the glass door, aflame from the blinding light.
Enraged, Jack threw his phone through him, it smashed against the door leaving a hair crack, “You think you can come in here, spout off some nonsense about names and memories and then stalk off? What game are you fucking playing at?!”
The old man reached down and tried to pick up the phone but couldn’t get a grip, his chuckle like nails on a chalkboard to Jack “Ever hear of a thing called purgatory?”
“Always with the fucking questions. Do you ever give a damn answer?” even through his rage long forgotten Sunday school lessons floated through his mind. “It’s where your soul goes to, I dunno, get cleaned up before going on up. Why?”
“Dante got it wrong. Purgatory isn’t in hell, purgatory is right here.’
“You’re saying this Diner is heaven,” glancing around, “I might believe hell.”
It was getting hard to see the old man, “No, this is real all these people with their problems are very much alive. In the old tales of purgatory there was always someone to watch over and decide your punishment but that’s not true. There is no Devil or Angel deciding if you’re worthy, only you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Unfinished business.” Smiling one last time the old man pushed open the door, all three bells tinkling him a goodbye and moved on.
Jack shook with a rage he hadn’t felt since he’d read Stephanie’s facebook post to Rob. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his phone and sent a scathing text to Stephanie, but deleted it before he’d even sat down.
Next to him the blonde girl cried out in exclamation and started scratching furiously as she held onto a small business card she had no recollection of ever picking up. The waitress started a new pot of coffee and noticing an empty cup sitting lonely on the counter decided it was finally time she put in for time off. They could do without her for a few days, and if the cook did finally burn the place down it wouldn’t much matter.
Something crying out from pain, fear, and loneliness tugged at Jack’s memory but he shrugged it off turning back to his phone. He only had a few minutes before he had to get back onto the road. His pie was getting cold.
Everyone says that Ruby Rosie’s is haunted. Late at night customers hear unexplainable sounds as if someone’s throwing cutlery around, there’s a cold spot over the crack that appeared overnight in the door, anyone who sits in the third seat at the counter has a horrible string of bad luck.
And no one ever orders the blueberry pie after 9 PM.