Saturday, March 5, 2016

Companion


The urinal flushed slowly, the drain showed signs of having been snaked, long metallic scratches disappeared into darkness.  Only cold water issued forth from the faucet at a languid rate, no soap was found, the light buzzed dimly overhead.  All of these signs of decay had crept in over time, unnoticed, appearing over the years until the once shiny and proud little restaurant was a dingy hole that few would dare visit but those old customers with failing eyesight and indiscriminate olfactory sensibilities.

Frank looked at the stained linoleum floor beneath his feet as he fried another egg, perhaps the millionth, on a darkened griddle that heated unevenly and no amount of effort could really scrape clean.  A cockroach made a break from the darkness and darted between his worn and faded black shoes, eliciting mild amusement in the sleepy reaches of his mind.  Indifference had become such a constant companion that the weight of it on him, though heavier than chains, was comfortable and easy.  He flipped the egg sloppily onto the chipped ceramic plate and set it on the ledge, "order up".  His voice was gravelly, heavy with phlegm and constrained by the excess body weight he carried, giving it an unpleasant tone that only his patrons and employees could love.

It was at that moment that something new caught his eye.  Sitting on the other side of the diner was a old gentleman with thick glasses, unkempt hair and an untucked plaid shirt.  He was carefully taping a hand lettered sign to the wall of the diner in the booth he occupied.  Tammy, the long suffering waitress, took the solitary fried egg, priced at forty five cents, and place the plate in front of the gentleman.  She spoke with him quietly for a few minutes, he looking at his egg with great deliberation, she shaking her head, he looking at his sign, hanging his head, looking down, then after a moment, taking the sign down and handing it to her.  She put her hand on his shoulder and said something quiet and private to him that made him look up at her.

Frank could see a tear running down his face, but he was smiling broadly.  As Tammy turned towards him, he felt frozen in place.  Tears streamed down her face as well.  She came into the kitchen and handed him the sign without a word.

"Companion wanted.  Kind Person.  Live in home."  The address and phone number were local.  Frank looked over at the man who was gingerly dissecting his one egg and eating each bite with a dash of pepper.  He had a stack of photocopies of the sign with him.

Frank returned to the grill and scraped a clean spot about as clean as he could, pushing down hard enough to make the spatula squeak.  He cracked two more eggs and buttered a piece of toast.  He laid out three pieces of bacon and cooked them crisp but not burnt.

Tammy looked up 5 minutes later from wiping the counter.  The man with the signs was sipping his water as Frank exited his usual domain, carrying the plate himself, he set it down in front of the man and in his coarse voice said, "On the house, brother."  He looked over at Tammy and said, "bring us two coffees, Babe."  Tears flowed afresh from her eyes as she broke into a wide smile and set about pouring the coffee out into two stained and cracked mugs.

Frank sat down and looked the man in the face.  He recognized him.  He had seen him wandering the streets of town, picking up cans and trash, throwing out one and keeping the other to take to the scrappers.  He realized he had known this man for years, but had never really known him.  He wasn't homeless, just poor, simple and alone.  But not today.

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