I can hardly remember the last time I was here. It must’ve been awhile. God, I look back at this place fondly. So many happy and tragic memories here. Most I’d rather not remember, hence why I can hardly recall this place in a lot of detail.
The only thing that I do recall that’s never changed is that sweet scent of dark roast. My favourite. I always used to get it black, iced, and with a fruit muffin on the side. Their bakery was great as well. Nothing better than a fresh baked muffin on a Moody Monday.
The smell of fresh baked goods filled the air and made my stomach grumble with enticement and anticipation for what was to come next.
A waitress came over, notepad in hand, pe at the ready, awaiting my order, but unfortunately my head was turned towards the window and she had to call for my attention twice before I ended up answering.
‘Sir, are you alright?’
‘Hmm? Yes, I’m just fine, thank you, miss. Could I have a black coffee, iced, with one of your delicious fruit muffins please, and thank you.’
She smiled and nodded, jotting it all down in her notebook, put her hands behind her back, bowed slightly and walked away.
‘What a polite young woman, I thought.’
When she returned, the smell of the dark roast was ravishing. I was starved, as this was my typical time for breakfast, but I missed the bus on my way to the shop this morning, making me 20 minutes later for breakfast than I would’ve liked. But no matter, such is life. And life sure had a turn of events set ahead for me.
I slowly sipped my cold brew while ready the daily news posted at the front of the shop. Just a dollar for the news. Pfft, I remember when it had been a nickel, hell, even a dime for the news Now a whole dollar? What has this economy come to? Obviously it was more of a joke, but regardless, prices had been rising recently. Especially the housing market. Hoping it would crash soon, so I could scoop up myself a new small place out in the rural suburbia or Lanark County, Ontario. A nice place out there in the boonies, with all that nature surrounding me, miles from the nearest town, sounded like sweet heaven to me. I’d been stuck in this deadbeat town for over 40+ years, coming here when I was roughly 12 years old after my mother passed away. It was hard on my grandparents, as they were having to take care of me after my very single mother passed. My grandparents weren’t the most strict individuals, but they weren’t the nicest either. Bed time, curfew, couldn’t do his, couldn’t do that, couldn’t go out with so and so because they said so, that sort of thing. Most of the time my grandfather would respond with, ‘Don’t ask me, ask your grandmother, I don’t make the decisions here, pipsqueak,’ and then would causally take a sip from his now warm brooski. I would then ask my grandmother and if she was in a good mood that day she would let it slide, but never on a school night as curfew was 7:00pm those nights. ‘Be home for dinner, or you’ll be the squash I serve next Thansgiving, got it?’
I knew they meant it out of love, but it never felt like I was very cared for in the household. But I knew they always tried their best with what they could give at that time. I didn’t have any siblings, just me.
Thus, my loneliness resided deeply rooted in my soul. No parents, tough grandparents, and most kids at school didn’t particularly like the odd-ball kid I was.
I was always outstanding when it came to school grades and most people would think I was a show-off when in actuality I was just really invested in the work they gave us and what else did I have better to do then spend my time doing such as that?
I was brought from my daze when I heard…nothing. I heard nothing. The music from the old juke box in the corner had stopped, no more bustling sounds from the kitchen, chirping of chatter in the background. Everything was purely silent.
I was about to get up when I felt the pressure of something hard and cold pressed against the back of my head.
Knowing what was going to happen next, I took a deep breath, dropped my napkin on my lap, and raised my hands slowly.
‘Gimme all your money, old man.’
‘Okay, let me just get my wallet out of my pocket, aright?’
‘Yeah, whatever, make it quick, geezer.’
Putting one hand down to reach for my pocket, I quickly swerved around and grabbed the gentleman behind me with the gun and twisted his arm until the gun fell out of his hand and onto the floor.
Turning around swiftly, and getting up with haste and ease, much easier than normal as the adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I pulled the robber’s arm behind his back and shoved him against the wall.
I tried not to let fear cripple and paralyze me in this moment as it could mean life or death. It’s better to act rather than react in this sort of situation, in my previously lived experience.
As this wasn’t the first time something like this happened at the shop.
It wasn’t the first time at all. Hence why I really should stop returning here, but as the small townie that I am, I can’t help but reminisce and bask in the low glow of the amber flights the cafe provided.
The robber yelled in anger, ‘Hey, old man, fucking take your hands off me, will ya? I’ll fucking shoot!’
‘With what gun, young man?’
I tried to kneel down and grab the gun, but rather, I decided better and kicked it towards the counter and signalled to Joe behind the counter to bend down and pick it up and point it at the gentleman I was holding captive.
Surprising me, he swung around quickly with his other arm, yanking out of my grip and landing a nice blow on my jaw. Popping it out of place, my jaw left partially hanging open in awe and pain, I messaged it as he landed another on my opposite cheek, knocking me flat to the floor.
‘I’ll show you who to mess with, old man.’
Lifting his boot, the masked man was about to take a blow straight to my skull with his boot when I heard an ear-piercing sound and silence to fill the void. Realising I had closed my eyes after the sound hit, I opened them slowly to see the masked man slumped up against the bench I was just sitting at with a gaping wound in his chest. Looking down at his wound, placing a hand on it, coming away with deep red crimson, he looked up at me, blood pooling out from under his mask, his eyes looked fear-filled and regretful at the robbery now gone wrong.
I wanted to get up and beat the shit out of him. I wanted to throw him against the wall and bash his skull until it turned his brain to mush, but I kept my cool and stayed my ground, literally, right there on the floor, still in shock.
I whipped around to find Joe shaking heavily tears brimming his eyes and the smoking gun still in his hand.
He dropped it and allowed the tears to flow as a gut wrenching sound, somewhere between a cry and a yelp came from his now open mouth.
‘It’s alright Joe, it’s gonna be okay.’
‘It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything.’
‘Come-come on, let’s get you cleaned up, Mister Poe’
‘I’ll be fine. Focus on your wellbeing right now. Put a sign up and take 5. I’ll take care of the rest.’
After that, I called the police and told them of the attempted robbery and now casuality laying on the diner floor.
They showed up hastily, flashing lights and all to alert the once quiet neighbour hood to the barrage of cops that were coming to the scene.
Joe, the rest of the staff that was working that day, and I all got questioned profusely, they unmasked the gentleman and it turned out to be someone they had been on the look out for for the past few months.
He had been popping into the occasional liquor store or tobacco shop, hitting it up for a few thousand bucks each and a few products and then would run off, reaped rewards in hand, trouble in toe.
I shivered at the thought of almost dying, and how I just watched this very young gentleman who made poor life choices die right before my very eyes. That oudl’ve very well just have been me, had I not acted fast enough.
But I’d outlived seeing so many shoot-outs here, I don’t know how I survived.
Even after the first one, my grandparents still took me back here. They liked frequenting here almost just as much as I do now. I guess they ingrained it into me. Being the only place to eat out in the small town, I guess it was truly the only form of entertainment or special outing they could give to a small youngling.
The previous times I had been here and experienced something similar, my parents would always ask me to hide under the table, and they would take the brunt of the conversation, and no one would even notice or acknowledge my existence in that moment.
Actually, it was a heart-attack that killed my grandfather, right there in that very diner. Saved everyone’s lives that day, unfortunately, except for his own.
The heart-attack was almost perfectly planned I thought he was faking at first, but I guess the stress and drinking had finally all caught up to him and he passed on when I was in my eary 20’s, leaving me with my grandmother until I could move out at 26. Though, against her best wishes to have me out earlier, the housing market wasn’t having it,and neither was the renting market for apartments. $1700 - $2100 a month on a measly $13/hr rate was not going to get me anywhere.
Having never gone to college made it even harder.
My grandmother had always tried to get me to go, no matter what it was for, ‘long as it makes money, don’t complain about doing it, Stewie.’
All in all, it was safe to say I made a difference that day. A difference in my life and the lives of others as it could’ve very well have just been me behind that gun, waiting and hoping for it not to be me, nd it could’ve happened so fast, if only the robber had reacted quicker it would’ve been me in the gurnee instead of him.