hand in hand in the diner

Submitted into Contest #110 in response to: Set your story in a roadside diner.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction Friendship

           As a matter of a habit shared with many in town, he pulls off the road, and into the always occupied parking lot at a place known locally as ‘the diner’. It looks a lot like the famous painting “Nighthawks’ from the 1940s, with nearly wall to wall, floor to ceiling windows, but it is almost always crowded, not the nearly empty lonely diner of the painting. And it is early afternoon light. He had a quick and unsatisfying breakfast, and is hungry now.

           As he leaves his car and walks toward the door, he notices something on the ground by the ATM – gloves. As he picks them up, he sees that they are a gentle tan in colour and feels that they are a soft leather

Gloves in hand, he opens the door to the diner. Their obvious quality makes him look somewhat sophisticated, sort of like he is the romantic male lead in a movie from the 1930s or 1940s. That was strange, as he didn’t think of himself as sophisticated. He was a lawyer, but his business was mostly legal aid, so he didn’t play much with the big boys and girls who could afford a more stylish look.

           “Anyone here own these?” he declares to the scattered table and booth audience of the diner customers. There is silence at first, although most look up out of curiosity concerning what is being displayed. Then an old woman casts her eyes his way, and speaks up, with a voice louder than what you would think her short and wiry body seemed capable of. 

           “I think they’re mine”, she exclaims, waving her hands so that he can see her. He then walks over to the booth in which the old lady is sitting, and places the gloves gently on the well-polished but cheaply-manufactured table surface. “They are mine” she said, as she picks them up and holds them tightly in her hands. “I inherited them from my mother.”

           He stands still, not knowing what to do next.

           “Thank you.  Now sit down, young man,” she said. So he did. She didn’t seem the type that you wanted to disagree with. You could tell that from the strong tones of her authoritative voice, rather like those of some of the judges that he had encountered over the years. Just after he seats himself, she raises her hand, rather like Queen Elizabeth would if she had to hail a taxi and summons a waitress. “He’ll have coffee. And whatever else he might want.” Then to him she says, “You will, won’t you, young man.” He merely nods in mute agreement. He didn’t feel that he had any choice. But it had been a long time since anyone called him ‘young’. He is in his mid-forties, fairly fit, but still obvious in appearance to be the age he is.

           They begin to talk as if they were old friends. He had seen a book beside her coffee cup, written by Daphne du Maurier, a collection of short stories. It proves to be a good conversation starter. He had just discovered that writer himself. They both really like the darkness of her work, and both are big fans of Hitchcock’s and Du Maurier’s “The Birds.” Favourite moments are shared. Talk of other movies soon follows, all of them with a kind of twist to them.

           Then she starts to talk about herself. He listens while unenthusiastically consuming two dry and rather bland bran muffins while he does so. He had thought that ordering something this ordinary would make him feel a little less guilty about having his meal paid for. His mother had died when he was just a lad of four, so he is enjoying experiencing what he had only previously imagined having a mother would be like at his age.

The Children

           The bright spirit of their conversation darkens when she begins to talk about her children. She opens up that subject with a simple declaration of “My children are waiting anxiously for me to die.” 

           According to the stories that the old woman then tells, her two children, a son, and a daughter, had grown up with a lifestyle funded by the six-figure earnings of their father, who had died ten years earlier. They had set themselves up in a high-priced business without commanding a whole lot of business sense or practical experience. And they over-paid themselves, while under-paying their ever-shifting staff. More capital was needed to keep their business and their lifestyles afloat and impressive to the undiscerning eye. Getting their hands on their mother’s money and putting her into a relatively inexpensive long-term care home was their plan to do so. But that was not quite the way they had presented it to her when, armed with their slick young lawyer, they had a long talk with her about “making your life easier in your declining years.” She told them that she was “declining your offer.” 

           He needs to say something. He begins with the word “If you were my mother…” but then he suddenly stops speaking. He can’t believe the strong emotions that those few words release in him. Then he sees that she is waiting for him to complete this sentence. He ends it with a fairly emotionally neutral “I wouldn’t think that way. I wouldn’t act that way”

           “What about your mother?” His reply falls out of his mouth like it is going to hit the floor. “Dead …since I was a child.” She reaches over and covers his hands with hers. 

Upcoming Court Case

           He had a court case coming up. A young male client of his had broken the conditions of his bail by drinking in a bar with friends that were criminals known to the police. One of these long-time buddies had got into a fight with the boyfriend of a young woman who had drawn his leering attention and a few thoughtless, sexual remarks. When the police arrived, one of them knew his client, having arrested the young man before, and so brought him down to the station.

His one call had been to him.

           That means he has to leave for court soon, something that he does not want to do. The conversation and the company are both so enjoyable. He takes his business card out of his wallet, and says, in a lawyerly way “I have to go now. I have a client waiting. This is my card. If you need any legal help, please call me.” Both knew that he is talking about trouble she might have with her money-hungry children or just an excuse to meet up again.

           He stands up, as she does as well, and they shake hands across the table, more like a mother and son, than a client and a lawyer. They are caught in this act by a very pricey looking pair of forty somethings, whose hair suggests that they both went to the same stylist. It soon becomes apparent that they are the old lady’s daughter and son. The daughter speaks.

           “What are you doing holding hands with this man? Don’t you know that he is probably a gold-digger?” She has a poorly developed sense of irony.

           “Get away from her this instant” says the son, sensing the closeness between his mother and this stranger. “Who are you? What are you doing with my mother?”

           The old lady replied, “He’s my new lawyer, and we just shook hands on a deal. Better not touch him, or I will stand witness that you attacked him. He will sue your personal trainer sculpted ass right off.”

           Both of her children turn around and walk away, cell phones pulled out like they are pistols.

           There is silence in the diner. The customers, feeling that they have just witnessed a grand performance on an informal stage, break out in applause. The lawyer and his client hold each other’s hand like actors at the end of a play and bow to their appreciative audience. Then, after paying the bill, with gloves in hand, she walks out with her new lawyer, her new friend, and son who should have been. 

September 05, 2021 12:23

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2 comments

S. Thomson
10:35 Sep 12, 2021

Great story! I really felt a connection between the protagonist and the old woman. I hate to think about what would have happened if he hadn't seen the gloves!

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John Steckley
19:17 Sep 12, 2021

Thanks for your comments. I believe that sometimes you get to choose your family. There are three children of someone who grew up with our sons who relate to my wife and I as grandparents.

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