Jeffrey looks pale, not the kind of pale you are at the end of winter, the kind of pale you get when you’ve climbed to the top of the tree but don’t know how to get down, the kind where your lips go white and your eyes look like a racoon’s, and he’s wearing this real ugly light grey suit with a lime green tie—I don’t know why he has on a green tie, green was his least favorite color, he should be wearing a purple one, purple was always his favorite color, him and his girlfriend had matching purple outfits for prom and his motorbike was a metallic purple that he painted himself with a matching purple helmet after he spent all his saved up birthday money on it—I spent my birthday money that year on a domino set that came in a fancy blue leather case and Jeffrey always played it with me, Mom’s always in the kitchen and I’m not allowed to help her cook since I poured sugar in the spaghetti and Dad’s always too busy in the big brown barn and I’m not allowed in there anymore since I painted a daisy around the goat’s big brown spot on its back, the girls think it’s boring and Albert just sticks the tiles in his mouth, so I could always count on Jeffrey to play with me, even when his girlfriend came over she would play with us, he was wearing a purple t-shirt when we were playing dominoes the other day, he almost always drew elevens or even double sixes first and I hardly ever drew more than a seven or eight, I always thought he cheated cause there’s no way he’s just always that lucky, nobody can just be that good at dominoes, but that day he grabbed his tile from the top of the heap and snorted before turning it over in his hand and showed me the double aces, we played the game real quietly on the shaggy red rug in the den, I set down my seven—a two and five—and Jeffery didn’t have a single tile to play, and the game kept going on like that until I eventually won, I never won and it felt weird like I was the one who cheated, now there’s a bunch of people here I’ve never met before and Mom keeps making me say hello but I just want to rip off my red paisley tie that Dad tied too tight but I have to stay and sit quietly on this hard brown bench with this dirty reddish purple cushion, I can’t do anything but scratch at the stitches on my forehead from where the visor of that purple helmet snapped off on the rock while everyone stares at too-pale-Jeffrey, some man is standing next to him reading off different prayers from his fat book, I say the words I’m supposed to but I don’t know what they mean.
Wraiths of an American DinerStella Bonifazi
The diner was packed by seven every morning. I knew the way to my green vinyl booth by the front window, the only empty one in the place, even nearly blind. Down the steps of my faded red porch, left on Aspen, right on Ash, past the post office, the cleaners that used to be the bait shop, and the general store. I could taste the sizzling fats and bubbling baked goods in the air. A cup of hot joe was already waiting for me. The young men at the table across from me were talking about their frog hunting trip from the night before. It reminded me of the only time I went on a frog hunting trip. I caught one frog. He looked up at me with those big shiny black eyes and I decided to keep him. He was my pet for all of three days. I was feeding him bits of bread by the fire when his long tongue grabbed an ember that flew out. Died right on the spot. Didn’t even have him long enough to name him. The couple sitting behind me talked about their upcoming trip to his father’s. They were to take the train into the city. I told them about the time I accidentally interrupted a robbery. Luckily the robber had bad aim, and the local trainspotter had bigger muscles. The little waitress placed my pancakes and bacon on the table with a red lipstick-lined grin. Each morning, I told stories til my plates were clean and off I went, past the general store, the cleaners, the post office, left on Ash, right on Aspen, up my now pink porch to my swing where I would sit for most of the morning, feeling the breeze rustle the thinning hairs on my head.
This morning felt different. I got up, put on my running shoes the girls got me last Christmas, and began to dress for the day. I could see the bureau better, but that wasn’t all that strange. I made my same walk to the diner, left on Aspen, right on Ash, then straight down three buildings,
and sat at my booth by the front window when I got there, coffee waiting for me. I didn’t feel like drinking it, it smelled stale. I waited for that young waitress who always serves me with a smile in her voice, but she just kept passing me. Day after day, I kept up my routine, left on Aspen right on Ash straight down three buildings into my booth by the front window. After the first two mornings, my coffee wasn’t waiting. After another three or four days, there were more empty booths. After a week, the pancakes smelled of rotten eggs and sour milk. I gave it one more day, and as I made my way left on Aspen right on Ash straight down three buildings into my booth, my frog was waiting for me, nearly invisible on the green vinyl.