Shattered Afternoon Muse

Jeff sat near the large bank of windows at the front of the diner. In front of him, he held a cup of coffee between his hands. His eyes followed the passersby as they hurried by him. Few looked inside the diner as they marched past. The glass dissuaded most people from peering too closely if they did glance in his direction.

Jeff tipped well, so the small group of potential waitresses didn’t object to him lingering there until he drank five or six cups of coffee. Only one asked him why he enjoyed people watching there. Jeff smiled. “Watching people gives me an endless number of stories to tell. Each one who passes is his or her own universe, one which I get to populate in whatever way comes to me as my muse.” The waitress in question, Shirley, nodded, probably a little surprised by his unexpected answer. She’d seen a lot in twenty-two years of working at the diner.

This afternoon, Jeff had a couple of interesting stories. One older man who had walked past briefly opened his overcoat, revealing a silver pistol shoved into his waistband. A beautiful middle-aged woman had stopped nearby and surprised Jeff by lighting a cigarette. She dropped several things from her small purse. As she bent to retrieve them, her dress rose up, revealing lovely legs. When she stood back up, she looked directly at Jeff and winked. He winked back and nodded. She laughed and walked out of his view.

As Jeff sipped from his cup, a small blue Honda pulled up. The driver, a small man wearing an expensive suit, exited his car, leaving the driver’s door open. In his right hand, he held a small brick. Before Jeff could notice more details, the man swung the brick on the glass on the window about six feet from where Jeff sat. The glass cracked, making an odd popping sound. The man stepped back three or four paces and hurled the brick at the window. As the brick hit the window, it imploded, sending glass cascading inside.

The five or six customers inside turned their heads toward the window in surprise. The glass didn’t go far. Neither did the brick. It fell across the table in the next booth and then skidded to the floor.

Jeff stared at the man who threw the brick. Behind him, he heard Shirley say, “Damn it, Jim, not again!” The tone of her voice conveyed the accusation that he’d done it before. Shirley walked over to where the brick lay on the floor. She picked it up and threw it back out the window. It went further than Jeff anticipated. The man who threw the brick, presumably Jim, picked up the brick, cocked a finger at Shirley, and laughed. He turned, got into his Honda, and drove away.

Shirley turned to the register, where Jinny stood, a bemused look on her face. “Jinny, call Joe, and tell him Jim broke another window!” Shirley turned to Jeff and said, “Refill, hon?” Jeff nodded, unsure of what he had witnessed.

When Shirley came back over to refill his cup, Jeff exclaimed, “Are you going to tell me what that is all about?”

Shirley said, “Well, you’re always looking for stories. Jim is the brother of Joe who owns this diner. Jim breaks a window every year on March 22nd. So Joe takes the day off every year.” She smiled, knowing that although she answered his question, she hadn’t really.

“Okay…” Jeff stammered. “But why? And if he does it every year, why doesn’t someone stop him? Or warn us? Or close? Or whatever?” Jeff realized he sounded a bit foolish as he asked.

“Joe won’t say. He doesn’t call the police, and he won’t file insurance. It’s a big secret.” Shirley laughed. “Not the answer you expected, was it? Now it’s going to drive you crazy like it does the rest of us.”

“Well, I know where I’m going to be next year on March 22nd, Shirley. Right outside, waiting to ask him.” Jeff smiled, knowing that he would.

“Gotta have something to live for, Jeff. I guess I better clean up some of this glass before Joe gets here.” Shirley walked away, presumably to get a broom.

Jeff finished his cup of coffee and watched people look at the broken window as they walked. Curiosity filled everyone’s eyes as they looked. One younger man looked at Jeff as if to say, “What happened?” Jeff shrugged, pretending he didn’t know.

As Jeff stood up to leave, Joe came through the kitchen and around the long counter. To Jeff’s surprise, he was smiling as he looked at the damage.

Jeff laughed as he left. “Truth is stranger than fiction,” he told himself.

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