I wrote a story for this week, but due to its concept and the icons I designed, it’s more fitting to release that as Fiction Friday #5 next week. You’ll see why soon enough.
So I reached deep to craft a second offering under the pressure of a deadline. I came up with one by borrowing a title from a Richard Matheson story I recently read called “Dying Room Only,” in which the diner was called the Blue Eagle. The narratives are completely unrelated — his is dastardly, mine is pensive — but the name stuck with me for some reason. That location later connected with something my friend said about eating alone at a restaurant.
It’s funny what the mind comes up with when it’s given a place to start.
Stats: 546 words. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 43 seconds.
“Blue Eagle Diner”
Tony didn’t know how long he’d been driving down the lonely stretch of Interstate 15. The headlights of other cars occasionally passed in the other direction, and he tried to catch a glimpse of the drivers, wondering who was with them and where they were heading. It had been a while since the last car passed when he came upon a small diner made of bricks and windows — the Blue Eagle, according to the half-lit sign. Tony decided to stop since he didn’t know when he’d come across another reprieve in this desert.
The hot day had given into dusk as he entered the restaurant that consisted of five booths and a counter. The decor must have been the same as the day it opened half a century ago. The fresh smell of grease and coffee put Tony at ease.
The waitress took his order — black coffee and a hamburger, no pickles — right before an older man two booths down ordered the same. His weathered face probably couldn’t smile even if it wanted to. The wrinkles on his forehead made him appear perpetually in thought. Tony almost asked the man if he’d like to join him, but he didn’t want to intrude. Instead, Tony rubbed his eyes before resting his head in his hands, simply glad to be off the road for a change.
He didn’t rest long because the food came out right away. The waitress slid the coffee and burger in front of him, then walked the matching order to the other booth. The older man raised his head from his hands as the waitress served him his dinner. He looked up at her as if to say thank you, but his expression didn’t change a bit.
Tony watched him as he ate. He wondered how often he came to this diner, and from where since there wasn’t anything resembling a town nearby. He wasn’t wearing a ring, so he probably didn’t have a wife. Was he a widower? Was he ever married? Did he have kids? A family? The man just sat alone in his booth, drinking his coffee and chewing his hamburger with no pickles.
The gentle sound of a knife sliding across a plate caught Tony’s attention. In the corner booth behind him sat an elderly couple he hadn’t noticed before. They weren’t much on the eyes, but right away, Tony could tell they enjoyed their shared silence. They give each other a lazy smile as the woman took the man’s crackers for her soup and he took the tomato from her tuna sandwich to place it on his eggs.
Tony looked back to the old man in front of him. He was halfway through his hamburger when the waitress refilled his coffee. He looked up at her again with that blank, thankful face.
Tony sat between these two tables, examining his meal still waiting to be eaten. He picked up his hamburger and chewed his first bite as he looked outside at the Chevy that had brought him here.
He finished his food in silence, paid the bill, and walked outside into the balmy evening air. He took a moment to survey the open desert before him. Then he pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
“Dianna? It’s Tony.”