4:00 at the Diner

It’s 4:00am again and I find myself reaching for the “Pull” side of the dingy entry door to the Diner in my head. I’m hungry for the “Early Bird Writer’s Special”; at least I tell myself that. I’m actually hungry to sit down and start my day of trying to crawl my way through the debris of my life.

I slide into my favorite booth, Number 6, and make sure that they’ve wiped off the remnants of the syrup and eggs that someone else undoubtedly has left there before me; usually I also find a lot of sticky bits of leftover ego that I have to wipe away myself, but I’m used to wiping away ego so it’s cool.

Deirdre, my favorite waitress, is on duty and this time wearing a little, flowery pink uniform. It looks like she stood under a vat of Pepto-Bismol holding a bunch of flowers and was soaked in it. The ash on her cigarette is unusually long this morning and her smeary, almost Pollock-style makeup is even more surreal than usual. I say nothing, though. Deidre could take me, and easily, as she is built like a freight train with steam powered bosoms.

She comes over and sighs, then snarls slightly, “Ok, Love–I see you’re back; what’ll it be today then?” I say, sluggishly (it’s early after all) — “I’ll take the Early Bird Writer’s Special, but make sure it’s under-done to the point of failure and please add a side of self-pity and, of course that wonderful self-loathing sauce….I need lots of that today darling.”

Deidre, in her usual flat tone; and, without shaking the ash from her ponderous cigarette, says “Be up in a minute, Love..just sit tight and be quiet…and leave that young lady over there alone. She’s trouble..and you know that, my darling so watch it!”

I immediately look and see that there is indeed, inside the 4:00am Diner of my mind, another lost soul. She sits at the counter and she has been watching me. Closely. And smiling back like, a party clown.

Deidre had noticed this and warned me: I stop and wonder about this for a moment–then the girl, long-legged and looking worse for wear, turns and dismounts her stool at the counter and makes the way…to both Number 6.

“Is this seat taken?”, she asks…with a voice that sounds like sweet cream and tobacco ash, “may I join you?”. “Uh, sure..?” I say hesitatingly, not expecting her to even be interested in sitting with me, and gesture for her to have a seat.

Her body almost flows into the seat.. She is tired, I can tell…and worn from life. She has on a jean jacket; ripped at the elbows and a t-shirt underneath that says something like “Take a chance on me” with holes in it. Don’t get me started on the worn out skirt and fishnet stockings she’s sporting either. She looks as if life and everything about it has run her over, backed up and run her down again. She puts one leg o the table and I see her bright orange stilettos are broken off at the heel but she doesn’t see to mind it.

“I’m Trace”, she says…sticking out her hand, encased in a fingerless, black glove. I shake hands with her and say “Well, you already know me I guess”. She nods of course, because she knows me well. I say to her, ” So Trace, why did you decide to come to the diner this morning, I was feeling pretty good. What’s the reason for your visit?”. “Come on, ” she smiles, leaning back against the booth, her t-shirt tightly pulled across her bosom as “Take a chance on me” slowly turns to say “Take Me”. “Remember, I’m your regret and loneliness, goofball!” I have to be here when you get the “Special…”

She’s right of course. Forgive me, it’s early and I’d forgotten.

And I remember. Trace is dead-on right. The “Special” doesn’t go down well without loneliness and she, the Trace of it, has to be there to remind me why I ordered it and to help me savor it.

Deidre appears with a tray, and less than pleased. “I told you to leave her alone!” she barks, “Now, you’ll be all day with her going on and on, and I have more customers to deal with”. The ash on her cigarette still refuses to fall.

And so, “Trace” begins as I look deep into the mirror Deidre has brought me once again. But, you see, this is the “Special”. It’s covered with the sauce of self-pity and doubt, and garnished with self-loathing as a side. “Trace” gets up and slides into the seat next to me, her hands reaching around me to hold me close. She begins to whisper as I gaze into the “Special”…..”remember being adopted and then rejected by your family? Mmm, that was a good one..How about the time when you got hit for the first time by your first wife in front of your kids and how small you felt as a man…and remember not being good enough for your kids–ever”, and she goes on and on and on into the night.

And as she goes on; I get smaller, and smaller, and smaller–until I disappear into that mirror; the one called “The Special”, and “Trace”, the traces of memory from my life of being alone or failed, swims along beside me in my mind’s pool of loneliness.

The “Special” went down as it was supposed to. No hiccups. And she helped me savor it. And I will always hate her for that.

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