Tom slowly closed and opened his eyes to clear his mind. He surveyed his surroundings as he smoothed his left hand down the lapel of his suit jacket before he checked his wrist for the time. Despite the stillness that hung in the air, a chill seeped into him. The hazy shine of fluorescents glared out through the blanketed night and caught in Tom’s peripheral vision. The bus had long since left, and he needed somewhere to warm up while he waited for the next. With no other options in sight, Tom stepped out from under the awning of the bus stop and into the street where his black oxfords made a slimy click in the puddled water on his way to Nether’s World Diner.
As he neared the diner, he saw the place was packed and heard the tinny pulses of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” bleating out of the jukebox. Tom ran his fingers through his hair brushing out the drops of water that had condensed there from his walk across the street and opened the door. He prepared himself for the din of voices to overtake him, but all he heard was the scraping of cutlery on ceramic bleeding into the jangled instrumentation of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” as it switched places with the previous song. Tom looked around with skepticism but decided no one was talking because the food was that good.
“Please Seat Yourself” hung squarely on the hostess podium, but Tom couldn’t find an open seat anywhere. He craned his head to take a look at the place. No one looked at him as he took a gander at his fellow patrons. Families sat at booths along the windows, parties of 2 sat at the tables running along the interior of the restaurant, and those dining alone sat at the counter It seemed impossibly large, but there at the end of the counter, he saw a seat for a single occupant. Tom cleared his throat, squared his shoulders, and sauntered off to claim his seat.
“Hey there Tom, what’ll it be?” the waitress at the counter clicked between chews of gum. Her sable ringlets bounced and big doe eyes sparkled between chews.
“Well, I must be in Heaven if an angel like you has the omniscience to know my name,” Tom flirted. “How about a cup of coffee to help warm me up for starters and a slice of pie to sweeten to deal?”
“I’m no angel. Your name is right there on your jacket, darlin’, and we’re out of coffee,” the woman said, a crocodile smile lingering on her lips.
Tom glanced down to see the stark white “Hello, My Name is Tom” slapped onto the lapel of his jacket. He didn’t remember that being there, but he hadn’t checked a mirror since he woke up on the bus and stepped out into the dingy night. Another traveler must’ve thought it clever to put one on him to help others help him in case he needed a friendly face. In the long run, it didn’t matter. It’s always good to hear one’s name being called.
“Good observation,” he smiled back, “I’ll take a glass of sweet tea.”
“Sorry again, love. As you can see we’re pretty busy,” his new friendly face said as she motioned about the diner, “The pie we can do but about all we have left is some tap water.”
“That’s fine,” Tom replied, disappointment turning down the corners of his eyes.
The waitress nodded and turned to check on other customers before walking back to fill his drink order. Carly Rae Jepsen’s syrupy sythensizations of “Call Me Maybe” schmoozed their way through into Tom’s ears. He hated to love this song with its repetition and its banality and it’s adolescent eagerness and idiocy wrapped up sugar sweet sickness, but he couldn’t help but sing along every time the course came on.
“Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe. And all the other boys try to chase me, but here’s my number, so call me maybe,” Tom hummed quietly and drummed his fingers on the counter, a boyish smile playing about his lips. He spied the waitress pushing through the double doors carrying a small tray. Their eyes and smiles briefly met before she sat his order down.
Tom was still drumming the last cords of “Call Me Maybe” when he addressed the waitress, “Thank you, ma’am. By the way, I didn’t get your name.”
“The name’s Purgatory,” she grinned back, “but most people just call me Tory.”
Tory set the water glass down and slid the pie across to him, “You know, you’re pretty happy for a dead guy.”
The alarm bells that had been drowned out by grating sounds of pop music as the smell of rotten fruit hit him.
“Hope you like durian pie,” Purgatory purred. “You’ll be here for a while, and it’s about the only food we’ve left in the place.” She winked and headed for the empty table that just opened up.
Tom tried to catch the eyes of the couple that just walked through the door, a young man in a letterman jacket and a girl who couldn’t be more than 17, but Rebecca Black’s anti-charismatic auto-tuned vocals in “Friday” drowned his plea. Instead, a scraping sound of cutlery against ceramic filled the silence. He looked down and lifted the fork to his mouth.
Featured Image: Unsplash – “Open 24 Hours Sign” by FancyCrave (CC0 Public Domain)