You should be sitting here, in the diner booth opposite me.
The seatback is a little stiff, straight pine, stained to look like maple. The table is bit snug, but it wouldn’t be for you. Maybe it was just your presence, but you appeared taller, more substantial, yet I was able to wrap one arm around your waist and place my hand flat against your belly. Maybe it was your hair. I could find you in a crowd anytime just by looking for your hair. It shined.
There should be a cup of coffee across from me. And your hand around it, not ladylike with a manicured finger through the handle, but gripped from the other side like you drink coffee at a camp from a metal cup, with your feet still in your unlaced hiking boots and your bare Mickey Spillane legs running up into your shorts.
You remember Mickey Spillane. All his blonde bombshells had legs that ran up to there. You’d walk across a room with long strides, confident, stunning, and everyone in the room would notice.
And you’d be sitting there with that beautiful, crooked smile, and a few strands of hair unruly against your cheek and your sparkling eyes.
I worked in a place like this as a kid, in a roadside diner on an old main road in Upstate New York. It was attached to a night club run by gangsters, and half the help were criminals on a work release program.
We’d get mostly truckers hauling freight or milk from nearby farms, or gasoline from the smelly tank farm that left a rainbow sheen on the river. The truckers would sit at one of the counter stools and drink coffee from mugs they held in grubby, massive hands without using the handle and pile eggs and ham and beans into their mouths while they talked about the Yankees, bad transmissions, low pay and the goddamn lousy roads. Their red caps would be stained black with oil along the rim and brow, and one spot where their thumb landed was worn through to the lining.
On weekends we’d get the drag-racing crowd. They’d slam their pick-ups and trailers all over the parking lot cross-wise and cover all the spaces, and then end up parking along the narrow road, which would get the state cops all riled up.
The racing fans would show up in a wave, all at once, fill all the seats with a roaring chatter, swig beer and order burgers and fries with gravy and try to get the waitresses to join them in the men’s room for a quickie. Then they’d be gone like a flock of magpies, plates picked clean, sucking the noise from the room as they left, leaving silence as they got to the parking lot and revved the V-8s and burned rubber, heading south.
This place is not like that place. It is more suburban, quieter, more refined.
Maybe if we met at a place more like the other, it would have stuck. We would have laughed more, been louder, freer; our legs would have touched under the table, and that smile of yours would have been more of an evil, teasing grin. And we would have leaned across the table again and again and whispered the secret things we knew. Your cheek would have been soft to my touch and the waitress would have interrupted our staring by sticking the coffee pot between us and saying, “Let me warm that up for ya, Honey.”
Instead we met in a place like this, with lace curtains and news shows on the televisions, a more polite place where the waitresses call neither of us “Honey,” but call me “sir” and you “ma’am;” a place mannered, more shielded, where appearances matter more than substance; a place too calm for uncertain lovers. A place where we sat more upright in a hardbacked booth, a place with nervous eyes.
There should be a coffee cup across from me, waiting to be filled. There should be a spoon centered on a paper napkin, a handful of creamers, and off to the side, a menu wrapped in thick plastic.
I should be able to tell the waitress it’ll be just another minute or two.