Love & Death
I was getting a bit sweaty from walking in the hot sun as the blue building in the dilapidated plaza came into view. I silently wondered why anyone would be interested in opening a business here. Everything in the diner had a sparkly new look to it. My nostrils burned like someone had soaked the entire building in a giant bucket of bleach; I chuckled at the mental image. I sat in a turquoise-colored chair next to a mint green and pink jukebox. I hit one of the buttons out of curiosity, but they did not push in.
An old man in a gray-stained apron made his way over to me. “Hi there, what can I do for you young man?” His smile seemed real.
“Well, I’m here about the help wanted sign in the window,” I said handing him the resume that I had stayed up all night writing in Microsoft Word and a stack of references from my teachers and the coach of the track team.
The man smiled warmly. “Don’t be nervous now, you have an impressive stack of references here,” he said as he pulled each one apart before setting the last one down and licking the tips of his fingers.
“I see your name is Mason,” said the old man reaching out his wrinkly hand to shake mine. “I’m Frank.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, taking note of his many liver spots and how small my hand actually seemed while in his grasp.
“Thank you!” was all I could think to say.
“Now, I cook all the food, and then when it’s ready I ring the bell and you bring it to the customers. Okay?”
“If it’s okay, you can start tomorrow,” the man said throwing a freshly washed apron in my direction. I caught it quickly.
Evening passed quickly as I was studying for an English literature exam. I crashed the minute my head hit the pillow. The alarm on my cell phone sounded. As a joke, my mother set it as a rooster crowing; I hated it, but I could never figure out how to turn the sound back to something more pleasant.
I threw on a pair of jeans, a red t-shirt, and my Converse. I was trying to mimic the outfit my boss was wearing yesterday. I didn’t own any tennis shoes. I bounded down the stairs, to find my mother in the kitchen. She was stirring scrambled eggs around in a frying pan.
“Good morning, Mom.” I smiled. “I don’t need anything. I’ll grab something at work. I gotta go!” She patted me on the back. I could hear her shouting something at me as I slammed the door.
The walk to the restaurant seemed to be a shorter the next day. I was honestly excited to start working. I was hoping for something a little less public, but maybe being a waiter would help me polish my people skills.
The sign on the restaurant door hadn’t yet been flipped to the “open” side. The lights were dim but working, and I could smell fresh coffee brewing and bacon sizzling.
Frank waved me over to the table. I noticed a piece of silver on his left ring finger. “Have ya’ had breakfast yet? I can fix ya’ somethin’ before we open,” he said, flashing me a genuine smile again. I scoured the menu. “Home fries, over easy eggs.”
“No problem, kiddo, you can join me for breakfast.” He jogged his way back into the kitchen. “Oh, and Mason could you put the napkins in all the dispensers and make sure we have enough jelly packets.”
I came to one table and noticed an old woman, her teeth were slightly yellowed, her eyes were bright blue. “Are you Frank’s wife?” I asked before I began the tedious task of stacking the jelly packets up one by one into a little plastic bowl in the center of the table.
She nodded her head, giving me the same friendly type of smile that her husband always wore.
When I finished napkin duty, I made my way over to the counter and sat at one of the stools to check my text messages. Frank placed a hot plate full of breakfast in front of me. The old man poured coffee in identical white mugs and he handed me a fork. I dug into my breakfast, unaware of how hungry I really was. I reached out to grab the pepper shaker. While using the white bread to soak up the delicious yellow goop, I noticed that Frank’s wife was still in the same exact spot where I left her.
Thinking she was shy, I made my way over to the table with a fresh cup of coffee in hand and sat it down next to her. “Hey, I’m here to help out during the summer. Let me know if you need anything, OK?” I smiled.
My grandmother got dementia in the last couple years of her life, and she became very detached. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what was happening to Frank’s wife. The thought made me sad.
I was helping the old man with some dishes, and I couldn’t hold back my concern. Thoughts of my deceased relative spending the last days of her life in a state of total confusion overwhelms me.
And against my better judgement I question the old man. “Today, I noticed your wife just sat in the corner. She didn’t even eat or get up to go to the bathroom. Is she OK? If you guys are in need of a home aide, I know some good people that helped my grandma a while back. I could probably make some calls for you.”
Frank stared at me for a moment and pulled out small Polaroid photo from his wallet. It was an old picture, the woman that had to be in her twenties and she was dressed in a way that reminded me of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.
“Is this her?” he said, his voice was shaking a little.
“Yes,” I said, my voice was hesitant.
“Mason,” he said, his voice matter-of-fact. “My wife died. One night, she wanted to go to Bingo… I didn’t want to go.” His voice began to crack with sound that is only true sadness. “I was playing poker that night, and so she decided to take the bus home. We only had one car. She was run over by a drunk driver; some frat boy on his way home from a party got off on a technicality because it was his first offense.”
He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I’m just really glad you see her too. I’ve been too afraid to tell anyone, I thought that I was going mad.”
The old man sat down in the corner booth next to the spirit of his wife. “Beverly, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, but whatever it is I’m listening.” We both began to cry. Just then, the old woman reached out and placed her spectral hand on the hand of her husband.
“Frank, I’ve come to take you with me. You’ve run your course here, there’s nothing more for you to do, and it’s time. It’ll be okay. Cinnamon is there and so is Mittens. They’re kittens again!” Her eyes glistened.
The old man turned to me and said, “never let go of true love. You’re young, and it doesn’t mean much, but you’ll know when you find your soulmate. And if you learn nothing else from me, please learn this piece of advice: your wife is always right.” He smile, that the ghost sitting next to him.
They walked out hand-in-hand.
I turned off the lights, and locked up the restaurant.