A DINER AT NIGHT • by Savannah Pearson

Six firemen slouch in oily booths, still sooty, roaring behind egg sandwiches. Fists bang, eggs burst and drizzle, and helmets spin around like tortoise shells. They wheeze, laughing, because new guy burned his tongue. “It’s third degree,” he moans, as they clap his back and clutch each other, trying not to choke.

Listening in the corner, an old married couple. Empty nesters, empty everything. The wife wears a brooch, silver bells. She cuts their omelet into warm yellow mouthfuls then goes back to her newspaper, jingling. The sallow husband lets potatoes sit in his mouth. He remembers a park in Iowa where the ducks had been very assertive. Whatever happened to those dumb ducks, he wonders, sneaking a peek at the stranger across from him. She keeps wiping his chin and sounds, somehow, like Christmas.

Oblivious at the counter, a poet scribbles. Elbows cold on marble, hair curling at the temples from dishwasher steam. Aloof, very aloof. Eraser shavings soar across chocolate chip pancakes, the menus, the clean dishrack below. Awful handwriting, the busboy thinks. He doesn’t complain because sometimes she mouths her poems in silence, and he likes reading her lips.

The cook, meanwhile, hides behind the tower of coffee cups to pause for a moment, just one moment, but in doing so, accidentally remembers Alina. That summer, her hands in his pocket, the rain on her red cheeks… He takes a deep breath and turns on the radio.

Meanwhile, the manager sits by the door and cannot balance the register. Her barstool teeters in the grout of the tile, under the low hanging lamp, beside the display of pound cakes. She feels the weight of her head, the swamp of twisted vessels and tight blue membranes, and wants to slop it all out onto the greasy plates, into the cups of orange juice. Tonight, she thinks. I’ll do it tonight.

Then the plastic emerald water glass rolls out from beneath the register. The manager looks around, picks it up. A film of dust and crumbs. She peers into the bottom, past food bits and dried saliva. Her hand raises the glass and aims it at the clock across the room. She pauses, squints through. Seconds tick by, green and mottled. The glass predicts:

Two slices of tomato, flies crawling. “Avocados should have gone extinct with the giant sloths,” the ten-year-old will say. The dad will scarf his bacon and nod, as if that is no surprise to him. Executives will loosen their ties, sigh, and order granola. Then tourists, who have been so many places already (they just biked the entirety of Iceland and can still feel it on their skin, the vertiginous open spaces, the snow-sheet wildflower madness)—

The glass clatters down and rolls back under the register. The manager stares ahead with wide eyes. The firemen catch their breath, sop up their sandwiches. They don’t notice it, but the window reflects them out into the street, levitating their table in ambient glows, car horns, no stars.

Okay, the manager thinks. Tomorrow.

Savannah Pearson is a writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, now living in Brooklyn, NY. She is interested in how storytelling may function to transform our relationship with nature and inspire collective action.

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