I recognized the waitress. Allison or Anna.
“Hey, how are you? Haven’t seen you in a while,” she said.
I took off my heavy winter coat and scarf and settled into the diner booth. “Fine. I haven’t seen you in a while, either. What kind of trouble have you been getting into?”
She smiled and took out her order pad. Her name tag said Amanda. “I just got back from vacation. Spanish omelet with cheddar and home fries on the side? Where have you been?”
“And buttered whole wheat toast, yes. Nowhere special.”
“Hot tea with lemon?”
I folded my scarf and slipped it under my coat on the seat to protect it. The scarf was a gift from my wife. “That’s uncanny. How long have you been able to read minds? What color am I thinking of right now?
“That’s easy — blue.”
“Now I’m getting nervous. Maybe you really can read minds. ”
She laughed. “If I could, I would have done better on my philosophy final. I know my regulars. Besides, you’re a guy. Guys always think of blue. You’re wearing a blue shirt and blue pants and, let’s see, blue socks and you have blue eyes. It’s not like we need Sherlock Holmes to figure this one out, right?”
“Not even Watson. So where did you go?”
“Rock climbing in California.”
“Wow. Have you done that before?”
“Never. I was scared shitless.”
I laughed despite myself. “But you did it, anyway. ”
She filled my water glass. “I really did. My boyfriend is experienced and he coached me. We practiced on an indoor rock wall before the trip.”
I took a sip of water. “Was it the same thing?”
“Not even close.” She ran a hand through her short dark hair. “It was beautiful up there in the mountains with the sky and the view and everything but I hardly noticed it. When you’re climbing, you just focus on every hold on the wall in front of you — or at least I do. I’ll tell you the hardest and scariest part.” She spotted someone waving to her from a crowded booth. “But first I’ve got to go feed the people.”
I watched her work. She moved gracefully between the tables and booths. I could picture her climbing.
“What was I saying?” she asked as she placed my breakfast and a fresh bottle of ketchup on the table a few minutes later.
I shook the stubborn bottle, tapped it on the bottom and then poured too much ketchup on the omelet and home fries. I checked to see if my coat and scarf got splattered but they were okay. “You were about to tell me about the hardest and scariest part.”
“Oh, yeah.” She scanned the booths and tables to see if anyone needed anything. “That’s when I had to do a dyno. I thought I was going to buy the farm. I could have, too. It’s a long way down. And no soft landings on a padded floor like at the indoor rock wall. Just me going splat.”
I looked down at the omelet and ketchup.
She laughed. “You’re right, I would have looked just like that.”
“Thanks for the visual.” I took a bite of my toast. “So what’s a dyno?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute. Be right there, ma’am…”
She tended to her other customers and then stepped outside for a quick smoke. It was cold out there and I could see her through the glass of the front door walking in place to stay warm. The smoke was almost blue.
“I looked it up,” I said when she came back in and refreshed my tea. I could smell the cigarette on her. “According to my smartphone, a dyno is ‘a climbing move in which the climber lunges or leaps to the next hold.’”
She frowned. “They make it sound easy. You have to almost let go and then literally take a leap of faith.”
“Yeah, right? I was praying to him, Allah, Buddha, Zeus, and everybody in between when I did it. Need anything else?”
“No, I’m good.”
She disappeared through the swinging doors into the kitchen and emerged carrying four trays of breakfast that she delivered to a large table in the back. Then she paused to write up my order on the counter and returned with the check. “Hey, I haven’t seen your wife in a while, either. How is she?”
I had been hoping she wouldn’t ask. It’s so much easier when they don’t ask. “She passed away a few months ago.”
“Oh my God, I didn’t even know she was sick.” Her face reddened. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I put on my coat and carefully tied my long scarf. “It’s okay. A lot of people don’t know. I haven’t been out and about much this winter.”
“I’m so sorry. She was such a sweet woman.”
Amanda went off to take care of her other customers while I paid my bill at the front register. My wife never smoked or went rock climbing, and the only leap of faith she ever took was on me, but she still died way too young of lung disease. I didn’t need my smartphone to look up the word irony. But I was glad to learn the word dyno because getting through each day without her was just like doing one.
Robert Douglas Friedman’s stories have appeared in Story Quarterly, Narrative, Slow Trains, and numerous other publications.