Beer

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On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On noises.

Published December 15, 2013 by mandileighbean

WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #8: “While relaxing on his porch swing, a pig farmer hears a tremendous crash in a nearby field.”

Bob Jones was a farmer who had seen and done many things in his less than extraordinary life.  None of his endeavors had been exactly noteworthy, nothing to write home about as they say, but he had one or two anecdotes that could be employed over beers, or to stave off the ever-lurking awkward silence, that were, at the very least, quite entertaining.  With his boot heels resting on the wooden railing of his rambling front porch, Bob looked out upon the burning, setting sun.  It had been a long, hard day, filled with menial maintenance and more extensive manual labor – fixing broken fences and unreliable machinery – that left his body sore in a special, fulfilling way.  He could feel heat coming from his face in waves and knew that it’d be nice and crisp come tomorrow.  Despite the aches and burns, Bob felt good, really good.  The embarrassingly antiquated radio on the floorboards beside him was crackling out some cover of Hank Williams, Jr.  It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t completely terrible, so Bob tolerated it and after a verse or two, actually began to believe the song added to the atmosphere perfectly.  He was at peace with everything and everyone around him and at this particular moment, that was enough.  He took a long, steady drink of beer from his favorite mug, which he had frosted all day for this very occasion.

All that he cherished of the day was shattered in one loud metallic crash that chilled Bob to his core.  It was big, it was bad, and it was loud – it was a cacophony that announced the arrival of something awful and unnatural, something like death.  In the impending, eerie silence, Bob got to his feet slowly and stood simply, straining his ears for more, for some kind of screams, some kind of sirens, some kind of logical continuation.  It did not seem possible for the displeasing and varied sounds of chaos to sound so suddenly without some rational conclusion.  The silence made it worse, left the ending open to be written any kind of way.  Bob waited a moment more before taking off, bounding down the steps to the soft dirt.  He pumped his arms and legs past the stables, past the barn, through the rows of corn, and damn near tore up the field of grain that marked the end of his property, along which lazily snaked a country road that led to a small town with a single stoplight.  It was all Americana and perfect and picturesque.  But the crash had been as mighty as a resounding tear in the fabric of reality itself.  His lungs burned from the effort, his chest heaved, and his already aching muscles were singing, but he ran and ran until he spotted what he assumed had caused the commotion.

What had once been a beautiful, jet black sports car was now nothing more than twisted hunk of metal.  The car had plowed into a post well beyond the shoulder and such an excess of speed that it had impossibly wrapped itself around it, been morphed and warped into fragments that could not possibly be combined into anything of use, let alone a vehicle.  Steam was billowing from where the engine would normally reside and Bob assumed the car was moments away from catching fire.  In a moment’s decision, he hurled himself forward to the driver’s side.  Had anyone survived, Bob would have to extract him or her and pull them to safety, far from the explosion waiting to happen.  Bob had underestimated his speed and could not gracefully slow to a halt at the window.  He collided against it, breathless and sweating and terrified.  He looked through the opening where the window should be.  It was open, not shattered, and had been securely rolled down and away.  As a result, there was nothing separating Bob from the horrific tragedy before him; only air.  Slumped against the wheel was the terribly young and beautiful face of a man.  It was smeared with blood, and his dark hair was matted with it, but his green eyes shone bright, sparkled and gleamed through the absolute carnage.  His rusted-orange tee-shirt hung loosely on his thin frame so that Bob could see his chest falling rapidly.  His breathing was rapid, but the rest of him was still, as if this young man had already resigned himself to a particular fate.  He was dying.

“Hang on, man,” Bob yelled.  Later on, he would wonder why he yelled.  He had no other noise to shout over.  “I’m going to call an ambulance, just stay with me!”

The young man did not stir and in no way acknowledge that Bob had spoken, let alone yelled.  He stared at a landscape Bob could not see; all Bob could ascertain that it was somewhere near the lower left side of the man’s vision.  He licked his lips and wheezed, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Bob replied automatically and Bob was always glad he said that.  “I’ll be right back, I have to get to the phone.”  Bob reached in with every intention of squeezing the young man’s shoulder, of providing the poor guy with a human connection, the comfort of a human touch, but Bob thought better of it.  He would be horrified if he somehow further injured the already decimated body or, worse, inadvertently killed him.  Bob took off again, running as fast as he possibly could, when a second catastrophic noise filled the air.

It was the car exploding.  It burst into flames.  Bob turned slowly and dropped to his knees.

porchswing

On being rich.

Published October 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

The older I grow, the more I believe that life truly does have a rather funny way of helping one out.  I am fortunate enough to find myself in winning situations more often than not.  For example, my dad offered to take me to see a film and then out to eat on Friday night.  My little brother came along, and we saw “Runner Runner” with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.  The movie was thoroughly entertaining (and I found Ben Affleck to be particularly engaging … and handsome) and as we were walking out of the theater, we were all intrigued by a small crowd outside.  They were all females; seven teenagers and two middle-aged women.  Dad, being the ultimate nosey body, asked what was up, and one of the women admitted they were in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently, the women had dinner plans and purchased tickets for the teenagers to see “Prisoners.”  However, because the movie was rated R, the employee who had sold the tickets insisted an adult over twenty-one years of age accompany the girls for the duration of the film and assured the women there would be a theater check conducted to prevent any kind of circumvention.  Dad started laughing because I had in fact argued for seeing “Prisoners,” even though he had already seen it with my little brother a week or so ago.  There I was, offered an opportunity to see a movie I was very anxious to see, for free.  It isn’t a cosmically epic moment that decides the fates of nations or anything as brilliant, but it is a moment nonetheless.  It is also the kind of moment that is readily and often attainable.  I wonder if I shouldn’t chase small smile moments such as those, rather than scenes from silver screens.

I know I’ll chase both.

 

WEEKLY PROMPT #3: “Four men decide to rob a bank.  Two of the men intend to take all of the money, even if it means killing their partners.”

bankrobbery1THIEVES

Harvey sat at the end of the emptying bar, a tumbler of warming whiskey before him.  He held his face in his hands, calloused palms scratched by the thick, rough bristles of hair coating his jawline and chin.  It had been a while since the last time Harvey had shaved, most likely because it had been a while since the last time Harvey had identified any reason to shave.  Pride in personal appearance had a tendency to go by the wayside when one found himself unemployed and miserable.  It was that exact desperation that had led him here, to this seedy bar.  Jeff, a buddy from Harvey’s old job, had stopped by the apartment to see how Harvey was making out.  The accumulated trash and lack of even basic maintenance had concerned Jeff, and so he sat Harvey down and shared a detailed yet outrageous plan to rob the local bank.  Harvey had scoffed until her saw the serious lines of Jeff’s face pull together in an almost convincing display.  Inexplicably outraged, Harvey had leapt to his feet and roared about laws and safety and the improbability of making it out of there alive, let alone with the money.  Jeff had persistent, however, and calmed Harvey down and inspired him with a dangerous kind of optimism that only desperate and miserable men are capable of.  Thus, Harvey had followed Jeff to the Bar Miraculous to meet with the others, some guys named Ben and Matt that Harvey had never seen before.  Ben was big and brawny, an intimidating fellow who seemed to dutifully follow Matt wherever and whenever.  Matt was significantly smaller than his counterpart, and to see them seated beside one another at the bar would have made John Steinbeck nostalgic for his ranchers in Soledad.

The men had sat side by side at the bar, four in a row.  They rarely, if ever, made eye contact with one another, and they talked out of the sides of their mouths, although Harvey hadn’t said a word.  He had only nodded or grunted to show his approval and consent.  The plan had been developed mainly by Matt, with Jeff tweaking and augmenting here and there as he seemed to be more familiar with the area and even the employees.  The next course of action was to meet at Matt’s apartment in two nights, to case the bank the night before.  They would also discuss further details and tighten any and all loose ends; dot the Is and cross the Ts as it were.  Suddenly and simply, Matt and Ben had excused themselves and left.  Jeff clapped Harvey on the shoulder and headed to the restroom.  Thus, Harvey had been left to his own devices, to sit and drink and think.  He wasn’t sure how he felt, how truly on board he was.  Robbers never got away with it, not even in the movies, and they were not professionals by any stretch of the imagination.  They were bums, average Joes who had suffered no great tragedy, but only wanted more than what they had faster than they could acquire it.  Planning to rob a bank did not make them some antiheroes or anything as glamorous.  It did not make them intelligent or brave.  If anything, it defined them as lazy and cruel and dumb, dumb for taking such an absurd risk.  They were no Dillinger, seemingly stealing from the rich.  They were the poor so they would take and keep for themselves; where was the honor in that?  Amidst Harvey’s existential sort of crisis, Jeff returned.  There was the familiar clap on the shoulder and groan of the aged, wooden bar stool as Jeff reclaimed his seat.

“So what do you think?  How are you feeling?”

Harvey shrugged and took the tumbler before him in his hand.  Rather than sip from it, he moved his wrist to swirl the alcohol and he pensively watched the liquid lap against the sides.  “I don’t know, man.  It’s awfully risky.”

“It is,” Jeff conceded, “but look at us, man.  Look at our lives, for Christ’s sake.  We work too God damn hard to be this fucking poor.”  He drank deeply from the bottle before him.  “Shit, they kicked you to the curb.  How long do you figure you’ll kick around, practically begging for a job, any job, even if it’s below your pay grade and skill level?  What way is that for anyone to live?”

“I agree, you know I do, but –”

“Matt has everything figured out, Harvey.  He has it timed to the fucking second, I shit you not.  As long as we stick to the time table, we’ll be fine, just about untouchable.”  Jeff smiled.  “What have you got to lose?”

Harvey was not amused.  “Oh, I don’t know; my life?  My freedom?”  In fact, Harvey was only sarcastic and bitter.

“It’s a solution to a problem,” Jeff persisted.  “We need money, so we take money.  We’re talking enough to get the hell out of dodge and start over.  We can be whoever we want to be.  We don’t have to be losers who go home alone night after night in cars that barely start in clothes off the clearance rack.”  He looked down at the wooden grain of the countertop of the bar.  He lowered his voice.  “And if we knock off Matt and Ben, pin it on them and silence them, we can get away scot free.”

Harvey’s eyes went wide.  “What?”

“The only thing holding you back is getting caught, right?  Of course it is; that makes sense!  So let’s eliminate that and we are suddenly completely uninhibited!”

“Stealing is one thing, Jeff, but murder is another.  I can’t –”

“You’re going to go all noble on me, really?  Do I have to remind you about the office Christmas party?  Nancy was all sorts of messed up, but that didn’t stop you from –”

“Shut up,” Harvey said.  He had intended it to be a command, but it had been more of a desperate plea.  That’s all he was, was desperate.  Jeff knew it, and seized upon the opportunity.

“Come on, man.  They’re nothing to us.  We could be doing the universe a karmic favor.  What do you say?”

Harvey looked at himself for a long, long moment in the cracked mirror above the shelves of liquor.

bankrobbery

On archetypes and assumptions.

Published September 4, 2012 by mandileighbean

I have to be at the high school around 7:30AM tomorrow.  I really am excited for the school year and to be teaching full-time.  The only aspect I’m currently apprehensive about is waking up before 9:30AM, as has been my habit the last month.  Also, I’ve been suffering from insomnia lately, tossing and turning for at least an hour before falling asleep that is restless and broken.  More often than not, I pop an irritated open to see the neon green lights of my alarm clock glowing an absurdly early time.  I know I will be exhausted, but I’ll just have to power through it; no big deal.

Well, I say it’s no big deal but that is easier said than done.  I know my anxiety comes from the upcoming academic year and I have yet to figure out how to master my own emotions.  Does that come with age, or does that elude us all for forever and ever, amen?

I finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth today.  It was highly entertaining and there were times where I had to physically force myself to put it down.  The characters were well-developed and I admired the allegorical aspect of the novel, as well as the adult themes that were presented and successfully tackled, despite the novel’s Young Adult label.  I’m not sure if I’ll read the others in the series, and I’m not sure if that fact detracts from my glowing review.

I started running again.  My goal is to be able to go to where the pavement ends, and then back again.  I was able to do it about a year ago, and I remember how amazing it felt to be sore, to try on clothes and have them fit, and to feel pretty.  I did gain back some of the weight I lost, but the trick is to not let it get me down, and to stop the bleeding; start losing instead of continuing to gain.  My mantra this time around is “I want to look the way I want to feel when the man I love takes me in his arms.”  I know my friends will say that I shouldn’t lose weight to impress the opposite sex, and that it is a personal decision I should make for myself, and they are right.  But I am also a realist; how will anyone find me attractive if I don’t even find myself attractive?  There is a certain kind of confidence and appeal that goes along with looking good and feeling good.  That is what I’m truly after.

I haven’t heard anything about the editing process for my novel, so I sent an e-mail politely asking for an updated.  In turn, I will keep you all updated.  I’m anxious to hold a copy in my hand, to begin marketing myself and my dream and my passion.

I love when I walk into my bedroom and “Thunder Road” is playing.

PROMPT: “I’ll have an egg-white omelet and a side of sausage.  And a beer, if you’ve got one.”

PIECE: I watched the man in the paint-splattered jeans mosey on up to the counter, his flannel shirt stretched tight across a pronounced belly.  His trucker hat sported greasy thumbprints along the brim, and he could use a good shave.  I smiled brightly enough, always keeping tips in mind, even though I had dismissed him as a vagrant, as just another truck driver passing through.  Their faces seldom repeated, though their stories were eerily similar.  They’d been on the road for months and were either running back home, or running from their loneliness.  The trick to handling such customers, and how to get awesome tips, was to listen patiently with a sad, but understanding smile.  These guys ate it up every time.  Oozing confidence in my pheromones – or at least, I felt like I was – I walked in front of the man who had just entered the diner, immediately pouring him a cup of coffee.  Not yet meeting his eyes, I smiled wide and asked, “What can I get for you today, buddy?”  Buddy was an excellent moniker; truckers used it among themselves regularly, so it helped me give the impression that I was an insider, almost one of them.

“I’ll have an egg-white omelet and a side of sausage.  And a beer, if you’ve got one.”

I stopped pouring, even though the cup was nowhere near full.  Wide-eyed and bearing an incredulous smile, I met the trucker’s eyes and let a small laugh escape me.  He had to be kidding.  It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.  “A beer?” I asked, repeating his order so he could hear it back and recognize the insanity within.

“Yeah, if you’ve got one,” he said, cool as could be, like it was the most normal thing in the world to order at the breakfast counter in a diner in a small town before the hour of nine.

“Um,” I say, trying to be careful with my words and being unable to stop myself, “it’s not even nine o’clock, yet.”

The trucker smiled and dropped his gaze.  It wasn’t an act of submission; it seemed to me like he was feigning humility, like he was finally acknowledging the social taboo he was committing.  “Darling, if you knew the night I’d had, you wouldn’t begrudge me a beer.”  His eyes rose to meet mine, and at the utter sadness that tinged the edges, I felt my heart ache.  Whatever had happened to this man was terrible, and he believed it warranted a beer.  Who was I to argue?  Besides, I was looking to cash in on the tip and the first rule of customer service is that the customer is always right.

“Let me see what I can do,” I offered.  Before I hurried to the back, I finished pouring his coffee, set out the creamers and sugar, and gave his hand a gentle squeeze.  I asked Rick, the manager, if it’d be okay and Rick poked his head out from the swinging doors of the kitchen, scanning the counter.  His assessment of the man must have been that he seemed harmless enough, because Rick nodded and then promptly continued shouting at the kitchen staff.  I left to the sanctuary that was the fridge and grabbed an amber bottle.  Lucky for me, we only carried one brand.  I returned before the customer with the odd request, opened the bottle using the hem of my uniform and handed it to him.  “Here you are,” I smiled.

“Thanks, darling; this is greatly appreciated.”  The man drank from the bottle like he had never done so before and never would again; like that beer in that diner was all that mattered.  I watched him with growing fascination and growing curiosity.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what was it that gave you such a thirst so early in the morning?”  I lean against the counter casually, so it looks like I’m talking to a friend with genuine concern, rather than humoring a customer.

His eyes roam over me, but not in a creepy, perverted way.  He was measuring me up, trying to make sense of me.  His brows furrowed for a moment before he said, “How about you run and put my order in and then I’ll tell you all about it?”

I blush deeply – what a rookie mistake – and quickly scrawl a ticket, running it back to the line.  When I return, the customer who has so consumed me is drinking again, drinking deeply from the beer bottle.  The coffee remains untouched.  I grin, perhaps admittedly somewhat impressed by such a display of manly tolerance, and resume my lean.  “Okay; I’m all ears.”

He set the bottle down and preferred to tear at the already peeling label, soaked from condensation, rather than make eye contact.  “Well, darling, if I am to be perfectly honest – and that is something I pride myself on – then I was on a romantic date with a pretty young thing, not unlike yourself.”  I smiled and bowed my head in recognition, just like I was expected to.  I’m not sure if he saw it because he was so preoccupied with getting the entire label off cleanly, in one long, exaggerated rip.  “I got myself all dolled up.  I bought new cologne and everything, had the flowers and the candy all ready and raring to go, and would you believe it?  She never showed.”

I gasped dramatically.  “You’re kidding,” I said.

“I wish I was, darling; I wish I was.”  He paused a moment, maybe to collect his thoughts or to let the weight of his sentiment settle properly over the conversation.  “I was hurt, like any man would be.  I felt I deserved an explanation.  So I drive over there and I’m going to knock on her door when I notice the curtains for the front window are wide open and that I can see into her living room.  I look – I couldn’t help it – and there she is, sucking on the neck of some guy I had never seen before.”

I frowned, offering up my sympathies.  I asked, “Had you been together long?”

“We had been closing in on a year.  I thought I was going to marry that woman and have a beautiful family.  But she had other plans, and boy, did I feel like a fool.  I needed to give her and him a piece of my mind, so I banged on the door.”  The label came off in a loud, aggressive tear and I jumped, startled by the sound.  He didn’t look to me.  He kept staring at the bottle and when he spoke next, it was in a dead sounding tone.  “She let me in and I was screaming loud enough to wake the dead- I mean, loud enough to wake the neighbors.  I grabbed her shoulders but I didn’t do it hard, just so I knew I had her full attention, and that’s when the guy came up behind me and started choking me, pulling me back.”  He looked to me and he must have seen something in my eyes and in my expression that verified the authenticity of my attention.  He leaned forward.  “Do you know what I did next, darling?”

I shook my head.

“I killed them both.”

I leaned back from him, terrified.  Rationale and logic returned soon, and I smiled, though it was most certainly skeptical and didn’t quite meet my eyes.  “You’re putting me on,” I accused, though I did my best to keep my tone playful.  His expression didn’t change – it was still intense and terrifying – but I threw my head back and laughed.  There was no way he was a murderer.  There was no way I was in any danger.  Those things only happened in melodramas created for the television, cinema and literary scene.  “Oh boy,” I said, laughter subsiding, “you had me going there.”  I slapped the counter with my palm.  “I’ll go check on your omelet and sausage.  I’ll be right back.”  I offered him a wink and departed.

As soon as I was out of his sight, my knees buckled and I had to grip the nearest counter edge for support.  Rick heard the metallic clatter and turned.  He nearly ran to my side and grabbed my elbows, raising me to my feet and offering support.  “What happened, Angel?  Are you okay?”

“That guy,” I said, suddenly breathless and feeling like I could wail, “that guy who ordered the beer, just confessed to killing two people.”

I expected Rick to do what I did; to laugh and dismiss it as insanity, but something about my appearance must have scared him.  “Where is he?” he asked.

“He’s sitting at the counter – he’s the only one there.”

Rick left me momentarily and when he returned, he looked confused.  I could understand – the guy looked like any other driver, weary from the road and looking for a meal.  He slipped his fingers under my chin and raised it, ensuring we were making full eye contact.  He licked his lips, like his mouth had suddenly gone dry, and he said, “Angel, there isn’t anyone at the counter.”

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