The tenner

The steam from my coffee indicated it was still too hot for a first sip. Resisting the omnipresent urge to consult my cell, I inspected the others sitting in the diner with me. Loneliness hung in the air like a bittersweet syrup. They might as well have been thousands of miles away. Mine was not in any way an interested appraisal, just a way of passing time till my caffeine made the journey from lip-burning to just right and much too soon to tepid.

Definitely more singles than couples at the mid-morning hour on a dreary day. One group of four in shorts and gimme caps obviously forced off the links due to the unexpected downpour. Only interesting subject was an older man who kept pulling what looked like a small picture from his wallet. He would then shed a few quiet tears, bring it to his lips for a moment, wipe his face and, with a wistful smile, replace it in his wallet. One can only hope to be paid such tribute.

The revolver in my jacket pocket felt heavier and heavier as the minutes inexorably expired, wasted, unclaimed. The metal cold, hard, malevolent as I started to withdraw it. If only I had some truth to hold onto.

Then out of the corner of my eye, a man, his life, hurrying by outside the window. His image, contorted by the droplets on the pane, disjointed. He progressed haltingly, confused and unsure, marked by spurts and staggers, hesitant, then determined. Comical almost.

Hauntingly familiar, he turned toward the window and stepped into a small pocket of sunlight.

He was I!

Abruptly standing and hastily dropping a ten spot on the table, I hurried after the retreating figure, desperate. The stoop of the shoulders, the posture of leaning into a non-existent wind, the shambling gait, there was no mistake. What if I catch him?

He turned the corner and out of view. I broke into reckless flight, more comparable to a running from than a running toward. I couldn’t lose him! He may have the answer! Ignoring the stares of strangers, I swept around the corner like a race car on two wheels.

Nothing! The street was empty. An emaciated mutt, bolting from my sudden approach, was the only movement. I dropped to my knees and wept.

“Who left the tenner on the empty table?” asked Thelma.

From behind the counter, Ralph answered, “I guess whoever sat there last.”

“Nobody’s sat at this table all morning,” replied Thelma.

 

 

By Ted M. Moore