The restaurant’s radio blared oldies from its hidden speakers, Chuck Berry grinding out “Johnny B. Good” for yet another of its endless airings some six generations after its release. The waitress, Myra, didn’t even notice it as she absently bobbed her head in time. She was combining the sugar dispensers, filling them up. She filled the three empties from the bag in the station's cupboard and shook the fine grains from her apron.

Dwight, the fry cook, looked up from behind the ready counter, scowling at the empty tables. Myra walked between their gleaming Formica tops, passing out sugar in glass bottles, filling first the tables in the well-lit section that would be “smoking” later in the morning, then passing out to the tables in the darkened section on the other side of the pie cabinet and cash register.

She was soon back in the waitress station, regarding the pile of tableware waiting to be rolled up in napkins and set out front. An empty bin sat on the counter top in front of Myra. She fussed with the strings of her apron, setting them just right, looking up as the chime hanging over the diner door chimed. It was three forty-seven a.m. according to the clock in the waitress station. The drunks let out of the bars at closing time had coffee’d up and gone home, and the crowd coming to breakfast before work wouldn’t start trickling in for another forty minutes. But the customers coming in were not unexpected. One was a regular.

The tall young man might have been twenty or perhaps a little older. His head of curly golden hair stood out in contrast to the black trench-coat and heavy gray trousers bloused over his surplus combat boots. Most of the young men in the city had quit wearing trench-coats after the Columbine killings. This one had never been seen in anything else.

His companion was new, as always. “Pretty little thing,” Myra thought. Mousy hair almost pale enough to be silver. Her thin black denim jacket, worn Capri tights and black skirt were much too light for the weather. If she had been a little better kept, Myra might have wondered what she was doing out at that hour. She could not have been more than sixteen. But she wasn’t better kept, and Myra didn’t wonder. At least she was out of the cold.

The young man nodded towards the dimly lit section of the restaurant. Myra frowned, but nodded. He then held up two fingers, draped his arm around the girl’s shoulders and led her to the booth farthest back.

Dwight stood with hands on his hips and gave Myra a hard look, and she shrugged as if to say “What can you do?”, as she gathered two cups and saucers, a bowl of creamers and a fresh pot of coffee onto a tray.

She took the tray back into the dark half of the restaurant. This part of the restaurant wouldn’t open until a quarter to six, when Betty, the other morning waitress, came in. The young couple was in back booth, the one you couldn’t quite see from the door.

Myra poured the coffee and the young man held up a hand. A new two dollar bill and an old, worn-out single. She took them and set the pot down on the table. Two bottomless cups of coffee, a dollar forty-nine each. Myra went up front and rang up the ticket. She tossed the two pennies into the cup by the register. The radio blared Buddy Holly's “Peggy Sue” and Myra wondered if it wasn’t just slightly off station.

Bud, the paper guy, came in with a stack of USA Today to replace the one bare copy still on the counter, and Myra got him a fill-up in his big plastic mug, gratis as usual. They chatted a minute, and if Bud noticed the two invisible bodies clutching together in the darkness, he gave no hint of it in his eyes.

Bud left and Myra went back to prep work, rolling the silverware into napkins at the waitress station and stacking them into the bin next to the empty coffee pots. Dwight still scowled at her when he looked up to check front, but Dwight was busy stirring grits and mixing pancake batter. Dwight always scowled.

Myra had often thought that waitressing sucked. The hours were bad and her feet always hurt. Tonight, however, Myra was glad of her job. She looked into the gloom across the restaurant. No sounds managed to emerge from around Jerry Lee Lewis as he hammered through “Great Balls of Fire” to betray its occupants. There were worse things than waiting tables, and that kept you out of the weather. A light splatter of icy raindrops played across the front windows.

The couple came out of the darkness a few minutes later, the girl glassy-eyed, following the gentle lead of the young man’s arm around her shoulders as he led her out the door. They crossed with the first of the early morning regulars, a delivery driver—the jacket proclaimed him Stan—who'd just come off his shift.

Myra seated Stan and got him coffee, and a menu he’d look at for at least ten minutes before he’d order two eggs over easy and grits, like every morning. Then she headed over to the far side of the restaurant—flipping on the lights as she passed—a damp rag ready in her hand.

Two empty coffee cups and two empty creamer tubs lay scattered about on top of the two crumpled five dollar bills. She’d split those with Dwight, who’d scowl but stuff the five into the trouser pocket behind his greasy apron quick enough. The radio finally brought on something mellow, The Twilights.

There were only four or five drops of blood scattered on the table, though there was more across the booth’s bench. Its vinyl covering was smooth and uncracked. It all came off with a few quick wipes of her cloth. Myra took the dirty cups and the still full pot of coffee back to her station, and thought about the girl. She hoped the day didn’t stay too cold outside.

# # #

Stains by Michael D. Turner
originally published January 18, 2010



Michael D. Turner is a writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. His writing has appeared multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Aberrant Dreams, AlienSkin, Between Kisses, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman.

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visit his Big Pulp author page


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