Copyright © 2015 Karli Rush
If you haven’t had the chance to read The House then, here’s your chance… book 1 is free this weekend only! Amazon link
Deadwood Diner – part 1
Words have no power to impress the mind
Without the exquisite horror of their reality.
– Edgar Allen Poe
I step off the Greyhound bus and the moment my black military issued boots hit the ground, I breathe in the late autumn air. I roll my stiff shoulders back and rub out the cramped soreness from my aching neck. After fifteen months in Iraq, it’s hard to believe I’m just an hour and a half away from home. My whole career has been dedicated to one ambitious goal of SFC. Within ten years of hard ballbusting work, I’m there. Being deployed more times than I can even count and now, it’s time to relax.
Joining the Army was something I’d set my ever-lovin’ sights on since I was a boy. My grandfather and my father were both die-hard U.S. Army soldiers, and they both strictly ingrained in me ‘Be All You Can Be’ from day one. Living in a town like Waynesville, there’s really not a whole lot of options for anyone. The nearest college is here in Deadwood. Random managed gas stations and remodeled churches sprout up more or less on every block. I never saw myself growin’ up to be someone wiping windshields and pumping gas as a lifelong career and I certainly never thought I’d walk a saintly path to wear the fine untarnished shoes of a preacher. At one point in my high school years I had thought long and hard about going to college here, like so many others. However, to serve my country was deep-seated in my soul well before I could even utter the words ‘Affirmative’.
I swing my Army green duffel bag over my right shoulder and take in the old timey diner. A few cars are scattered here and there along the dimly lit parking lot. A bright, neon green sign hangs bravely and boldly outside, –Open— , inviting anyone and everyone inside. I’m expecting a buddy of mine to meet me here tonight. I’ll hitch a ride with him to Waynesville. Funny how some hometowns can give you the comforts of family, friends and familiarity. In this particular small town though, there is no familiarity. It’s always felt like that song by the Eagles, ‘You can check out any time you like—but, you can never leave…’ As my eyes graze over the red faded pickup and the unfamiliar cars, I realize my buddy is not here. Not yet, anyway.
Traveling down here sitting at back of the bus, I watched and took note of the population stats of each of the town signs that we would pass by. This town, Deadwood, doesn’t have the population status listed on their sign. Odd. I glance around and straighten the cap on my head debating my next move. I sure could use a bite to eat, maybe, just maybe, the food here doesn’t taste anything like Army grub. I find myself striding quickly toward the diner. My stomach is grumbling, knowing soon it’s fixin to sample some good ol’ home-cooking. A homey, robust smell of deep-fried foods and handmade pies wafts about as I near the doors. Above the brilliant, neon green sign the name of the diner flickers eerily. The words Ma and Pa’s looks burnt out and shadowed by the rustic, metal overhang. It’s almost like someone wanted to hide it.
An elderly man carrying a red and white checkered take-out bag hums near me. He throws a wordless nod my way and I return the gesture. His demeanor has me at ease with the place. He’s light on his feet and grinning like he’s carrying the next winning lottery ticket. I almost want to tell the waitress ‘I’ll have whatever he’s having’ and motion toward him. I take a seat at a vintage styled barstool.
“What will it be, sugar?” the waitress asks shoving a pair of black horned rimmed glasses along the bridge of her narrow nose. She matches the theme of the diner with her pinned up hairdo and old-school bold red lips.
“I’ll take a cup of coffee, ma’am,” I reply receiving the one page menu from her.
“Comin’ right up,” she spouts with a flirty smile and spins off in the other direction. The rise of lively chatter hovers in the midst of the late-night patrons, it isn’t bothersome, a laugh or a turn from a newspaper now and again. The sun has been down for hours now, and I get the feeling that most of these people in here are regulars. A weighty middle-aged man sits at the far end of the counter his judging eyes meet mine, he shifts his view to his plate like I would walk over and abduct his nightly addiction. I drift my own eyes easily away when I hear the jukebox on the other side start to play.
“You like Creedence Clearwater Revival?” a man, in a pair of dingy overalls sitting beside me asks. He scratches at the graying whiskers camouflaging his thin mouth, the fork drops from his hand as he pushes his empty plate away.
“I’ve heard a few of their songs,” I reply mildly, withholding my own childhood memories for my dad’s love of CCR. Listening to their songs repetitively one learns a few songs by heart naturally. There was one song that he listened to that I knew to leave him alone about and that was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Simon and Garfunkel. I never knew what stirred the multitude of emotions in him whenever that particular song played because he wasn’t the type of man to show emotions. Drifting off to the memory of a crinkly wallpapered dining room, I see a bottle of booze sitting on the table as the vinyl seventy-eight record spins on the turntable. Being so young at the time, I had no grasp on what the lyrics meant. Nor did I grasp why he listened to it as much as he did or what the meaning behind the song had held for him. I snap out of my past memories and glance over to the guy in the overalls as he taps on the counter with his calloused large hands.
“This song here…” He thumbs toward the old jukebox and says, “…was her song, my wife’s name was Mary Lou. She could cook the best daggum pecan pies, I swear!” He slaps the palm of his hand down and grins the biggest grin.
“It’s a good one,” I respond, watching amused with the look on his aging face. His bushy eyebrows scrunch together as his grin gets even bigger. He reminds me of the actor John Goodman, just older. And I catch the reference in tenses when he spoke of his wife. I don’t ask, it’s none of my business but it tells me why he’s here, eating at a late night diner, alone.
“So… what’s the special?” I ask pointing at the substandard budget menu. The perky waitress flips the coffee cup around and sits it upright on the tiny saucer and begins to pour my coffee.
“All of it’s good,” the man in overalls sitting next to me offers. He quirks his head to the side and adds, “Maybe not my Mary Lou’s but it’s worth its while.”
“All right then, I’ll have the cheeseburger, fries and a glass of ice water too.”
“You want the fixin’s?” the waitress quizzes while she jots down my order.
“You better save some room for our house special, Lemon Meringue pie, ya hear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” I hand her the tissue thin menu back and pick up my coffee cup. Testing it before I take a sip. It’s not scalding hot, but it’s damn sure strong. I cough a little, tryin’ to soothe the harsh stale taste down. I edge the coffee back to its saucer as she struts toward the kitchen area hollering out my order.“Walk a cow through the garden, on a rail, and one on the city.” She clamps her ticket on the order wheel and winks back at me. And then she busies herself setting up another table across from us on the side of the counter.
“So, you home on leave or somethin’?” the man asks and drags his fingers around the wiry whiskers along his beardy mouth. He pulls his large sizeable hand out from underneath his other stout arm and extends it toward me. “Name’s Raymond Thomson, but everyone around here calls me, Ray.”
I grip his hand firmly with my right hand and find myself surprised when I realize his grip isn’t like steel. It’s a considerate handshake, not tryin’ to prove anything.
“Nice to meet you, Ray. I’m Jason Knight,” I give him a small salute and add, “I guess you could say I’m between duty stations right now.”
A noticeable twinkle in his mousy eyes shimmer like a new dawn’s day as he says, “How long you been in the Army?”
“I joined as soon as I graduated high school, so… just a little over ten years. You know what they say, stick with what you love doing.”I explain as the gum-smackin’ waitress plops my plate of food in front of me.
“You needing anything else, sugar?”
I scratch the side of my temple and glance over the palatable food and shake my head. “No, ma’am, I think that’s it.” I peer up and inadvertently meet her eyes. They’re soft, but kinda drained like she’s had a few hard years of workin’ over-time. With her out-of-date specs it conceals somewhat the heavy lines underneath her whiskey colored eyes. Matter of fact, no one in this diner looks inexperienced in life by any means.
“You have family here or close by?” Ray wrangles out as he fumbles with some change in the center of his oversize palm.
“I do, some cousins and an aunt up in Waynesville. I grew up there, so, it’s still home to me,” I remark adding a shake of salt to the home fries and dump a hefty glob of Heinz ketchup on them.
He slides a dull simple quarter across the space between us and nods toward the silent jukebox.“On me, it’s my small way of sayin’ thanks for you putting your life out there for the sake of our beautiful country.” He pats my upper arm like a gentle giant and the second I move my perplexed gaze from the coin, he shoves it inside my hand. Urging me to accept his offer. I hop off the barstool without a fuss and leave my plate, my stomach complaining with each boot pounding step. I reach the marbelized plastic jukebox and stand, reading the list of songs. I stare back over my shoulder strangely, he wasn’t kidding about likin’ CCR because there wasn’t one song listed that wasn’t sung by Creedence. I shrug and slip the quarter in and press the button for ‘Bad Moon Rising’.
I’m not sure why I picked it, I liked it well enough, and it was listed at the top. I guess I just wanted to appease the man so I could hurry the hell up and eat. He taps his brown clad foot in time with the beat and grins approvingly. The song only lasts for a couple of minutes and then two more songs roll out, two that I didn’t pick. ‘Run through the Jungle’ belts out right after ‘Hello Mary Lou’, I keep my eyes downward and focus on my burger.
“I bet you’ve seen your fair share of…” Ray starts to grumble out but his prying words drop away as soon as a young woman stumbles inside the diner.
To be continued…