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Hoping for the Best
By Jeff Connerton
I knew he was bad news from the start. Perched in the corner booth at the back of the diner, he waited, tracking my every move with hungry eyes as I replenished a water glass and fetched a spoon for other patrons, all minor delays in my inevitable arrival at his table.
He was my last customer of the day. It had been a long shift, my feet were killing me, and my mind was set on a pint of Häagen-Dazs and a black-and-white classic from the late '30s. I closed my eyes and prayed: "Please, please make this short and sweet." When I opened my peepers, I was five feet away, and that's when I saw it, a sign from heaven that things might go my way. He was wearing the perfect tie.
It was everything a tie lover could want. Silk but not shiny; burnt orange with streaks of violet, flecks of forest green and a hint of mustard yellow here and there; a beautifully shaped knot, somewhere between the tight, little units that could choke a horse and the broad, flat numbers resembling an extra tongue below the chin; and a length-and-width ratio of ideal proportions.
My heart skipped a beat. Surely a person with that tie would know what to do: place his order without fanfare or substitutions, punctuate the exchange with a brief smile and gracefully retreat to his newspaper to await his meal. My hopes were dashed the second he opened his mouth.
"I'd like a rubber band sandwich, and make it snappy," he said.
His eyes glowed like an eight-year-old with the highest of expectations on Christmas morning, hoping for a wide grin from the perky waitress. I did my best, but he saw through my disguise and immediately regrouped.
"I'll have the cheeseburger with yellow cheddar, not white. If there's no yellow, I'll have Swiss. Can I have a small salad instead of fries? My doctor is after me about cholesterol. And water with lemon, no ice. Oh wait, what's on tap? I'll take anything dark, as long as it's not too hoppy. No yellow cheddar or Swiss? OK, I'll have fish and chips and salad, but skip the beer—it's either chips or beer, and what's fish without chips? So we're back to water. Better yet, I'll have iced tea with lemon."
"Ah, where's the bathroom?"
By Lynn Ellerbrock
"You sold it for wha!?" she exclaimed, a cold feeling settling in her stomach like a sinking stone.
"But you see . . ."
Her glare cut him off. "Jaa-ack." It came out in two long drawn-out syllables.
"Really. I am sick of the buts! There's always a but, and yet it always comes down to the same thing. How are we going to feed our family? You could do this kind of stuff when you were young, single, didn't have a wife and kids, but now . . . Really, Jack!"
Then she shut her eyes, took a breath and stopped. She was thinking, "My mother was right. He was bad news from the start," but there was no need going down that path again. What would that solve? It would just create yet another argument, always over the same thing. She had known of his past when she married him, when she had her first child with him, when she had her second.
As if on cue, the baby started crying. This time it was a relief, to both Jack and herself. The conversation was over before she could beat that dead horse yet again.
"Hush, little baby," she cooed as she reached down and lifted her nine-month-old out of the crib. Jiggling her slightly on her hip, she walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Empty shelves stared back at her.
"What are we going to do, honey?" She asked her baby. Her husband. The fridge. The world.
With a big sigh, she cradled her baby close. Then she sat down and laid her weary head against the hard wooden table.
By James Soule
He was bad news from the start. He moved with a lazy, easy insouciance that came from too much confidence early in life validated by those he bullied, and later by those that loved and idolized him for his reckless ways, and everywhere he went, he left his mark. He purported to love animals of all kinds, but more often than not, he was left scarred and sometimes bloodied by their extreme reactions to his wild-eyed, in-your-face inquisitive pawing. Women, especially, were drawn to him in spite of this.
His hair, more like a rug on a good day, often smelled of beer and cigarettes, and on a bad day, reeked of trouble and urine. His thirst was legendary in bars; even total strangers picked up on this and would watch him drink out of the corner of their eyes, as he was not a presence you wished to turn your back on. He moved about the bar, getting involved with those who tried their best to avoid him, but he was unavoidable, a walking train wreck, always out of breath, drool about his lips and a wandering eye that kept you wondering.
He was my best friend, our bar mascot and one of the finest dogs I have ever known. His breed, bulldog, kept his legs in a permanent bowed position, but he walked as if he owned the place, and he did. He died in the middle of our bar one night, and it surprised no one that the main target of his torment, an equally ancient tabby cat, laid down between his front legs, daring anyone to get close enough so she could spit and take a swipe.
Many years before, he carried her through the delivery door one night while out on one of his excursions. She had been hit by a car, and he must have thought we could help her, though at first we thought she was dead. He cradled her like a prize that first night and ate half the food we brought her and licked the top of her head from time to time. She awoke around noon the next day, raked his jaw as a thank you and walked off half-blind. They were best friends for more than decade.