These days, my super suit is all but packed away. I hung it on an old wire hanger all the way in the back of my closet, along with the boots and gloves and even my mask, which ensured that, even when people saw me, they didn’t really see me.
It turned out the mask was an unnecessary precaution. Almost no one sees me anyway.
Every day for six years my routine was the same. The door cracked behind me at 7:15 a.m. and I made my way from the back of the trailer park to the big road. Then I turned left and walked along the shoulder until I reached the diner. Usually I’d count the vehicles as I walked. I never saw more than 15, and most of them were big trucks, hauling who knows what from the Amazon distribution center in Memphis.
I guess I thought retiring to a small town with virtually no crime would bring me some peace, but it never did. I just made me feel useless.
Last Tuesday, I pushed into the diner like I always did, right at 7:38. I had noticed the big rig in the lot, and sure enough, Maybel was pouring coffee into a trucker’s mug at the counter. Normally she smiled at me, but not on Tuesday. Tuesday, she looked worried.
Soon I realized why. There was a woman sitting in my regular booth, all the way in the corner. I could tell from the back she was a perfect stranger to me, with her smooth silver hair and purple headband. She sat with her back facing the door, which nobody ever did when they were dining alone in a corner booth. Ever.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I’ve lived in this shithole of a town, it’s that you never unlearn how to be suspicious of people. Old habits may lie dormant for a while, curled up somewhere deep inside, but at a moment like this, when you show up at your own diner and find your own booth occupied by a stranger, they burst right back into your veins and, before you know it, all the hair on your body is standing on end and you’re ready to fight.
“You must be Lawrence,” the woman said through pretty white teeth. They were either all her own or they were all fake, but nothing in between. She must have noticed how I narrowed my eyes, because she kept talking. “Maybel told me this was your spot. That I’d have to be gone in 20 minutes or else you’d show up and find me here. She said it like that would be a bad thing. I’m Helen.”
“Okay Helen. So how come you’re still here?”
“Well, it’s a funny story, really. See, I left my purse at home, and I didn’t realize it until I ordered this enormous meal, and now I’m too embarrassed to do anything but sit here.”
The words stopped and then she smiled sheepishly and looked away.
I looked down at what was left of her so-called enormous meal. She’d ordered a couple of eggs and an English muffin. And a fruit cup. Who orders a fruit cup at a roadside diner? ”
Half the eggs were still on the plate. “I lost my appetite when I realized I didn’t have any money,” she said.
Against my better judgment, I slid into the booth across from her. “Why are you here?” I asked.
“I told you, I – ”
“No, not here in this booth. Here in this town.”
“Oh, I was on my way to Memphis to see a doctor there.”
“Doctor? What for?”
She blushed. “Well, that’s a little forward, don’t you think? You don’t even know me.”
“I know you’re in my booth,” I said. “I know your name is Helen.” I unwrapped my silverware and stabbed what was left of her eggs with a fork.
“It’s for some tests,” she said.
I dropped it and moved on. “Which car is yours?” The egg was runny. A bit of yolk dropped on the table.
“Am I speaking French? Which car?”
“Um, it’s the red Buick.”
“Hmm,” I said, stuffing the egg into my mouth.
She just looked at me, both hands on the table like she was under arrest. I couldn’t read her expression. That intrigued me.
“I can fix this,” I said, pointing at her plate. “But only if you promise to stop back on your way home to let me know how your tests went.”
“Really? You really want to know?”
“I do. You know where to find me. And when. Now get out of here. You’re going to be late.”
She smiled then – a real, genuine smile. A smile that made her look about 20 years younger than she was.
“Thanks Lawrence. Thanks a lot.”
She turned and left. I could feel Maybel’s eyes burning a hole in my forehead. But I did the neighborly thing. First stranger I’d met in a long time. Maybe the first friend too.
About Prompt-A-Day: The rules are simple. Every day, I generate a prompt using Story Shack’s awesome writing prompt generator. Then I set a timer for one hour. At the end of the hour, I post what I’ve got. Sometimes it’s decent. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I fail at the prompt. Sometimes I do okay. I do not edit, unless I find a typo, because I can’t help fixing those. Feel free to join in and post a link to your writing in the comments.