An Afternoon at the Diner

 

Maggie slipped a knife and fork into her designer handbag hoping no one had noticed. Something to remember this day by. She always thought this when she took something that was not hers. At a coffee shop she would take magazines. At the hair salon she would steal shampoo, conditioner, maybe a hair curler if she was feeling brave. Sometimes she would go to donation yoga just to take money out of the box. Little thefts had grown big since she could remember. She looked up from a pictured diner menu and saw a miserable waitress charge towards her.

“What did you put in your bag there?” her breath smelled like she had not eaten in hours.

Maggie was calm. She had been called out from time to time when someone saw her taking something, but her looks – the blond curls, put together outfits and demeanor, made people doubt what they had seen.

“Nothing,” she pulled a pair of tweezers from her bag “just doing some maintenance.”

“Uh huh, maintenance. Well buy something or get the hell out, I can’t maintain a business if people just come in and sit here.”

“I’m waiting for my father.”

Les came into the diner backwards holding a box with “DO NOT THROW AWAY” scrawled on the side. He held it high on his chest and could barely see over it. Maggie only knew it was him from his tired talking shoes.

“Maggie!” he yelled from the door and stumbled over. He threw the box down on the floor and opened his arms wide for a hug. Maggie did not get up so he did a weird self hug and sat down.

He turned to the waitress “Hey Betty, get us some menus will ya?”

Betty pulled her mouth into a fake smile and revealed a snaggletooth painted purple with lipstick before walking away.

Maggie looked at her dad closely for the first time. Grooves lined his face and she wondered when he had gotten so old. His shirt was two sizes too small and he had used his name tag in an attempt to hide a toothpaste stain. A grown man that wore his hair long with the ends girlishly tucked in. Somewhere in those years he had started dying it a schoolboy blond. He caught her staring at his hair.

“I know,” he licked his fingers and patted down “I get a lot of shit, but your mom likes it so, y’know.” He shuffled in his chair, pulled his tiny shirt down over his belly. “She says sorry she couldn’t make it.”

Maggie scoffed internally with her lips tightened – Right. Sorry. Her father looked around, trying to find something to talk about. “Nice place, huh?”

He had chosen the diner and knowing he would insist on paying, despite having to take a bus ride in to do so, Maggie agreed to meet him there. A layer of grease sat on the pleather booths, she could feel her calves sticking to them. She had placed her handbag on top of an unfolded napkin on top of the table and it jingled with cutlery. The menu, some crayons, and the salt and pepper shaker were stuffed inside too. A party of diner souvenirs. The table was littered with splotches of gravy or ranch dressing or sour cream from the previous patrons. Betty brought them stale bread and glasses of mostly ice water. Her few grey hairs were spiked with too much gel that dripped on the table when she leaned over to put more cutlery down.

“Is that my stuff?” Maggie nudged the box by her foot and could see it was full of junk, clothes, pictures, books. She sipped the water and even the cup had a greasy film to it. She took three splendas and mixed them in with a straw. Les smiled “C’mon Magpie, let’s at least eat first. Want me to get you one of those sundaes you like?” He was already waving the hunchback waitress back over. “What was it? Chocolate? Vanilla?”

Maggie never liked vanilla or chocolate ice cream or sundaes, but her younger sister Alice had. Every Friday when they were young Les would take his two girls out for ice cream sundaes completely forgetting one of his daughter’s had no interest in them. Alice would leave full, her face smeared with sprinkles and Les would puzzle over why Maggie had barely eaten half – Ha, since when don’t you like sundaes? Maggie wanted to remind him but the dinosaur of a waitress had already trudged over, much nicer than last time. “Whaddya want, love?”

“Chocolate’s fine.”

Les ordered a beer and yelled “Not all froth like last time!” throwing the old waitress a wink.

He turned back to Maggie, leaned forward and rubbed his hands together as if he was preparing to hear some gossip,

“So Magpie, what’s new, how’s Los Angeles?”

“I’ve told you before, I live in Miami.”

“Ha!” he forced his mouth open wide to laugh revealing few pearly teeth. Maggie counted ten, maybe twelve. “Since when?”

“Since always.”

“Ah, well y’know you’re old man, I’ve never been good remembering things.”

Maggie could not recall the last time her dad had remembered something she had told him. He constantly forgot her birthday, calling her just before midnight to redeem himself – Daddy just gets so busy sometimes, you understand. She did not understand. Les worked part time at a movie theater so he was hardly busy. Him and his much younger co workers spent the day drinking butter from behind the confectionery stand and sometimes he would be found drunk and passed out in the back of the screenings. Maggie had gone down to pick him up twice before it got too embarrassing.

The box almost fell apart as she lifted it on the table and rifled through finding her treasure of stolen items throughout high school and college in Georgia. Stuffed inside was a plush bathrobe she could not remember owning, some children’s toys, and endless books stamped with “Property of Kennesaw Library”

“Is that all of it?”

“Yup.” Les burped his beer loudly. “I don’t know why you want all this shit for anyway.”

In amongst the box of stolen odds and ends was something she did not recognize. She turned it this way and that. It was damp, soft with fur. She smelled it and it was sour like bad salami. Maggie tried to place it. Was it some board eraser she had swiped from her teacher’s class? Maybe a shoe insert from the summer she worked down at Shoe Bargain, before getting fired. She flipped it upside down and spotted two sharp yellow points. Two very sharp, very yellow teeth. It was a dead rat.

“What the hell, there’s a rat in here!” her eyes blinked rapidly at Les, she threw the thing on the table.

“Ha,” that toothless laugh again “is that what that is? I didn’t know, it was in the garage by your things and I just threw it in.”

“You just threw in a dead rat?!” Maggie was scratching her skin dirty from touching the rat.

He draw his neck back and looked at her, “Ugh, well, fuck. Come on, why do you care what’s in your box of stolen crap?”

Maggie sat back, shocked. How long had he known about it? Did her mom know? Did Alice?

“All this stuff is mine.” she made no effort to sound like she even believed herself.

Les wiped his face slowly with his palm, “You were always coming home with random stuff. Shoes we never bought you. Half eaten sandwiches we hadn’t made you.”

“I have money.” She pulled out her wallet, it was stuffed with hundred dollar bills she had borrowed just for today. “I don’t need to steal.”

Les slammed his beer down, the froth spilling over the edges.

“You act like you’re so high and goddamn mighty with your designer clothes, living in LA or wherever the fuck. Don’t give a shit about us, d’ya?”

He swung his arms out hitting her bag. It flew through the air before landing heavy and spilling all of it’s contents out. The whole diner turned to the sound of metal hitting the ground. The cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, crayons, all of it was on the floor.

“What is wrong with you Maggie?” he hissed, “you’re still doing this?”

She was on her hands and knees keeping her eyes to the dull linoleum floors, quickly stuffing everything into her bag as if some tampons had fallen out.

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