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David A. Schwinghammer

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Rubbernecking at Moe's Diner
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Last edited: Wednesday, January 15, 2014
This short story is rated "PG" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
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Due to unhappiness in his marriage, a man spends most of his time at a diner, where he meets a young runaway girl.

Rubbernecking at Moe’s Diner

Bill folded his newspaper, smoothed down the pages. The beady-eyed Texan with the weak chin stared back at him. Compassionate conservatism my ass, he thought.
Martha shuffled into the kitchen, set the water to boil, then flopped down in the chair opposite him, her hair still in curlers, the glop she’d slathered on her face before bed glistening yellow-green in the fluorescent light.
He wondered how much a divorce would cost.
She slid a Menard’s circular across the table. Every morning for the past six months, ever since he’d retired from his job at H&R Block, she’d been nagging him to start on the kitchen.
“They got a sale on plywood,” she said.
“That’s nice,” he said. “Why don’t you tell Jimmy Carter?”
“What’s President Carter got to do with plywood?”
“Habitat for Humanity. You’ve heard of them?”
She cleared her throat, the rasping sound of someone with a chicken bone stuck in her throat, then said, “If you don’t get going on the kitchen, I’m gonna hire somebody myself. Jenny Needles from church says her man’ll do it for cost plus ten dollars an hour.”
Suddenly his head throbbed, a devil of a headache coming on. “Fine. Get him to do it then.”
He really wanted a divorce. Sometimes he’d watch her sitting in front of the idiot box, transfixed by some inane soap opera, and he’d try to find a semblance of the girl he’d married. She’d been thin, with curly chocolate-brown hair so healthy that none came off when she brushed. These days she dyed it a henna color, reminding him of Lucille Ball gone to seed.
The dinger sounded and she rose to tend to her boiled egg. Back at the table, she tapped on the shell with the precision of a stone mason, careful not to chip it so she could remove the shell in one piece. Finally she took a bite, chewing carefully--the yellow curdle of egg visible as she chewed. The smell would stay on her breath until dinner time. “So then it’s okay for me to tell him to go ahead. Jenny says he can start next week.”
He tossed the circular back at her. “I’ll be down at Moe’s if you need me.”
“Again? You spend more time down there than you do here.”
“You don’t like to talk politics.” All she cared about were her soap operas and Bingo with her two sisters.
“Just be back by six. I got pot roast and you don’t like it reheated.”
Bill stood, snatched his battered hat from a hook by the door, and stalked out without kissing her goodbye, banging the screen door hard in the process. He couldn’t remember when they’d had sex the last time. He wanted to divorce her and run away with Rosie, a waitress at Moe’s. Thing is, Rosie barely knew he was alive. What would she want with a roly-poly old coot with no hair except for a little fringe just above his ears?
Moe’s, a remodeled Great Northern dining car with the big goat still emblazoned on its side, was lit like an operating room. Situated just across the street from the Greyhound bus station, the diner boasted four booths and six red vinyl stools lining the counter.
“Walk Don’t Run” blaring from the juke box and the sizzling sounds from the grill hindered Bill’s heated conversation with Lou the mailman.
“Nader and Buchanan oughta be allowed to participate in the debates,” Lou said.
“Voting for a third party candidate is like throwing away your vote,” Bill said.
After Lou left, Bill ordered a slice of apple pie so he could look down Rosie’s dress when she served him. She had hooters like the dames in the skin magazines he sometimes paged through at Orville’s barbershop. “Dirty old man,” she said in her Lauren Bacall voice when she caught him looking, but she smiled when she said it.
When the Greyhound pulled up at the curb outside, a young girl got off with her suitcase. She came inside and sat on the stool next to Bill. She snapped open her little black purse, removing a packet of religious pamphlets and handed one to Bill. Such a pretty little thing–with her brown hair parted in the middle and tied in a long plait--he hadn’t the heart to tell her he’d sooner read a phone book. She stood, strode to the four booths, distributing circulars to the patrons, until Rosie noticed and pointed at the “no solicitors” sign behind the counter. “You’ll have to leave if you persist in bothering the customers,” she said. The girl nodded, hung her head, tears welling up in her eyes, slumped back down on the stool next to Bill.
Bill reached over and patted the girl’s hand. He guessed she reminded him of his daughter who was so far away in California. “Are you saved?” the girl said.
“I doubt it,” Bill said, taking a sip of tepid coffee.
“Would you like to hear the Word?” the girl said.
“Not here,” Rosie snarled as she refilled the Bunn machine.
“I don’t want to hear that crap.”
He led her to a booth near the rest rooms, where she told him she was from Superior, Wisconsin, that she’d left home because of her strict father, who wouldn’t let her have any boyfriends or allow her to listen to popular music. Bill sighed. His daughter, Lily, had married at seventeen. Because of all the coffee he’d drunk, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. When he returned, a boy with a blue Mohawk had usurped his place. She introduced him as Sean. “Sean is a musician,” she gushed.
If Sean was a musician, Bill was Arthur Godfrey. Sean had do-it-yourself tattoos on the backs of his fingers. The two talked about musical groups Bill had never heard of. Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails. After awhile, Bill felt like a third wheel, so he ambled back to his place at the counter, where he ordered a hoot beef sandwich to quiet his growling stomach. Maybe Rosie would touch him again like the time he’d left her a dollar tip.
When Rosie set the steaming plate in front of him, she said, “Got aced out by a young stud, huh Bill?” Then she noticed the girl and the punker making out in the booth. She harrumphed like a schoolmarm, then tromped over and gave them a tongue-lashing, pointing to the “no public display of affection” sign.
Later, on his third trip to the restroom, Bill rubbernecked as he walked by their booth. “You can stay with me,” the punk said. “I live in a kind of commune. There are other girls there who’ll take care of you.”
As he stood at the urinal trying to overcome his bashful kidney, Bill thought about Charles Manson and Leslie Van Houton and the other girls he’d corrupted. Manson had been a musician, too.
When he returned to his place at the counter, the girl was perched on the stool next to him. “Where’s lover boy?” he said.
“Oh, he just went to get his van.”
“Did you see those tattoos?” Bill said. “Those are jailhouse tattoos. I know. My brother-in-law did time in Stillwater when he was young.”
“He told me,” she said.
When she left to go to the bathroom, Bill looked around the diner. Rosie was in the back gabbing with the cook, and nobody else was paying any attention. He grabbed the little black purse, undid the snaps. Maybe he could find some identification, maybe call her parents.
“Whatcha doing, Bill?” Rosie said.
The blood rose from his neck to his forehead like a thermometer over a flame. “Ah . . . I was just looking for
She squinted at him as if he were gum stuck on the bottom of her shoe. ”And I thought you were a nice guy.”
“But I am. She’s getting herself in over her–-“
”I don’t think we want your kind in here anymore, Bill. Hit the bricks.”
As Bill scuffed out the door, the punker’s battered van pulled up to the curb. Two girls exited the passenger side. They wore mini-dresses that barely covered their hinders.
When he got home, Martha met him at the door, with her arms folded across her chest. “Martha, I met this girl down at Moe’s. Passing out these religious pamphlets. She reminded me so much of Lily-–“
He noticed the blue Samsonite luggage stacked behind her. He remembered complaining about the cost when she’d visited Lily in California. Martha wore a new blue dress with a white Peter Pan color and high heels. She hadn’t dressed up in years.
“You look beautiful,” he said.
“Take my luggage to the car. This morning was the final straw. I want a divorce.”      

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