At the Diner

It was Halloween night, and fourteen people sat around one long surface made up of tables pushed together. They were a loud bunch, all talking and laughing animatedly, despite the fact that it was past two in the morning. They were elated. They’d just finished what felt like the greatest, best, most amazing and spectacular experience of their lives, and they weren’t likely to forget that night for the rest of their lives.

They were a variety – all shapes and sizes, both young men and young women – but what they all had in common was the sweaty, running make-up that none of them had bothered to remove. In loud voices, they yelled up and down the table to each other, congratulating a night well done and feasting on everything from pancakes to onion rings to spaghetti-and-meatballs. They were ravenous, having completed a feat to which they’d devoted countless hours over the last two months.

Anyone nearing their table would have been able to feel the warmth, friendship and fierce-if-fleeting love they held for each other in that hour. Even the tired waitress, decked out in forced-Halloween-uniform and looking tired beyond measure, smiled at the bunch, allowing herself to be patient with them and trusting that, distracted as they were with each other, they wouldn’t complain about the slow service.

It isn’t surprising that this group wasn’t the only one sitting at a diner at two in the morning after Halloween night. The booths were filled with pirates and princesses, butterflies and Peter-Pans, all of them young people on their way back from various parties. The surprising element was that of men and women well into their middle ages, decked out in elegant finery fit for an extravagant office party or dignified family event – and there were many of these at the diner that night as well, looking happy and content, conversing just as loudly and merrily as the young folk.

If the diner could have felt the happiness and excitement that was filling its tables and chairs that night, it would have sprouted wings and begun to float above the ground.

One-Eyed Steve: Part III

“Ah, my little ones, and so, all atremble, I went out into the inn and walked up to the barkeep. The innkeeper always worked at the bar, and half the people in town didn’t know he was the owner of the inn, so friendly a barkeep he was. So, as I said, I walked up to him and told him what One-Eyed Steve had said. I told him the eye-patch man was there to see him and that he better come right quick ’cause I’d left him in the kitchen alone. The innkeeper, instead of lookin’ confused, looked at me with a fierce look and asked if I was sure of what I was sayin’. This was a big man, mind, and I was already feelin’ faint from bein’ so close to that old pirate in the kitchen.

I told the innkeeper that One-Eyed Steve was in the kitchen as sure as the nose was on my face and the sun rises in the East. He wiped his hands on his cloth then, and he took me by the elbow, takin’ me back to the kitchen with him. Steve was still there, and he was pale and sweatin’ again. The innkeeper let me go after orderin’ me to put a kettle on with boilin’ water. As I was doin’ that, I got to hear what the men were talkin’ about.

‘What is it, old man? Is she alright?’ the innkeeper was speakin’ quietly with Steve, and he seemed worried. Steve answered him in the saddest voice I ever heard a man use.

‘Nay. Nay, brother. She left us in the night.’

The innkeeper froze for a momen’, and then he was huggin’ Steve fiercely, and I could hear both of the men weepin’. Me, a boy of thirteen, couldn’t believe these two grown men was cryin’ – I still thought that men didn’t cry back then, and I damned well hid my tears from anyone if ever I had ’em.

‘She had a long life, Steve, and she was happy with ye. Ye helped her and nursed her and fed her and cared for her when no one knew or cared about her anymore.’ the innkeeper spoke into Steve’s shoulder, still weepin’.

‘Aye. She was the best mother a pair like us could ask for, and she tried to be strong till the very end.’ Steve was holding the innkeeper up now, and he was speakin’ fiercely into his face as the innkeepe  seemed about to fall over with his grief. ‘I’m sorry ye didn’t get to see her, brother, but she sends her love. She told me so right before she closed her eyes and went to sleep.’

My kettle was boilin’ by now, but I didn’t hardly notice it. Only when the whistle of it made the men look up and remember me did I get the tea and mugs. I splashed some strong stuff into each of their teas – they seemed to need it, and I wanted to do somethin’ to help ’em if I could. Eventually, as you may imagine, the innkeeper had to go back and be barkeep and work the night out. Seems no one knew that the mother was still around – she was in bad shape, or so I came to understand later, and she didn’t want people to see her.

My ducklings, don’t fret, this isn’t the endin’ of my story. After this sadness, I wanna tell ye what happened after the innkeeper left the room. I was still in there, continuin’ to wash dishes as I was told to, when the innkeeper dried his eyes and went back out. Steve was still there, and he spoke to me again.

‘Bet you thought I was  a villain and a pirate, eh boy?’ he growled at me. I wasn’t so frightful of him anymore – seein’ a person weep can do that to ye. I looked him square in that one blue eye of his, and I said ‘I thought so, sir, but now I know ye ain’t no pirate. Yer a noble man, takin’ care of yer ma like that.’ One-Eyed Steve looked at me as if he’d never seen a boy before.

‘Well, boy,’ he said, a bit of his wicked grin comin’ back. ‘Ye better not tell anyone a thing about tonight. Nay, won’t do to have the boys comin’ to look for me house. I’m fine with bein’ feared. But as a reward,’ and here he started to laugh a little to himself, ‘as a reward let me share a second secret with ye. Aye, me ma was decent as they come. Still, she had her wild notions when I was a lad, just like any ma.’

And then he lifted his eyepatch. Instead of a mangled scar, instead of an empty socket, instead of even a blind and staring eye – all of which I’d imagined to meself – instead of any of those, there was a reular eye under that patch. The skin around it was whiter, bein’ hidden under that patch, and the color was brown instead o’ being ice-blue like the other one, but it was a seein’ eye alright.

‘Ma seemed to think the boys might laugh at me bein’ all dog-eyed like this,’ said One-Eyed Steve. ‘And then I jus’ got used to bein’ a pirate to people.’ He put the eyepatch back over that normal eye, and left the kitchen the same way he came in.

Which only goes to show, my ducks, that ye never know. Ye really never know abou’ a man by his looks. Not ever. And don’t ye forget it.”

The three little figures on the carpet uncurled themselves from the positions they’d kept during the long story. As soberly as any statesman, they all proclaimed that they “will remember, Papa!” and then were scooted off to bed. The man, though, sat for a while longer in front of the fire, and thought about One-Eyed Steve.

One-Eyed Steve: Part II

“Well, my ducks, One-Eyed Steve lived in this town long ago, when I was but a bitty boy meself. Oh, he was a fearsome fellow – long, tangled black hair over a face carved of stone. What a face it was! A wicked grin, full of yellow and crooked teeth and at least a couple of ’em were gold. The lines in his face were alike to craters and the nose on that face was like a hawk’s beak – proud, strong and threatenin’.  To finish off the pretty picture, One-Eyed Steve wore a black eye-patch over one eye, and the other was an ice-blue that would chill ye to the bone.

Now, I know what you, my ducklings, are thinkin’ – with such a frightenin’ face, gold teeth and eye-patch and all, this One-Eyed Steve musta been a pirate. That’s what me n’ the other boys thought too. All the boys in town told stories about Ones-Eyed Steve. Mikey said he heard that Steve had killed ten men and was never caught. Robbie said that he had gotten those gold teeth as a gift from wild tribes on a secret island out at sea. The girls all afeared Steve, and we boys did too, only we never admitted it willin’ly.

It just so happens, ducks, that I, your dear ol’ pa, found out the real story of One-Eyed Steve, and this is how it came about:

When I was thirteen, I worked as a dishwasher at the King’s Bard Inn – that’s what was there before they tore it down and build that Holiday Inn place. So one night, I was workin’ late ’cause Robbie was sick as a dog with the flu and couldn’t make his shift. The inn’s kitchen had closed for the night, and all that was left there was me and a big ol’ pile o’ dishes.

Suddenly, the back door of the kitchen banged open with a crack like thunder, and there, lookin’ as white as a ghost, was One-Eyed Steve. He almos’ fell into the place, he was tremblin’ that hard. I was so surprised that I jus’ stood there – hands all full of soap and my mouth hangin’ open. Steve looked around, frantic-like, and noticin’ me, he asked “Where’s the innkeeper, boy?” With one soapy, wet hand I pointed to the door into the inn proper, and One-Eyed Steve – instead of goin’ right to it – calmed right down and grinned his wicked grin at me. “Well, boy, go get him then, eh? An unrespectable man like me can’t be going into an inn now, can I? Nay, I’m fit for back doors and kitchens. Now be a good boy and get the innkeeper for me. Tell him that the eye-patch man’s here, he’ll come right quick.”

Well, my ducks? What could I do? I dried me hands, made sure there were no valubales around for the ol’ pirate to steal, and I went to find the innkeeper.”