The windows faced west, not that they provided a scenic vista of sweeping beauty. Neat rows of gas pumps under a flat canopy that would topple in a strong wind: beyond them, the four lanes of asphalt connecting the freeway with town.
Over there, near the cash register, a middle-aged woman polishes the stainless steel counter and mops the tile floor. The breakfast crowd has cleared out, one booth for four nurses coffees and argues politics. She is the quintessential diner waitress. Even without her salmon uniform dress or sea foam green name badge, she has the thousand-yard service stare that makes patrons feel both acknowledged and uncomfortable.
Her story—unfortunately—is all too familiar, even if unknown to anyone in town. An abusive home begat teen pregnancy, begat reluctant marriage, begat domestic violence until the divorce, the restraining order until her ex killed resisting arrest. Her daughter got a college scholarship, her mother sold everything, and left her memories behind.
She does what she has to do in order to survive, even if being numb is a normal state of being. Do you believe in fate? She doesn’t.
She watches a nondescript four-door sedan pull up to the pumps. The driver gets out, stretches and presses his hands into the small of his back. He stares at the nozzles, then the vehicle. Shaking his head, he gets back in and reverses direction so the filler cap faces the right way. The fresh coffee is brewed, so she tops off the foursome and trades jokes all the while her peripheral vision monitors the man at the pumps.
He’s done. The vehicle turns around again and moves fifty feet to park in front of the diner. When he comes inside, he briefly brings the growling and barking of tractor-trailers rotating from the truck stop. He veers to the restroom, presumably to wash gasoline off his hands.
The counter stools are covered in checkerboard to match her colors. In fact, the entire diner is a tribute to the pastel age. Strangely enough, the laminated menus don’t match. She slaps one down with a practiced twist and asks, ‘would you like some coffee?’
You see the man now tilt his head and study her. It’s not easy being a survivor. She’s always thought she’s worn a neon sign stamped on her high forehead. He too, recognizes a kindred spirit, so he makes—to us—a seemingly impulsive decision.
‘No, no coffee, water is fine.’
He studies the menu now. He’s not hungry, peckish maybe, but it’s still two hours to his destination.
‘I’ll have two scrambled eggs and rye toast.’
He watches her spin and yell through the window to the short order cook. He notices her bottom. He’s an ass man, always has been, which, given his vocation, is a good thing.
She notices. She always notices; which, for a paranoid survivor is a good thing. His eyes though, they’re not flat and hungry like most of the truckers or the husbands stopping in for the luncheon special and some flirting. His eyes are open, smiling; his mouth follows through with a wry crook, his shoulders shrug in apology. For once, she doesn’t feel cornered.
To cover her unease, she resumes her interrupted cleaning then busses the booth after the town workers punch back in to spend more taxpayer dollars. She kneels on the bench, calf-length skirt rising to the back of knee. She knows he’s watching.
He can see her. Not by spinning around on the stool and ogling with cocky elbow on the Formica. The mirror that runs along the cornice is sufficient. Her nylons have a run. The shoes need new soles.
The ding and ‘order up!’ elicits Pavlovian responses.
The eggs are quickly consumed. The toast—buttered—slathered with one packet of jam each, blueberry and strawberry, the marmalade, as always, looks disgusting.
‘Conference in the city this weekend.’
‘I’m a writer.’
Her gaze slides to his transportation. His follows.
‘It’s a rental.’
‘I don’t like flying.’
‘What kind of writing do you do?’
It’s at this point we wonder how to reconcile the internal dialogue in order to make a believable story. After all, as the reader, we have preconceived expectations of how people behave. As a writer, however, the internal becomes external, and the reader has to decide to follow or quit.
‘I write erotica. Specifically, erotica with some type of spanking as the focal point.’
Like falling dominoes, his words coalesce around his actions, and her mind concocts multiple scenarios in a blink of the eye. Which hers do multiple times.
‘Are you famous?’
A genuine smile of delight makes his eyes sparkle. His white teeth are only marred by a piece of toast stuck in one corner. Her eyes dart there. She watches as his tongue swishes and sucks. He bares his teeth. She nods.
‘Thanks. What is famous? Is my penname known? Sure, but my face isn’t. Besides, who needs the hassles? I like being anonymous.’
‘I like it. I like to spank, be spanked, read about spanking and write about spanking. It’s fun and easy to fantasize.’
‘This conference, is it open to the public?’
‘Sure. Gotta brochure right here. If you want to go, here’s a comp ticket as well. I’ll circle the seminars I’m involved with and the ones I plan to attend.’
He watches as she gnaws her lower lip. She wants to go, he can tell, but pushing will result in being shoved away.
‘Sometimes, Tamara, you can clearly see the choice offered. Whether you accept or not, don’t regret your decision.’
He leaves a twenty and taps the counter with his fingers.
‘Keep the change. See you there tomorrow.’
As he pulls away, back to the highway, she smooths out the glossy paper, her finger underlining his name. There is no sense of panic, only rightness.
Sometimes, all it takes is one man to start the healing process.
This post has been renamed as Kismet of Submission: Episode 1. You can read all the episodes by clicking here for Kismet of Submission.