the other diner scene

as promised, to end this month's posts, here's another scene from my book. the style here is a bit different, just go with it. hope you enjoy.

-sm

 

 

rosa’s diner features the edge of the world. the dilapidated building sits along the highway next to Pak’s turn off. yellow light from within pokes out through open-armed windows to challenge the darkening sky. the gentle colors are almost hesitant in their employment. the apple pie is to die for.

it’s the crossroads between nowhere and somewhere, a beacon to the lost or hungry. or both. frost coats the outside of the building. cool autumn has taken over the world, but it’s combated by the hot warmth of fire and tightly packed human bodies inside. the air smells brittle.

Pak feels his hot breath against the cool night might crack and shatter into pieces of early winter ice.

stands for a moment in the diner’s doorway. watches the smoke from wet logs in the fireplace roll heavy through the room.

makes his way into the crowd, untouched by the jostling of the mob. a solitary, overworked waiter is placing strangers at tables together to fill up seats.

in a side dining room, finds a candidate sitting at the end of a long bar. the crush of people around her is practically pushing her onto the floor.

Pak:

takes a deep breath.

steps into her space.

she is gone, Pak is back in the world.

an invisible tightness grips him. even he can not explain what he had just done or how. he does know, to any observers, a frail woman has suddenly vanished. he has replaced her.

Pak munches on a hot forkful of pie.

takes a moment to adjust to the feel of people crowding around him.

smells the spicy scent of cloves and nutmeg.

gets shivers down his spine.

swallows, and the warmth of the pie warms the rest of him.

a man on his right knocks into him unintentionally.

Pak:

takes this as a good sign to move.

sets down the fork and stands up.

ignores the uncomfortable itch of the woman’s space. stepping into the physical world always feels like he’s wearing clothes that don’t fit. the woman’s space feels three sizes too small. or he’s three sizes too big.

the diner is filled. patrons and strangers are packed up against each other – some cradling their food in their laps – but it’s quiet. conversations are hushed. there’s only the soft sound of people eating and drinking. underlying everything is a stillness. breathing.

stands. listens intently until the shallow sound of the walls singing grows loud enough to hear.

Pies, pies, pies, they chant. Baking, baking, baking. Munch, munch, munch.. Good, good pies. Too good for not good people, no good for good people. In between just eat. Munch, munch, munch. Pies, pies, pies.

smiles. smiles the other smile. the secret, sincere smile that lacks irony. it’s broken only by disuse, but hints of pleasure.

Pak’s mood follows the graceful upward arch of the wooden ceiling as he winds to the kitchen.

inside is a steamy mess. a large woman – her skin, clothes, and hair dusted in flour – stands hunched over the counter: the queen of the hive.

Pak:

moves out of the doorway.

watches.

her large arms orbit in a fluid, muscular circle as she mixes slushy ingredients into a firm dough. large pots on the scalding ranges simmer sweetly into the sweat clad room.

the server enters, a harassed young man. dumps a tray of dishes into the sink. fills another with bowls of stew and plates of pie. leaves again.

“I really should get another server,” the woman says, not turning to Pak as she pulls the dough onto the counter. deftly removes the remains that clinging to the inside of the bowl. picks up a rolling pin, sprinkles flour on it, coats her hands with it, begins rolling out the dough. “Antonio’s always overworked. He’s a strong boy, though. Doesn’t mix up orders. Not that there really are orders to mix up.”

rosa pulls out pie pans from one of the cabinets jungling the room. lines shallow metal and glass pans with fresh dough. spoons in pie filling. apples fall in clumps. spreads them to fill the crevices. her slow, methodical sway reveals that, underneath the cloud of flour and steam, she isn’t overweight, just built large.

she pulls a tub of butter from the fridge and a plate with a large slice of pie on it. sets the pie on the counter. continues with her work, placing pats of butter on top of the pie filling.

“If you want to, heat it up,” she says over her shoulder. the quick glimpse of her face is a blur of worn laugh lines and loosened black and silver hair. her eyes, though, bite through and catch him.

the entire world dissolves around him into steam. the potency of her gaze is arresting, beautiful, contained. but then worn cracks in her face crinkle and her eyes turn in rainbows. her hands catch her attention and the room solidifies once more.

“Some like it cold, though." rosa wipes a floured hand against her forehead.

Pak is planted to the floor; mesmerized. manages: “I had enough out there.” leans stiffly against the wall to brace himself. "Of pie."

rosa shrugs. “Put it back, then. Someone else’ll want it later.”

Pak:

opens the fridge.

returns the slice.

spends a good, long, mind-numbing minute staring in at the contents of the refrigerator.

blinks, and in that slight moment, all he can see is the inside of his eyelids.

closes the door.

“Don’t like the crowd?” rosa asks. she is making dough lattices on top of the pies.

Pak:

thinks of chain-link fences. flowers pushing through barriers, just as the apples are poking through the dough now to blossom in golden yellows and browns.

“It’s too much for me,” confirms. revels in the steam. underneath remains the uncomfortable edge, the borrowed space scratching.

pulls out a stool at the kitchen island. sits.

his own jerky movements are surprising. the floor is impeccably clean. polished floorboards shine as if newly varnished, devoid of dirt or flour.

“Got a nasty lisp there,” says rosa. her voice is slightly husky, throaty, but soothing.

guesses she isn’t speaking her first language. her words don’t connect with the way her mouth moves; it’s just slightly off. realizes rosa is always caught in conversation in translation.

“Of course, the dinning room isn’t for everyone. Always get a few that just want to be left alone or just need a kitchen. But you get all types this close to the edge. Are you sure you don’t want anything?” she barrels on. her bare feet shuffle around the stove. gold nail polish on her toes; they sparkle suddenly in the light.

suddenly sees them for what they are:

not nail polish: her toenails are naturally gold.

but then rosa opens the oven. stuffs the pie in with other siblings. the world flattens; leaves her feet leathery and swollen from work and the gold is just orange-yellow glitter.

Pak:

slumps into a reflexive c-curve.

thinks of the fetal position.

the kitchen is like a womb, warm and soothing, separate from the world. there is only the beating heat of the ovens, the hot moisture in the air. all else is silence.

“The world doesn’t have an edge,” says suddenly. “It’s round.”

rosa stirs stew with a long wooden spoon. pulls it out, taps the side of the pot with the curved back. “So are lots of other things that have edges," she responds. puts the spoon on the counter.

the universe catches in his throat and the eons between them evaporate in the smoke of the hot range.

rosa blinks her large, owl eyes through the gray cloud of smoke and flour that mystify the kitchen. then returns to life, refocusing on large dough balls that have been meditating on the side, contemplating their prospects as of loaves of bread.

her laugh lines and worry lines all deepen at once, texturing the plateau of her face. "You can go over the edge of the world,” she adds, more for her own benefit than Pak's.

there is a rising hubbub from the dining room. rosa glances at the wooden barrier between the rooms. doesn’t stop working. can’t stop working. “That’s why I have this diner. I been over the edge.” she turns away, punctuating her words. There's more to it than that, she doesn’t say. her assessing stare addresses. sees him for the first time.

Pak's crystal stare chills the room, widens the expanse between them. but even the intense sorrow molded into the kitchen tiles can’t lower his guard to Rosa’s innate warmth.

Rosa scoops an empty cup from the counter and holds it close, playing it back and forth across her fingers. “I been over the edge,” she repeats. there is no reassurance behind her words.

they hang in the air, suddenly meaningless.

the walls chorus in faint agreement. Over the edge, they sing. Rosa been over the edge. Over the edge. Rosa hear us, she been over the edge.