Monday, November 21, 2011

The Regulars

She sits at a table in the diner. The gingerbread boys across from her, the gingerbread man next to her.  She orders tomato soup, a bowl of it, and in a rare extravagance, sweet potato fries. That counts as a vegetable, doesn't it?

The eldest gingerbread boy orders two children's meals. He's at the age when he can neither decide upon one meal, nor be satisfied by it. So two it is: hamburger and fries, macaroni and cheese and apple sauce. The younger gingerbread boy orders macaroni and cheese and chicken noodle soup. The gingerbread man orders something involving spice and chicken.

They sit, coloring their place mats, while listening to the banter around them. When their food comes, they eat, marveling over hollow legs and growing bellies, and talking about the wonders they've seen on their trip so far.

The tomato soup is perfect, and is just the thing for this windy New England trip. When she is almost finished, she hears a "Psst." She turns her head, wondering who could be "psst"-ing in a diner. There's a man standing at the entry to her right. Maybe she didn't hear it. No. Ridiculous.

"Psst."

Her ears did not fail her.

"Psssst." A little louder this time.

There must have been some secret signal, because the waitress comes over to her gingerbread clan. "Would you mind moving your coats?" The gingerbread man jumps up, grabs their coats they had slung over a stool at the counter on her left, and puts them in the empty booth on the other side.

The man sits down on the vacated stool.

"Hey, Jerry. How are you tonight?" The waitress asks.

Ah, a regular, she thinks. And they are outsiders, visitors to this coastal city. Tourists, even.

"Fine. You got any tomato soup?"

Good choice, she thinks.

"I'll go check."

The waitress disappears, then comes back with a sad shake. "All out. Just finished it. But we have Tomato Florentine."

She sinks a little in her seat, the evidence set before her: the remains of the last bowl of tomato soup. Not only is she a tourist, she's a tomato-soup stealer, too.

"Nah. I'll have chicken salad on white bread, and make sure he spreads it, not scoops it."

"You want chips with that?"

"Sure, sure."

She rumples up her napkin and sets it by the side of her bowl, carefully sculpting it to hide the evidence. She's not sorry she had the soup. It was good. But she wishes there were more.

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