"Burt's chili, ana BLT--mayo ona side, you know, please---Coca-cola."
"Hash browns, hon?"
"No--no thanks—are we about twenty-four hours from Tulsa...."
"Do I look like wayfarer's aide, hon?"
You could hear the meal ticket tear as she held his eyes, and then smoothed her yellow rayon uniform, as she clipped the ticket over the grille she said, "dude's going to Tulsa. It's no twenty-four hours? Is it?" She spoke loudly toward the crowded together men in the booth by the corner toward the restroom hallway, from where a woman dressed in tennis shorts walked forward.
The men wore camouflage caps and struck-lit cigarettes with a farmers' match. They shared the match beneath an increasingly billowed grey huddle of smoke. J noticed that at the windowed wall a small rosy cheeked boy stared through the scotch tape flecks on the glass as he watched a greased yellow-grey train approach over a thistle-rolled gully. The rail bed over the gully had sharp-edged purple granite rocks. You would guess that the boy may have been autistic. Maybe it was his grandfather who touched the boy's shoulder as the child stood in the booth and began to screech--small fast palms flat-out pounding, vibrating the glass as the train---its Cyclops-like light winnowing side to side through laconic late summer moths -- as its abrupt horn blasted almost vengefully to a point of rudeness. Just as a silvery blue/red passenger train rapidly sped passed on the other track beneath the purity blue early evening sky with its feather-veined cloud wisps; and the kid, absolutely a strong kid in his brand new overalls and grey-striped white polo shirt kept banging and pushing the glass as both trains by now hit their horns and kept them on highly obtuse decibel levels.
The whole restaurant seemed to lift an inch and set down. J watched the rows of coffee mugs tremble and clink, the fry cook held his chrome spatula as though it were a microphone and laughingly sang toward it, trying to get a rise out of J, the opposite glint of the utensil reflecting the buxom ingénue-like tennis girl who had momentarily glanced, folding her N.Y. Times half-forward. J thought that she looked too expensive to be alone: her alabaster long slender fingers heavily weighted with diamond-like mounts--the canister fixtures from the ceiling swayed ever-so: glinted and beaming, sparkling her rings.
One of the men in a day-glow orange hunter's hat walked over to J at the counter alone and said, "you going all the way to Oklahoma?" The man emanated Ivory Soap odor which, like its own steam, blended with the scent of frying bacon, the air also slightly tinged with maple syrup and Vidalia onions..
"Boys got problems?" J replied as the red lamps on the passenger train diminished having had transported a blur of startlingly defined faces quickly rattling passed the diners and the yelling boy. While the freight train seemed to just be getting started, rumbling through the outskirts of the town, its earth colored square metal cans propelled like giant stacks of caskets in a montage of fleet rolling iron that seemed to stretch away down the tracks as far as you cared to imagine.
The railroad crossing Xs at the end of the parking lot ding-ding-ding-ding-dinging, and the fry cook, laughing as he leaned toward J, “If I got you picked right you're a B17...."
"B-17", the cook said and slapped a two dollar bill on the red formica counter.
“He wants you to play the jukebox---kinda a custom, ain’t it Frankie?” the man said to J, looking at the cook, continuing, “don’t mind Frankie---it’s just a game he plays with travelers---all the way to Tulsa?” Incongruously the man’s thick, black-dirt thumb nail danced and adroitly pecked on his handheld screen. He raised his hat backward revealing a thickly lined, suntanned forehead. “I figure you’re a good—at least a good twenty hours out—if you’re driving alone, it’s a good day, good day at least. The boy? Don’t know what about ‘em. Sweet little guy, scared of his own shadow; downstate at the school hos-fett-al they’d called him autis-autistical. Quiet as a church mouse. Lest he’s sturbed. He’d be gettin’ all hushedup here in’twhile, soons dat ol’soutbound goes on its way…minds as well wait up on any music. Lucille, mix us up a strawberry shake, willa, hon?”
Over at the booth the man with the boy gently held him on his lap, his big arms in rolled up plaid flannel sleeves over the boy’s shoulders, the boy screaming, thrashing about, enraged.
The woman with the N.Y. Times adjusted her butter-yellow cashmere sweater and seemed to gaze at or almost observe J; her athletic, well defined legs crossed toward the men at the counter. She wore black and grey mesh shoes with bright red soles. She had on no makeup and sported a slightly moist suntanned complexion, now and then trying to catch J’s eye (or to see if he was looking at her) her eyes almost Liz Taylor eyes just over theBook Review.
“What’s with B-17?” J walked to the jukebox. The restaurant continued filling up with patrons many of whom wore thirty or forty year old clothes; a man in a tie as wide as a bib with race cars on it, his wife wearing beige high heels and a flower laden hat pierced with a pearl hatpin, a heavy waddling couple—the woman lugging along a huge, vaguely matched midnight blue patent leather purse. The man, freshly shaved, his cheeks reddened—both moving slowly through the glass doors, all the glass doors loosely swooshed closing by vapor lock as the outer door opened.
Just as J slipped in the two dollar bill, trying to see the president on it as it sucked into the jukebox. He hit B. 1, then 7. Behind the counter Lucille dialed the sound up as loud as it could go. The vintage Wurlitzer heatedly purred and seemed to take its time.
The woman in the tennis outfit put her newspaper down and lit a Virginia Slim cigarette with a silent click of her butane lighter.
Dinah Washington’s Relax Max sang out from at least eight speakers in the Waffle House, the sound louder than the train.
Lucille set supper down. Frankie toasted no one in particular, and then gulped his ice water.
J tasted his chili, salted it, peppered it, and then added crackers.
Outside the last several cars of the freight train rolled away on out of view behind the restaurant.
Loudly Lucille and Frankie sang along with Dinah Washington.
J gaped at an enormous red sun growing larger as he watched it blazingly shimmer closer over the distant darkening twilight hills.
And the little boy broke away from the old man and slipped out beneath the booth and ran over to the woman reading the Times. He stood before her as though he were a conductor, his milk shake straw a synchronized baton.