He sits in a booth in Uncle Bill’s Pancake House. The corner one near the window. He gets there early before the crowds and gets the same thing every time. It doesn’t matter what it is. Just that it’s the same and that there aren’t many people. He doesn’t like the people. He doesn’t even really like Uncle Bill’s. It’s overpriced flour and water, he thinks. Still, he doesn’t have the will to make them himself, and the waitresses are cute. Mostly.
He flirts with them sometimes, when he’s feeling full of piss and vinegar as his wife used to say . Mostly, he just orders quietly and minds his own business. Drinks his coffee. Says thank you when they refill his cup.
It’s hot, even for July. Oppressively hot. It was good to get out of the apartment above the sunglass store. There were already a lot of people at the restaurant. Not like it would be later, when they’d line up outside, but for 7am on a Tuesday, it was still pretty crowded. He would have had to wait if he hadn’t been the first one there. If his booth wasn’t available, he’d turn around and walk away. The girls were pretty good about waiting for him. If he didn’t show up by 7:30, then they’d sit anyone there. But when he came first thing, they’d hold it for him.
He reads the paper. He’s not sure why. It’s all bullshit. Cops killing blacks. Blacks killing cops. Heroin overdose. Drug busts. Drunk driver. Hillary is a liar. Trump is a liar.
They’re all liars he thinks. Everyone lies. Everyone is full of shit.
The usual? Of course. What else would he get? What kind of question is that? She’s new. Not so new that she doesn’t know he’s a regular, but new enough to ask.
It’s noisy. Too noisy. Lots of families. Kids. Crying. He hates crying. Doesn’t matter what age. It’s grating. Why does he come here? It’s close, he thinks. That’s why.
More coffee? Sure. Thank you. No problem, hun.
He hates being called “hun.” Also “darlin’.”
But they don’t even know your name, he tells himself. You’re just the old man who sits in the corner. And you never speak. You just nod your head. You pay cash.
A big man walks in with a big voice.
“Whew! It’s a hot one, right? I didn’t think I was going to make it. Hey Darlin’. Table for four near the window. Can you do that? We’re hungry. Did we come to the right place?”
He’s wearing bright colored shorts and a golf shirt. He looks like a douche. He’s got a pretty blonde wife and two sullen kids. He looks like a banker, but he could be anyone.
Please don’t sit them near me, the old man thinks. The hostess sit them in the booth directly next to him.
The big man likes to hear himself talk. He’s louder than he needs to be. So loud, everyone in the restaurant can surely hear him.
“Who wants some pancakes?” he says. “These are supposed to be the best pancakes around.”
It’s a pancake restaurant. Their pancakes are just some mix they buy from the same place everyone else buys them. Nothing special. No secret ingredients. They’re just pancakes.
Fucking tourists, the man thinks.
The sullen children don’t respond to the big man’s questions. They just look at their phones. The pretty wife smiles.
The waitress, the new one, gives them menus and the big man practically reads the menu out loud.
“Blueberry pancakes! Look at that. What do you think about that, eh Jared? You interested in some blueberry pancakes? Or are you more of a waffle man? You a waffle man?”
Jared? Who names their kid Jared? I’m sure he’ll grow up to be a serial killer, or a banker, the old man thinks.
“I’m gonna order everything on the menu! Pancakes, eggs, toast, bacon. What do you guys want?”
Jarad. Isn’t that the name of the hoagie guy who got sent to prison? Fucking underage girls. Child porn. Something like that. Used to be a fat guy. Got skinny eating shitty sandwiches. Give me a break, the old man thinks.
“Looks like a great day to go the beach, right? You guys ready to hit the beach?”
I’ll bet his name is Jarad too, the old man thinks. Big fat mouth. Maybe he hasn’t learned about the benefits of eating shitty sandwiches everyday.
“We should stop by the Wawa and get some hoagies for the beach. I’ve been thinking about a good Italian hoagie since we got down here. What about you guys? You ready for a good hoagie?”
“Finished?” the busboy asks. The old man nods. The busboy takes away his half finished plate. He doesn’t comment. He doesn’t care. The waitresses would have asked.
“Are those fresh blueberries?” the big man asks the new waitress. “I like me some fresh blueberries.”
“I don’t know,” she says. “I think so.”
“Excellent! I’ll have a stack. And some eggs. Three. Over medium. Not runny you know. And, uh a side of bacon. Toast. No english muffin. Extra butter. You have hash browns? Can we get a plate of hash browns?”
The old man has heard enough. He gets up. It’s too hot for this shit, he thinks. He stands next to the young waitress.
“Hey old timer!” the big man says. “Can we help you?”
The old man reaches under his shirt and pulls out a gun. The big man’s smile disappears which doesn’t please the old man as much as he thought it would.
“Quiet,” the old man says.
The kids have stopped looking at their phones, which is something, the old man thinks. This ain’t a video game. This is real life. This makes the old man smile.
He hasn’t thought further than this moment. He just wanted the big man to stop talking. He wanted the kids to put down their phones. He’s sick of tourists. He’s sick of the heat. He’s sick of how loud people are. Truth be told, he’s sick of Uncle Bill’s.
The pretty wife looks terrified. The kids look numb. It’s hard to shock a teenager. They’ve seen everything, and nothing at all. They don’t know enough to be scared. They’re going to live forever. The big man—well, the big man doesn’t have a look. Just a blank face. This puzzles the old man. The wife starts to cry.
The old man looks around and for the first time realizes that everyone has stopped whatever they’re doing. They’re all looking at him. It’s dead quiet. The quietest he’s ever heard the place. The busboy has a strange little smile on his face.
He wonders if they’ll still let him sit in the corner booth after this.