Late Night Diner

“How much is the meatloaf?”

“Like it says there, thirty-five cents.”

“The minestrone?”

“Like it says there. A quarter.”

“How come minestrone is a quarter and meatloaf is thirty-five?”

“Are you kidding me? We’re about to close. You want something or not?”

“Coffee?”

“A nickel. You want a cup?”

“I’ll have the minestrone; a large bowl. And a glass of water.”

“That’ll be a quarter.”

Roger again counted up the five nickels already in his hand and laid them on the faded linoleum counter. He thought about the meatloaf. And the coffee. He could have done it —but he needed to hold on to that dollar. He had a dollar twenty-five and had to get home with a dollar for the landlady. For a dollar, he knew there would be no more grief until morning. For ninety-five cents, he might not have a place to sleep tonight.

Esther placed the bowl and glass in front of Roger, scooped up the twenty-five cents and turned around to pluck a spoon out of the jar, continuing and dropping it next to Roger’s soup, making the entire rotation on the ball of one foot, like a dancer. A dancer from years gone by; a dancer long absent from the stage.

Roger didn’t notice the pirouette. He was ravenous. The dollar in his pocket was more than he had seen in a week. He could have a Salisbury steak, a baked potato, and an apple pie for that dollar and still have enough for a glass of beer, probably. “What about bread? Doesn’t the soup come with bread?”

“Bread’s a nickel. Crackers are two cents, in case you’re about to ask.”

“What kind of place doesn’t give a man a crust to go with his soup? Has it come to this?”

“Buddy, it has all over. You want the crackers?”

Roger felt into his pocket but knew the answer was no. “I guess not. Gotta keep something in my pocket to tip the valet and maître d’ at the club tonight or I won’t get the good table.”

Esther burst out laughing; a kindly, genuine laugh. “That’s very good, you know? I’m going to use that myself.”

“It’ll cost you a cracker.”

“They’re lousy —and you’re finished with your soup anyway.”

“Well the soup wasn’t lousy, that’s for sure.” Roger put on his hat and swiveled off the counter stool.

“Hang on a second.” Esther went into the kitchen and fussed while Roger looked at the floor, the ocean scene prints on the wall, the clock that told you it was time for a Lucky —ten o’clock in this case. His landlady would still be waiting but he was armed with his dollar.

Esther came out to his side of the counter, putting something wrapped in wax paper into his pocket and holding the door open for him. He looked at her questioningly as he walked past and onto the step.

Esther turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED and explained “the meatloaf was burned anyway.”

Late Night Diner

HandofTamm

Toronto, Canada

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Artist's Description

A little human interplay amid inhumane hard times.

Artwork Comments

  • GarBut
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