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Writing short stories beats chasing altar boys!

DINNER IN THE DINER

 

DINNER IN THE DINER

The young guy entered the diner and took a seat at a window booth. Alice turned to Diane and said, "I'll take care of this guy --- he's a regular". Alice took her order pad and approached his table. "What will you be having tonight, Benny?" she inquired. Benny was looking at the specials and replied, "I'll take the meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas. But no salad tonight, Alice". Alice made a quick notation on her order pad and asked, "Do you want your usual ice tea, Benny?"

"Yes, please, Alice."

Alice returned to behind the counter and placed the order on the windowsill adjoining the diner's kitchen. Back at the booth Benny was chatting with Jack who was now sitting across from him. Alice then returned to the booth to take Jack's order. This was a nightly routine. Jack ordered the ham dinner with mashed potatoes and string beans. Like Benny he also ordered an ice tea. Alice put Jack's order in.

Benny said to Jack, "Did you lock the front door to the apartment when you left?" "Yes, I did."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure."

Alice glanced over to the booth and noticed that 'regulars' were sitting in the booth on either side of Benny and Jack. That was good. There would be no questions asked. Five minutes later Alice was putting the food and beverages down in front of the boys.

Benny asked Jack, "Did you feed the dog before you left?"

"Yes, I did" was the reply.

Did you give him the Alpo?"

"Yes, I used the Alpo."

"What do you have planned for this week?"

"Well, I have to get a haircut tomorrow. Then I have a doctor's appointment the next day. Then on Friday I plan to clean the apartment."

"Good, Jack --- that's good."

"How 'bout you?"

"Well I'll be getting a haircut with you like we always do --- and of course I'll be going to the doctor's with you, too."

"How have you been feeling lately?"

"Well, I think I'm a little better. I think the medicine is helping us and I think we feel a little better adjusted, don't you?"

"Yes, I agree."

"But I think people still act kind of strange around us". "Yes, but it's getting better. Just look at Alice. She doesn't say anything about us being different."

"But how 'bout that guy in the shoe store? He kept talking to you like I wasn't even there?"

"Yeah, he was just rude."

"Or that guy in the drugstore, he was the same way."

"Yes, he was rude, too, Jack."

Benny and Jack had been inseparable for a number of years now. Sometimes it was difficult to tell them apart. They were good looking guys in their mid-twenties, but Alice never saw them with a date and she never knew what they did for a living. She knew they lived in an apartment and that they had a dog. But that was about it. She had observed that Benny always arrived at the diner first --- and Jack would show up a short time later.

"Do you want to go to Bermuda this fall?" asked Benny.

"Yeah, we could do that. But this time let's stay at the Southampton Princess."

"That's okay with me."

"Or if you want some warmer weather we could fly down to Puerto Rico."

"Nah --- Bermuda would be fine."

Both young men were finishing their meals now.

"I need a new bathing suit."

"Yeah, so do I."

"We should buy some soon."

"Yeah, the stores won't be selling them in a few weeks."

"The meatloaf was good tonight!"

"So was the ham."

"Do you want any desert?"

"No, I'm full."

"Me, too." Just then Alice approached the booth again. "Do you boys want any coffee or desert?" "No thanks, Alice, we're both full", replied Benny. Alice put the two checks down on the table and started clearing the dishes away. Alice said, "I overheard you boys talking about a trip to Bermuda. I've been there twice and I always love to ride those little scooters around."

"So do we, Alice --- and we always get a great deal because they let the two of us rent one scooter and only charge us one fee!" Alice was not surprised at this, of course, but she just smiled at Benny. "How's your dog these days?" Alice inquired. "Oh, he's fine, Alice --- at least he's fine when Jack remembers to feed him."

"Oh, c'mon --- I only forgot twice!"    Benny paid the check and the boys departed.

Alice cleaned up their table and returned to the counter. Diane was in the process of refilling sugar bowls. Diane said, "That kid seems like a nice kid but there's something strange about him." "Well, you got that right, Diane. Since it's your first night here, I'll tell you about Benny." "First, tell me this --- does he always order two dinners?" ""Well, let me explain. Benny is actually two people. He's Benny --- and he's Jack."

"What? What the hell are you talking about, girl?"

"Benny was in a bad car accident about four years ago. He was driving and ran a red light. A big truck clobbered them. His bother was seated next to him. His brother's name was Jack. Jack was killed as a result of the accident and ever since then Benny has had a split personality. It's as if he doesn't want to admit that his brother is dead. Or perhaps he wants to live on for both of them. They go --- I mean Benny goes to the psychiatrist every two weeks. When Benny first came in here I thought he was nuts. You know --- like having dinner with a giant rabbit named Harvey." "I don't know how he can eat two dinners every night!"

"Yeah, but he never orders desert."

"Does he have any friends?"

"Yes, I heard that he has a friend named Phil who knew him and his brother before the accident and he understands Benny's problem." "It's funny --- but when Benny goes to a movie or certain other places and only gets charged one fee --- he thinks he's really getting a deal."

"The poor kid. Will he ever get better?"

" I don't know Diane --- I really don't."

"Probably nobody knows --- but at least the kid doesn't have to eat alone!"

"That's not funny, Diane!"

"I know. I'm sorry."

Benny/Jack came around for dinner almost every night for another six months. Then Alice didn't see him for about five months. Then one Friday there was Benny coming through the diner door and sitting at his favorite booth. Alice picked up her order pad and went over to the table. "How have you been, Benny? I haven't seen you in here for a long time!"

" I know, Alice --- I've been away. I was in a special hospital upstate."

"Well, I missed you. What'll you have tonight?" "I think I'll have the fried flounder, French fries and Cole slaw. And, of course, the ice tea."

"And what will Jack be having tonight?"

"Jack's dead, Alice --- but I guess you knew that a long time ago."

"Yes, I'm sorry, Benny, but I did know that."

"Well, they finally cured me in that hospital, Alice. They explained everything to me and now I understand."

"That's great, Benny --- that's really great!" Alice put in Benny's order, served him and glanced over to him periodically as he ate his dinner. When he had finished, Alice returned to his booth and asked, "Will there be any desert tonight, Benny?"

"Yes, I think I'll have the peach pie --- now that I'm not eating two meals anymore!" "One peach pie coming up!" Alice brought Benny his pie. After he had finished it he paid his bill and left.

The very next night Benny came into the diner again. Alice took his order and said, "What'll you have tonight Benny?"

"I'm not Benny --- I'm Jack. Benny thinks I'm dead --- but I'm not, as you can see. Those quack doctors up in that hospital convinced Benny that I'm dead. Finally Benny went along with them or else we'd still both be up there in that damn hospital."

"Jack", who was wearing the exact same shirt that Benny had worn last night, glanced over the menu and ordered the liver and onions special. Alice put his order in and started to fill sugar bowls while she waited for the liver and onions to cook. Then she noticed that tears were running down both her cheeks.



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