Secret Menu

The last diner

It was difficult to distinguish the figure knocking at the door from the world beyond the window, a chessboard of neon-outlined, shifting shadows.

The owner, broom in hand, paused briefly, and considered that perhaps he’d imagined it.

Then there it was again, more frantic.

“We’re closed,” he yelled, shaking his head. “Come back tomorrow.”

“Come on, Mr. Irving. The sign says you’re open for like one more minute. Please?” the voice was familiar, though muffled, and sighing sternly and stepping carefully over the newly clean floor, Irving gave into the plea.

The figure that appeared as the door swung open was young and crumpled, cocooned in a complex assortment of sweaters and jackets. Little puffs of breath erupted from its mouth in smokey white bursts.

“I’m closing up, Scott. No more customers tonight.”

“I know, Mr. Irving. I know, I know it’s late, I’m sorry. But I had a meeting with my boss and got off work late and this is the only place I know that I can get something for $2.50 that’s not going to kill me. Anything you’ve got left. I’ll take anything.”

Irving sighed and pushed the door open further, letting the kid scramble in from the December chill.

“Here,” he said, handing over the broom. “Finish sweeping while I see what we have left over.”

Scott took the broom, nodding, and resumed the work, murmuring his thanks while the older man made his way behind the bar and began to sift through the plastic-wrapped food on the counter.

“Need something to take home to Meggie too?” Irving said, layering shredded lettuce on a half-stale roll.

The rustle of the work stopped for a moment...

“Meggie and I aren’t together anymore.”

…then continued.

“Oh,” Irving looked up from the layer of lukewarm pickles. The couple had been in just the week before, looking right as rain. “Well, I’m sorry.”

Scott shrugged, “Probably for the best, you know?”

Irving nodded, wrapping the questionable creation in paper and sliding it across the counter — “Here we are, the first ever Scott Caulfield sub: mayonaise, lettuce, pickles, olives, one slice of turkey, two slices of ham and a half a slice of Swiss cheese.”

“Thanks again, Mr. Irving. I really owe you one,” Scott dug $2.50 out of the pockets on his outermost jacket and took the sandwich.

“Don’t worry about it, kid.”

Irving watched as he disappeared into the growing black and, satisfied his last customer had gone, resumed sweeping.