Chapter 2

Diners and Destinations

Splat! Compound eyes are useless if you’re too fat to fly.

Splayed legs surrounded by green-yellow goo smear from the counter and out of sight by a bored short order cook. He’s not bothered enough to look away from the brightest spot in the diner, a television high in one corner with the sound turned down.

Kathryn and George sit across from each other in a ramshackle booth, eyes greased over. She always let him order too much when trying to make things “all better”. It was a thing she started doing when he was younger as a way of appeasement, a distraction.

Today was different, more desperate. Half a dozen plates litter the table as a tableau of meager hunger for late night delicacies.

“Everything is temporary.” Kathryn sighed as she pushed a finger at her plate.

“I know.” George nodded in solidarity.

This wasn’t the first time they’d had a late meal in a corner cafe. Every town had a dinette like this with its dreamy, dreary lighting. Where a rotisserie of sliced pie looked less like food than wax versions of themselves, where burnt coffee and cigarettes and bacon grease pungently played hide and seek with your olfactory senses, where real conversations happen before dawn breaks.

“I could give two shits about me but you, George…” she trailed off.

He knew this was only partially true. His mother had a chock-a-block resume of ill-fated loves. She’d get in deep with some guy then, after a while, things would just implode. Most of the time they were short-lived because , instinctively, his mother knew untangling lives was easier when there weren’t boxes to pack.

George, too, had become a collector. His mind flashed through monologues by sad-faced men. Sometimes they’d be down on one knee or cross-legged on the floor or next to him on the couch. This is when the word “buddy” would come out with a great many pauses and sighs. They’d explain it had nothing to do with him and that it “it just didn’t work” and “it’s not your fault”. Every time George wondered if they might explain, as a way of connecting some common thread, what the word “it” meant.

Not often the worst arguments would put him in the center — two adults, fingers pointing at each other over his head. In those moments George could see his mother’s wit and be witness to her sharp tongue she never used on him. His mother was a master of details. Her memory of events was acute often recalling the slightest of scenery, an outfit or the moment of ultimate transgression that led to this one. And she was never the bad guy.

They always landed on their feet somewhere, though. Nice hotels with room service or fly across the country to spend an extended amount of time with family. Only when George was much younger did they end up in a flop house. His bed bug scabs were around longer than most of the men.

“I’m a college educated woman and you’re a rockstar of a kid. It’s all just geography. We can go anywhere.” Kathryn said.

The word geography stayed in George’s mind for a minute as he imagined a globe like the one in homeroom. It spun on the brass axis as he slapped it. Faster and faster the bumps and ridges weaved making it look lopsided. His index finger moved up and down the latitude of the globe poised in a guessing game of “round and round she goes…”

The globe spun so fast the countries in various shades of pink and brown became a Neapolitan blur between the faded blue of the oceans.

Slap, spin — watch it turn. Could they really go anywhere?

George looked out at the white outside. A woman in a black wool coat held her umbrella to the wind as it was pelted with a frenzy of snow. Each flake a white bullet pounding the curve of the umbrella and swirling down to the calf-high piles on the sidewalk. Taxis with their orange duty signs light a streaked just beyond, headlights illuminating more people and more snow. A new patron enters the dinette ringing the shoddy bell of announcement as the bitter Chicago wind runs full tilt along the floor and chills their legs.

The globe had stopped, his finger had dropped onto the relief map. His eyes squinted as they changed focus from the outside to the florescent light above and his mouth rounded up one corner in a smirk.

Kathryn leaned in, her eyes widening and a smile emerging.

George blows on his hands, rubbing them together for warmth.


Music to write by | Tour de Chance | Mark Isham

Isla is a novel-in-progress. Feel free to read along (and share) as new chapters are published.

Chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,

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