This story is by Sharon Bell and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
How He Eats His Eggs
We walk past the hum and eerie glow of red neon declaring, “open all night”. He holds the door open for me and we walk into the tiny diner. Bad paintings of rock singers, movie stars, and action heroes, cover the walls. Smaller primitive paintings of dogs and horses, done by a child, fill the empty spaces between. Both artists use only primary colors, the colors in a poor kid’s box of crayons. The lack of perspective in the paintings gives the place a surreal feeling. A waitress shows us to a booth, I slide across the red vinyl and I’m glad when he slides in across from me, not next to me. Now I can see his face, learn his expressions, pick up the tiny clues to interpret his words. The table, a little too tall for the low benches, makes me feel silly and I don’t know him well enough to be comfortable feeling silly, so I sit up straighter. Charlie Chaplin’s image covers the surface of the table, Bettie Page with a whip in her mouth stares out above our heads from her nail on the wall. I can hear faint music scratching its way out of a cheap radio in the kitchen.
I look at his still sleepy face across the table. We’d slept like two people unaccustomed to sharing a bed, accommodating another person on such a small square of real-estate. Through the night we’d been restless and drowsily aware of the other’s presence. We drifted in and out, apart and together, like bottles rolling on the bottom of a boat. We were discovering the unique ways that we fit together. I’d felt a sense of contentment when he’d throw an arm over my waist and pull me closer. It’s too soon for such feelings, but I need this now, so I put that out of my head and just pressed harder against him.
In that short span of time, between the final minutes of night, but not yet morning, the holding became touching, and tentatively we came together again, gently, without the fervor and urgency of the night before. Only after did we think that we might finally sleep…but then it was morning and we decided to go to breakfast. I’d leaned over the side of the bed, my fingers stretching for my crumpled shirt. Sitting on the edge I shrugged into it quickly, making my movement crisp and concise to cover my shyness, then, quickstep, tippy toed into the bathroom. I knew he was watching.
Now, just remembering, a worm of self-consciousness flips in my belly. I look across the table into his remarkable blue eyes, and the worm rights itself. I reach for the menu, shaped like a big laminated egg.
This will be our first breakfast together…this is when I find out how he drinks his coffee. It’s strange to me that I know the sounds he makes when he’s making love, but I don’t know how he eats his eggs. Natural progression seems somehow out of whack. The waitress slams two coffee cups down on Chaplin’s head, and tosses flatware, rolled in cheap, paper napkins, on the table. She returns with a coffee pot, pours the steaming liquid into the cups and distractedly takes our order. We order our eggs the same way…over medium, no gushy whites, but yolks a little runny. This is hard to pull off to perfection and we find common ground in how often we’re disappointed with the results. Of all the ways there are to eat eggs we like ours the same. Chaplin stares at me through layers of varnish, mutely amused.
He realizes he’s forgotten his tools and will have to go back home before heading to his job site. This will eat up precious morning minutes, and a fluttering sense of hurriedness disturbs the still drowsy mood. We talk about what’s ahead of us for the day. We’re working people, so we talk about our work. The waitress slides our plates in front of us, barely slowing down as she passes. I mumble “thank you”, into the vacuum of her departure, but she’s already across the room grabbing for the coffee pots to make another round of the diner. I move the bacon to my toast plate, then shove my potatoes to 12 o’clock, safely out of the way of the yolk about to flow. He picks up his knife and fork and scissors them through his eggs, bacon, and potatoes, mixing everything in a glistening pile on his plate, then he squirts catsup on the whole mess. I’ve seen this technique before and it always makes me a little queasy. I never look directly at it. When we ordered our eggs the same way it seemed to mean something. Now that I see how he eats them, it means nothing. It’s simply the way he eats his eggs.
Our plates are cleared, a check is slapped down. He places his hand over it and slides it off the table. So, he’s the guy who reaches for the check. I move my toast plate, covering Chaplin’s eyes, and tell him that tomorrow I’ll get my test results, the diagnosis will be clearer, then I’ll know more about what’s ahead for someone with sick blood. He nods his head, yes… I don’t know what that means. He doesn’t ask questions. He doesn’t say “everything will be ok”. He doesn’t say anything, just takes a sip of his coffee, black, one sugar…so, now I know. Last night, when he pinned my wrists to the bed, I saw him look at the bruises on my arms where the vials of blood were taken. Now he looks past me for the waitress to come with his change. One of his mud-crusted work boots slides out from under the table pointing in the direction of the door.