Raymond had been the cook in Denny’s Diner for 10 years. He knew the regulars, and what they ordered. He started preparing Vince’s two eggs, sunny side up, two rashers of bacon and side of hash browns a few minutes before he normally got there, so it was ready for him when he sat down at the table by the door. This wasn’t just about customer service, more to make sure that the orders didn’t stack up. Because of this, and the fact that most of their customers were regulars, Ray never got too busy, which suited him just fine.
He’d returned from Afghanistan minus his left foot, replaced by a Government issue prosthetic number, which had given him a shuffling gait that he’d now got used to. The owner of Denny’s, a hard-bitten woman called Joanne, had given him the job partly, he thought, out of pity. He was never away from the place, because the job came with a room and shower out back, and because he had nowhere else to go. At nights he got to sleep with the help of half a pint of Ballantines.
He had his dreams though. In most of them, he was on the other side of the hatch, in the diner, but the cracked plastic seats had been replaced with red leather, and each table had a little jukebox. The ketchup bottles, salt, pepper and sugar shakers gleamed. Well-dressed families filled the place with conversation and laughter. The clothes and the hairstyles were straight out of the 50s, which hinted where the dreams came from: a mythical time when things were better, and Uncle Sam could give any country he chose a licking without breaking sweat.
Today, however, he was in the kitchen, frying bacon and eggs for two state troopers who were drinking coffee and flirting with Denise, the waitress who shared his life from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Their order slid onto plates and placed in the hatch, he awarded himself a break. He took a coffee out the back door, to his his chair, positioned where it got the sun. While he smoked a roll-up he recalled last night’s dream. This time he had been the boss, watching a young man in a singlet vest and apron frying eggs in the kitchen. This was the first time that he had dreamed about someone else doing his job, and it made him slightly uneasy. Was he the young man? He moved round the kitchen without limping. Was it himself, pre-Afghanistan? Or was it a sign he might be on his way out?
Denise’s call brought him back to earth. Four orders for scrambled eggs, two with bacon. He pinched the end of his roll-up with nicotine stained fingers, and limped back inside, his chromium plated dreams dissolving in the steam of his kitchen.
by Ross Burton