A melancholic work of fiction examining the profound impact connections with strangers, even in brief, can have on our lives…
by: Taylor Burnfield
A frail, middle-aged man sat in the back of the diner; I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. I saw him there every day for the last six months and it didn’t bother me that he was obviously lonely, but rather that he was alone. There seemed to be no trace of happiness or comfort in his existence. An air of melancholy hung around him just as heavy and gray as the smoke from his cigarettes.
I couldn’t take it anymore and one day I decided to approach him. I knew it was probably a bad idea. No good deed goes unpunished, right? Besides, he probably was alone by choice. What business of it was mine?
“Hi, my name is Lewis,” I said. “May I sit with you? I see you here all the time. What is your name?”
He looked up at me with pale green eyes. Despite his age, something in his eyes reminded me of a child who had been starved for attention and was being offered it for the first time.
He stuck out a bony hand out for me to shake. “Richard,” he said. He motioned for me to sit down. “Please.”
Richard’s southern accent and old-world politeness took me by surprise. It’s not something you encounter often in a New York City diner. I wasn’t sure what to ask him; I hadn’t thought that far ahead. Luckily, I didn’t have to do much talking, he immediately began telling me about himself.
He emptied a packet of sugar into his coffee, “I’ve been coming to this diner for years now. It’s quiet, allows me the chance to think.”
“Do you work around here? I mean, what do you do for a living?” That was a stupid question, the man was frail and obviously had some kind of illness. He couldn’t possibly have a job. I didn’t know what was wrong with him, I would have guessed cancer given the bald spots on his head.
“I used to be a fashion photographer, but that was years ago” A slight smile crept across his face, causing his paper-thin skin to nearly crack. “I traveled all over. Paris, Milan, you name it. But those days are over now.”
A silence emerged between the two of us. Then he asked me, “So what do you do?”
“Oh, me? I’m a reporter. I work down the block for the newspaper. Do you read the paper?”
“I used to.”
He emptied more sugar into his coffee. We sat across from each other in silence. The light from the afternoon sun poured onto the right side of his face, highlighting grey stubble and hollowness beneath his cheekbone.
He finished his coffee, stood up slowly from the table. “Well, it was nice meeting you. What did you say your name was again?”
“Lewis. Well, it was very nice meeting you Lewis.” Richard took my hand once more and I could feel every curve and knot of his skeletal hand. He smiled, squeezed my hand, released it, and began walking towards the door.
I came back to the diner the next day, hoping to speak to Richard again. But Richard wasn’t there. I caught the attention of a waitress.
“Excuse me, miss? Do you know what happened to that man who always sat in the back of the diner? Richard? I’ve seen him here every day for the last six months.”
The waitress, who was chewing on the world’s largest piece of gum, replied “Sorry hun, I don’t know who you are talking about.”
I came back to the diner a few more times and never saw Richard again. I searched the obituaries and found no trace of him. I regretted not asking for his last name. I wish I knew what had happened to him.
Taylor Burnfield is a native of Dallas, TX and currently resides in Colorado. She enjoys creative writing and photography. Her work has been featured in her university’s newspaper as well as Borrowed Solace Magazine. You can view her website or follow her on Twitter @tayannphoto.