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Diner Conversations (short story)

The diner was empty save for a single booth in the corner. Maggie walked from behind the counter with a fresh pot of coffee, her name tag slightly crooked and stained with the dinner special from the rush earlier that night. On a busy night there would be a couple of truckers stopping for a late night meal on a long haul or a bunch of teenagers looking for something to quail their drunken hunger pains. However, there was always a man who came every night and sat in the last booth in the corner of the diner. He had various streaks of grey hair peeking their way through the darkness of his short black hair that lay untamed on his head; a matching mustache on his upper lip. He looked to be no older than thirty. The expression on his face was calm but he always sat upright with his arms stiff by his side. A note pad lay on the table to his right, that night the notebook was a deep blue. Maggie had seen him with a different notebook every month or so, always vigorously scribbling on it after his second cup of coffee but never after eating his hash browns. He was a creature of very strange and interesting habits. The waitresses nicknamed him "Poe" because in the two years he had been a regular customer, not once did he reveal his name, he just sat in the last booth with his dark hair and mustache, grimly scribbling away into endless notebooks, the blue lights from the neon sign outside the diner flickering on his face When he stared out the window.
The neon sign on the roof of the diner emitted a low humming noise that could be heard lightly over the music coming from the jukebox by the front door. Eric, the cook, was in the back arguing with the owner Joan. Something about the change in the menu and how the standards of diners had fallen since "he was a boy". Eric was surprisingly old to be working as a cook in a diner, but he was good at what he did and he'd die before he went to a retirement home. Eric was always sharing parts of his life with Maggie and anyone who so much as set a foot in "his kitchen", which she didn't mind. He told her that the only way to not go insane in this world was to surround yourself with people and work. She thought the old man was a bit senile. Maggie already had her life mapped out in her mind, the diner was just a detour. By the time she was Eric's age, she planned on being retired and relaxing on a beach in Europe, but to each his own. As Maggie made her way across the empty diner, lukewarm coffee pot in hand, she noticed something different about Poe, the gold band that once rested on his ring finger was now gone. Whenever she saw it, she would think back to the days when her father was still around. He used to adorn a gold ring on his finger as well. As a girl she would always twist the gold ring around her father's finger as she sat in his lap while he watched television. That was all before he died, leaving her with her mother and younger sister, eventually forcing her to get a job at the diner bussing tables, serving food and pouring coffee at odd hours. As she poured Poe his second cup of coffee, she wondered to herself if she should say something to comfort him. It wasn't as if they were close friends, after two years they were still strangers. Just the sounds of a knife going across a plate as he cut through his pancakes and coffee being poured, that was their nightly conversation. Except for that night. As she turned to walk back to the kitchen Poe asked very silently and abruptly, " When do you get off?". Maggie wasn't sure of how to respond, she turned back to look at him sitting there staring at his plate of half eaten pancakes as if it would disappear if he blinked.
"I... About three hours from now," she replied hesitantly.
Unsure of what she expected in response, let alone what to do, Maggie hurriedly walked back to the kitchen and managed to bump into a table on the way, spilling room temperature coffee on herself. The kitchen had become a war zone that could be heard from across the diner as Joan screamed "Screw your damn homemade apple pie, we're serving blueberry!".  Maggie burst through the swinging doors, eyes wide open in shock. Joan noticed her standing there, a huge coffee stain on her pink colored uniform.
" Maggie what the hell? If you don't get that coffee stain out, you're paying for that ugly thing. Trust me, it ain't as cheap as it looks."
Eric scoffed, mumbling to himself as he walked into the freezer for more meat, "Probably got it at some discount store, can't even afford to make decent food. Back in my day, stuff was high-grade quality. Coffee would've slid right off, not even a stain". Joan rolled her eyes and pretended not to hear Eric's last remarks as he disappeared into the freezer. Maggie still stood at the doorway, motionless, thinking back to her brief encounter.
"Maggie, stop standing there like a deer in headlights!" Maggie looked at Joan and words just started tumbling out. "I poured his coffee like usual and then, then, he stopped me and asked me when I was getting off".
 Even Joan looked a little surprised. She peered out the stained window of the kitchen doors. She looked out across the diner and Poe sitting in the back corner peering out the window; there a group of drunk high school kids in the parking lot tumbling their way towards the diner. Joan looked back at Maggie.
"Do whatever you want, but your curiosity will probably nag you to death eventually if you don't talk to him. Just go over there now, you need to take a break anyways, Alley just pulled up in the parking lot. She can handle the kids.”
Maggie looked out towards the parking lot and surely enough Alley was standing by her car, looking at her reflection in the window and straightening her hair. As Maggie gave Joan a disapproving look the bell over the door rang as the door was thrust open carelessly, the dinner suddenly flooded with intoxicated laughter. 
Maggie had once asked Joan why she never called the sheriff's office about all the minors who stumbled in drunk. Joan said that life is full of mistakes and it would be silly to reprimand someone else for the things she did once too. As Maggie headed out to escort the new group to a big enough table, Eric started on one of his rants about how things were better in his days .The door chimed again as Maggie finished sitting the large group of high school students.
"Hey Alley, can you cover this table." Maggie began taking her apron off as she crossed the diner back to the kitchen. Alley looked back at the table of drunks as she and Maggie entered the kitchen and released a sigh of disgust. "Fine, but you get the creepy truckers later."  
"Sounds like a deal." Maggie clocked out and headed back out of the kitchen. Poe still sat at his usual table, scribbling in his new notebook. He seemed startled by her sudden presence, slighting jolting in his seat as she sat down across from him. For a few moments they both sat there in silence. His lips were moving as if he was going to say something, but nothing would come out. Maggie turned to look out of the window, it had snowed earlier that day and a few inches of snow still lay on the sidewalk. She could see the footprints left behind by the group of teenagers when they found their way to the diner, they looked almost like the outline of an intricate dance. "Snow is beautiful isn't it?" asked Maggie absent-mindedly. Poe reached across the table and put his hand over Maggie's. A barrage of images flooded Maggie's head. The image of a woman wearing a Victorian style dress, her blue eyes overflowing with tears. Another of a young boy in all back running up a hill to meet the crying woman. A graveyard covered in snow. Other images seemed to pass over her eyes, but they were much faster and seemed to have no connection, except that the people inside them seemed to be trying to reach out and escape from behind her eyes. Poe's body began to arch back as his head slowly fell back on his neck and then he collapsed over. The last image that Maggie saw was that of herself and then nothing.
Slowly Poe raised himself from the booth, grabbing his notebook and silently crossing the diner towards the front door. Alley came out of the kitchen holding a tray of food as Poe neared the door. "Hey, is he okay?" Alley nudged her head towards the collapsed body in the corner booth of the diner as she set down her tray. Poe looked across the diner at the table he’d just left; he thought about giving an explanation for the shell of a body he had left behind, but instead he continued towards the door. He never had a love for snow, but he could still feel the traces of the woman who found it so remarkable. "Where are you going? Joan will be pissed if you just walk out on your shift." Alley called out as Poe stood with one foot out of the door. Poe looked back with a smile across his young feminine face "It's quite boring to stay in one place for eternity is it not?"

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