Feigning a Fine Fettle

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Dusty Diner

Winding down the last days, he couldn’t even recognize where the world he knew had gone. He was just wasting time in the diner. It’s all he had these days: time.

He sat in a small booth, one along the windows. The sun shone in through the smudged glass, filtered by the blinds to create a pattern of shadow and light. Outside he could see lumpy dirt; it looked like the earth had been abused. The strumming carpets of tall grass were eaten up long past, just a memory. Now there was just concrete and loose dirt. Beyond the dirt was the highway. Beyond that, the sky. What was beyond that could only be imagined. Probably just more empty places, hollow and unused.

He missed the grumbling clouds, bellowing across the fields and trees. Their reverberating rumbles that rippled across the earth, bending the grasses in its wake with lazy power and a tinge of electricity. It all came down to this.

Day in and day out, he sat in this dusty diner next to the thrumming cord of commerce, long haul trucks charging past. He fussed with his coffee cup, holding it close. Took a sip and burnt his tongue.

The wind distressed the door a little, rocked it back and forth, not sure if it was welcome inside. He hacked, robust and broken. Caught a look at himself on the stainless steel napkin dispenser on the table.

He was consumed in wrinkles, hidden beneath the tirade of minutes, each falling off the clock with harrowing precision, burying him, each a grain of sand. Life and death were all just clockwork. Each hour wounded you just a little bit more. The last killed you.

Illuminated by a shaft of sunlight, the dust motes in the stuffy place drifted through the air without rest, tiny particles of the world, without a home, displaced and unsure. They’d all at once settle, a fine blanket of grey on the flat places before they were made to flee in the wake of a gust, entering through the open door.

He coughed again. The clock ticked and a truck rumbled. The silence was only finely covered, that kind of silence that rings in your ear, perhaps the remains of a laugh or a lingering cry or maybe a secret, once forbidden, now without meaning or home, its keepers dead and gone. Nothing said ever died. It just wandered. The clouds drifted over head and the sky was grey from the loose dirt. The highway was all that was alive these days. His little town was just waiting to die.

The wind whistled and the clock ticked. This was like what he once knew, but only as much as he knew an old photograph of himself. This world was the same, but it too had changed. It was not the same. He was not the same.

It was kind of sudden, but not all unwelcome. The stranger came in and sat down across from him. They didn’t need to say anything; each knew what this was. Each knew the other one knew it too.

Ruffled by a wind, he was compelled to leave the table. Caught in the sun, he drifted, alone and unsure. The clock ticked, a faucet dripped, the man he was a moment before was no more.

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