Strangers (March 2019, Week 2, Day 3)

Ellie panted as she rounded the corner and stopped at the blinking Don’t Walk sign. It was hot enough that not all the sweat she was producing felt earned and, even though she hadn’t wanted to leave her house at first and every mile had been something of a challenge, she was contemplating adding another mile to her run when she noticed the old man. He was down on one knee, holding onto the base of a streetlamp, and seemed to be staring at something on the ground. It was odd behaviour for any day, and with the heat she wondered what was wrong.

Ellie jogged in place while she waited for the light to turn and shared a glance with the young man standing next to her. He was well dressed and quaffed enough for her to become very aware of how red and blotchy she probably looked. She blushed a bit and looked back across the street at the kneeling man.

The handsome fellow next to her said, “drunks ruining the neighborhood,” before he snapped a picture of the old man and continued on his way.

Ellie looked after the young man, then back to the old one, and decided she’d jog over to see what was going on.

“Sir? Do you need anything, or, I mean, are you ok?”

Up close, Ellie could see the man’s red nose full of broken capillaries and she wondered if the other guy had been right to keep on keeping on. When the man looked up at her his eyes were brimming over with tears.

“Oh, dude! I mean sir. Can I help you? Do you need help getting up?”


“I’m Ellie. Wait, yeah – you don’t know me so you totally weren’t saying my name. I fill in the blanks when I’m nervous. Stay there – I’m going to go get some help.”

She darted away and ran into the first open shop door she found. The place didn’t seem to know who its target market was and Ellie was confronted with an odd assortment of items piled high in every direction. It took her a moment to orient to the shop and find the narrow opening on the counter where the clerk was standing, idlely flipping through a skin magazine.

“Hey! I need some help. There’s a guy out here who needs some help.”

“Well ain’t you a fresh drink of water.” The clerk grinned at her and glanced back down at the magazine that was sitting open on a picture just shy of centerfold quality.

“Really? Now? Will you HELP me?”

“Whatcha need?”

“There’s a guy, outside. He needs help, maybe an ambulance.”

“I don’t know no guy and I ain’t leaving the shop.”

“Just. Ugh. Will you call 911 then?”

The clerk eyed her up and down before letting his hand float over to the phone. “For you? Sure.”

Ellie rolled her eyes and ran out of the store. When she cleared the corner, the spot where the man had been was empty.

The Diner, Continued

The Diner, Continued (March 2019, Week 1, Day 7)

He didn’t mean for it to happen. He couldn’t have – I saw it all unfold and I’m sure, as sure as I am that I’m sitting here telling this story, that it was an accident. 

He’s a sweet man and has been since I met him seven years ago. We met right here, in this very booth. I had been coming here for about three months. Every day, Monday through Friday, I had come in, sat in this booth, and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of tomato soup. I’m the reason it’s a lunch special now – how’s that for fancy?

I was sitting here, though on the other side and in the corner, eating my sandwich and working my crossword puzzle when he came through the door. He stood out on account of the sobbing. It’s not every day you encounter a grown man overcome with tears, much less one walking into a diner at 12:30 pm. That’s the kind of thing you notice.

He went straight to the counter and leaned on it – didn’t even sit down he was so upset. Have you ever been there? So upset that the normal things are just too hard even when they would be easier? I mean, sitting takes less work than standing and yet there he was, sobbing and standing. That says something about him or his sadness – I’m not quite sure which.

That was what made me walk away from my sandwich. A man that sad needed someone and I wasn’t going to be the one who left him alone. I didn’t need to know him to see his pain. You might have done the same if you’d been there. I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder as lightly as I could so as not to startle him. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t look up. He just stood there letting the tears flow.

I stood with him for a full five minutes. The sobs quieted down gradually until they eventually stopped. He gave a great sniff and grabbed a napkin to tend to his face before turning to look at me. He conjured up a small smile from somwhere and I said something simple like “join me?” Those may not have been my exact words, of course, but that was the idea. He followed me to my booth and we’ve been friends ever since.

We’ve turned a head or two over the years, to be sure. People seem to be all together too interested in the goings on of people they don’t know when we all know they would benefit from giving their own business some of that attention. These days we’re pretty well accepted as a pair in the diner at least. Seven years of lunches work thier magic even on the most difficult sorts.  

He doesn’t come to the diner every day like me, of course. One of the luxuries of relative wealth is that I’ve got all the time to do whatever I want. It’s one of the hardships, too, but let’s not dwell on that. He joins me at my booth at least twice a week and has since the beginning. We see each other outside of the diner, too, of course. It’s hard to get to know someone fully if you only experience them in one context. Conversations get stuck in a loop featuring the weather, the menu, and whatever thing it was you did last that stuck in your mind. When you go different places or meet at different times you get to really know a person. He is polite enough not to mention that he worries about me. I know that’s why he comes up with places to take me on the weekends and I’m polite enough to let him think I don’t know his motivation. 

He’d been married before, more than once. We had that in common though I didn’t share my tales as easily. The door was opened for his sharing given those tears on day one. It was natural for me to ask after the cause of them once he’d got his hands wrapped around a warm beverage. Oh, it wasn’t the divorce that broke him up – no woman or man is worth that kind of sadness. No, those tears were over a child. Are you starting to see how I know this was all accidental?

He had to tell me about a marriage for me to understand his pain, and I’m glad he did. You learn a lot about a person through what they’ll share about their past as long as you pay attention. If you only focus on the words you’ll miss the important bits, of course. Watching his face and shoulders as he let some things out and kept other little details private spoke volumes. It was heartbreaking to see how cautious his experiences made him when we first met and it’s not like the seven years I’ve known him have taught him otherwise.

I did what I could to guide him, sharing what and when was necessary to help things along. We are different people, of course, so my ‘wisdom’ only goes so far. I am just as surprised as everyone else, to be honest. I wouldn’t have thought things could happen this way after all he’d shared and all I’d offered, but here we are.

I’ll never forget when that woman came in here with all her piss and vinegar. It was two years ago, almost to the day. He and I were sitting in this booth dawdling over our sandwiches. I had my grilled cheese and he was eating a BLT on this dark rye they’d just started serving. That woman – she was as mad as he’d been sad on that first day. She even went to the counter without sitting. He and I looked at each other before he slid out of the booth to go to her. It was like he was looking to do for someone what I’d done for him all that time ago. 

Now, he wasn’t fool enough to put his hand on her. There are certain privelages afforded to ladies who look like me that do not extend to men who look like him. I wouldn’t have said that when we met, but I’ve learned from him as much as I’ve tried to teach him. He stood next to her, with a counter stool between them, and stretched out his hand to her. She whipped her self towards him, ready to vent her spleen on him, and he slid a quick sentence in before she erupted. “We’ve got room at our booth – join us?”

Well, that caught her off-guard. She looked past him over at me. Her eyebrows were still knitted as tight as a tube sock and it was clear she didn’t expect to see someone like me occupying the space at the end of his gesture. I offered up a smile and patted the spot next to me mostly out of curiosity. She looked from me to him and back again before shaking her head and bursting into a fit of giggles that, frankly, had a mad tinge to them. Even the waitress was watching now. When he’d been there in all his sorrow years before no one else in the diner was willing to make eye contact. I’ll let you decide what that was about.

It wasn’t long before the woman joined us at the booth, sitting on my side of course. He took care of introductions while we waited for the waitress to pick her jaw up off the floor and come over for the woman’s order. She, if you’ll believe it, ordered cottage cheese and pineapple as if she was seventy going on death. I should have known then. I do dream sometimes of what would have happened if I hadn’t welcomed her into my booth, or if I’d discouraged him from going to her, or even if I’d given her a piece of my mind between coffee and the check. It doesn’t matter because I didn’t do any of those things and there’s no going back in time no matter how hard you wish it.

Once he got her talking she let everything fall right out onto the table. He and I had taken months to get into the heavy stuff and here she was, just going on and on with no care for who else heard her ranting. She seemed to prefer the highest volume for all sharing which made me wonder about her upbringing. He let her go on and on, nodding at all the right moments. I kept my mouth shut – she didn’t want advice from either of us. It was clear that she’d walked in with the weight of the world on her shoulders and we were giving her room to unload at least some of it.

He escorted her out to the curb and helped her flag a taxi once everything was said and done. I paid for the meal and hoped that would be the last of her. 


Ball! (500Words Round 2, Week 3, Day 1, 1/29/18)

“Ball! Ball – come back!” Samantha’s urgent plea was completely ignored by the bright red ball rolling away from her down the hill. She pumped her arms and pushed her chubby little legs as fast as they would go in pursuit of her favorite toy. She was hurdling down the hill after it, not paying a bit of attention to where she was going. Leaving home to go down the hill wasn’t allowed and she’d never done it before. Playing on the back porch was one of the best ways to spend a warm afternoon, and bouncing her ball against the garage made it even better.  She hadn’t meant for it to get away from her. The ball seemed to be enjoying its downhill escape. It bounced up high every so often, and let the air take it in different directions. Thanks to the wonders of gravity it was gaining speed as it went while Samantha was slowing down thanks to the wonders of exertion.

“Ball!” Her cry was starting to sound tortured as her treasure got further and further away from her. “Don’t leave me, Ball!”

The ball bounced its way down the hill and out of sight, disappearing in a dark patch of trees. Samantha froze for a moment. She’d never gone this far down the hill or away from home. She turned and looked over her shoulder and saw a small smudge of grey at the top of the steep incline. Her home was very far away, and going after her precious ball would take her even further. She turned her back on her house and started walking towards the trees, talking to herself as she went.

“Ball must have stopped. It must be just out of sight. The trees would have caught it and kept it from going too much further away. Ball must be just waiting for me. I won’t have to go all the way into the trees.”

The ground leveled off a few yards from the tall trees. Samantha noticed the change in the incline from the relief in her thighs. She stopped again, just for a moment, and fully caught her breath. That chase down the hill had been a lot of work, and she wasn’t looking forward to climbing her way back up home. “First things first, Samantha,” she said to herself. “First find Ball, then find your way home.”

The trees were much taller than they had looked from a distance, and Samantha could hear many kinds of birds chirping away from their branches. The dark patch she’d seen Ball enter turned out to be some sort of cave tucked in amongst the trees.  She put her hand on the tree closest to the cave and crouched down, trying to find her ball without stepping foot inside.

“Ball?” she called out, soft enough to keep from disturbing the birds above. “Are you in there, Ball?”

“Yes, yes I am.”

Samantha tipped back and fell soundly onto her behind out of shock.


* All 500Words are fiction.  Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *