Joe’s diner: Redux

She saw this mincing figure doing a comic amble toward her, stumbling as if drunk.  Couldn’t have been, though, ’cause that silver platter he was balancing never tilted an inch from level.  In dirty tweed and tacked-on tails, our Joe, with a toothy grin under several hats, presented Ella with the finds from his daily dumpster dive.  Cups of Coke or root beer (half empty or half full), some straggly fries, uneaten nuggets, questionable lettuce.  Fine fuel for tonight’s stomach ache.  With a flourish, he set down his garbage can lid and cozied up beside her, doing a quick study of her person.  Ella of the red-rimmed eyes, the broken nose, the several teeth.  But, most of all, Ella of the Mona Lisa Smile.  She had been gone these recent days, and Joe had feared for her.  He said nothing, but returned her smile, then stood up to stretch and scratch.  Garçon!  A bottle of your best house wine!  says she.  This cheered him some, seeing her old sardonic sarcasm, but he did not laugh.  The winds of late October papered them with leaves in crispy flight, and he felt the chill.  Bumping hips, as if to shove her off the broken bench, Joe tried to be playful, to coax some more of that smile, but Ella hung her head and looked away.  He gathered her to him, cradling her head, angling her shadowed face up to his.  Ella, that hard-bitten girl, that leader of the old rat pack, was giving up.  With her face bathed in grudging tears and runny nose, she bade him Get away.  Just get away!  They were two of the same.  Finding only ugly hurt in their lives, they did not know how to accept love.
In the morning, Ella would be gone.  Our Joe would travel on.


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