I began this story with one thing in mind, but it morphed into much more when I allowed myself to follow my nose. At first it was merely to be a celebration of the last night that a cafe favored by many in town would be open. The owners were moving on, and a band I am fond of was honored to do the goodbye performance. Before I finished the first draft, I knew had no more than a sketch of a setting. That is not a story! I put my nose to the ground and met Jack Angel, the diner, and Mavis, his waitress every Friday night for the last seven years. I had found a trail that took me on a journey I had not imagined when I began. A story unfolded. Here is the way it begins…
“FROM HIS CORNER BY THE NORTH WINDOW, Jack Angel scanned the mostly familiar faces of the crowd and waited for Mavis to come tell him about the special. Beyond the door, crowded on five folding chairs, The Living Rooms crooned songs from better decades. A few feet in front of them, Betty glided among the tables with a tilting tray of steaming food, balancing it with supreme indifference. Behind the bar, owner Dan Light presided over a row of stooled patrons, chatting, ministering to wishes, exchanging an occasional nod with the band over the tops of heads, underwriting each with smiles of thanks it sure has been grand. In the kitchen, which Jack could see through the door and the service window, Sandy, Dan’s wife and co-owner of The Vista, threw orders together with her customary deliberate speed; Carlos worked the stoves with his customary ease; Brady chattered nonstop at the dishwasher, oblivious, as always, to the inattention of others. Sandy’s golden lab, aging Molly, an overlooked health code violation, ambled out from the kitchen. With the care of one who knows that she won’t rise again until closing time, Molly wheeled to the floor in slow, lowering circles beneath the overhang that extended beyond the last stool. From there she could see into the kitchen or down the backside of the bar, following Sandy or Dan with her filmy eyes.
“Dan,” Jack called out, his hand cupped beside his mouth to impersonate a whisper. “I’m really going to miss Molly. As much as I’ll miss you.”
Dan lost his smile and looked down. “She’s been whimpering all day,” he said. “Never does that.” He turned and went into the kitchen.
For a few seconds, The Vista Café stood still, and a flutter of delight washed through Jack like the coolness of a stream on a summer day. It became a place of grace, of bounty unexpected and undeserved, more perfect than the world could be, but in an instant that rush of timelessness disappeared like a tiny flame snuffed by a tiny gust of wind. Why, he wondered, did that feeling fade only to return as longing as soon as he tried to hold it in his hands?”