The Man In The Restaurant

Matthew Donnellon

Photo by Brad Stallcup on Unsplash

It is an interesting crowd that inhabits a restaurant at one in the morning. Gone are the families, the casual diners, the early bird specials, and what remains are those that night brings out.

The drunkards, the partygoers, all aspects of revelry, this is the vanishing point for civilization. Check the rules at the door; here, anything goes.

The man noticed this auspicious, and bellicose crowd and decided that he must remain for more biological reasons rather than moral ones.

The moral man would cast one glance into this establishment and turn and take his business elsewhere. Somewhere cleaner. More refined. Somewhere with more class. This man though, he stayed.

He watched.

He listened.

He saw.

He heard.

The atmosphere around offered clues to the goings one of the other side of life, the ones that partied, an intimate portrait of those who partook in the nightlife. They were the ones that the early risers forgot about, the third shift.

With only a select number of places to carry on after the state mandated closing of bars, these people needed another place to go. Somewhere that would take them. They were the vagabonds, the dregs, the ones that did not care how loud, how raucous they seemed.

Everything was clear to the man as soon as he took his place among the patrons at the bar. Here, at least one could expect a modicum of silence. Around him lay the sea of waste. A crowd of vomit stained blouses and blood alcohol levels that would soon necessitate the administering of activated charcoal.

This the man saw.

He ordered, now confident that anything that he might swallow was sure to carry a better chance of food poisoning than sustenance. The waitress approached, and by mere appearance did nothing to curb his hesitations, her hair shone with grease and she popped her gum incessantly.

To complete the image of cleanliness her uniformed included stains that appeared older than he wished to know.

“Whatcha havin?” she asked.

“Anything good?” he said. He noticed that between her shade of eye shadow and the casual regard she took with the borders of her lipstick she either lacked a functioning nervous system or a mirror. He desperately hoped it was the latter.

“H’bout a burger?” she said.

“Any good?” he said handing her the menu.

“Won’t kill ya,” she said.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“No,” she said as she walked away.

While he waited, he made the mistake of looking around the room. In his surveillance of the restaurant he became less and less sure that the substance in which the young people indulged was alcohol or some new type of ecstasy.

He spied a booth in which one young man shouted everything that came across his small collection of neurons. In another booth contained a young woman so mesmerized by her own appearance that she hadn’t looked away in an alarming length of time. She kept putting her finger to the glass and seemed to be amazed that someone that looked so similar to her was standing outside.

Another patron decided that, after purging the entire contents of his stomach next to the cash register, the best course of action would be to crawl on top of a table and sleep off the rest of the alcohol right then and there.

The same waitress who took his order coaxed the man out of his musings.

“Here ya go,” she said and left as abruptly as she appeared.

She placed a meal before him that did not immediately inspire him to eat it, but hunger took over where common sense should have won. Somehow, the wonderful gastronome that was employed at that establishment had the unique ability to have the meat be both raw and overcooked.

Where there should have been bread, there was a stale — stale truly being generous — rind and he was quite sure when the bun expired, but if pressed he would have said that the year only had three digits, and, with all of this evidence before him, he was compelled to not even consider of what the special sauce was composed. Bon Appetit, he thought.

He cast one more glance around the restaurant.

Things did not improve.

There was still one man slunk over the back of one booth, vomiting profusely. He was doings as the man entered the building but now he paused to consider whether the man’s emetic state was due to his successive inebriation or food poisoning, a statistic he put close to even.

Another patron, his nose and cheeks so red one would think the outside temperature was 50 degrees colder, slumped next a coat tree, and appeared to whispering sweet nothings to it and making plans for taking it home afterwards. These were the most tasteful occupants. From one booth he could only see a pair of a female legs, with the stilettos pointing straight towards the ceiling, in another was a man sitting, drinking coffee, and only wearing high heeled shoes, and in the corner booth the only evidence of patronage were the vials and powder visible of the table’s edge.

All the while people danced to a decrepit sound system. They danced in the small unkempt dance floor, in the aisles, and some, daring to test they balance against the forces of alcohol, danced of the tables themselves. They moved and turned and bowed and jumped. Most did so without any regard to the beat of the music.

He had seen enough. The man looked around one last time, confident this was one of Dante’s missing circles, and stood, not bothering to leave any form of payment or tip. He desperately wanted to find a hospital, or at least some activated charcoal.

Something happened.

The man tried to step towards the door. He needed to get out, had to find the civilization from which he exiled himself upon entering the premises.

This was not a place for a man such as him. A place where not to long ago a man, fully grown — physically at least, possibly mentally — scurried past him on all fours barking like a dog. But, every time he tried to make towards the door something, some unearthly force, forbade him to leave.

He wasn’t sure whether it some sort of contact high of which he was not familiar or the festering E. coli that was surely multiplying to an exponential degree in his gut. And the music kept playing. Now, however, it didn’t seem so rotten. He hummed along; he didn’t the words but it felt like he knew the song. It seemed so familiar yet distant like a friend he had not seen in a long time and had trouble remembering the face.

And the people, on a second look the people were not so bad. A little misguided maybe but not a disagreeable as one would think.

The waitress appeared behind him. Only it was not the same person he had previously encountered, she wore the same clothes yes, but wear the old crone’s elongated facial features were a petite, charming face replaced them. Instead of the hairnet, only long black hair remained, tucked neatly behind her ears.

She approached, and he bent down as to lend her his ear “Welcome to my restaurant sir. You may do whatever you like and stay as long as you choose,” she said and disappeared a quickly as she came.

With this newfound knowledge, the man walked to the back corner. On the table some left a pack of cigarettes. He plucked one from the package, and lit it using one of the matches at the table; the slightly sweet sulfuric smell of the burning match irritated his nose. He took a long pull, filling his lungs with the smoke and waited a few moments before blowing it out.

The waitress was giving something to the man across from him and he gave her a knowing glance. She smiled.

Some wondered what happened to the man.

He was never seen again. There was a search but no one ever entered the restaurant in pursuit. The few people that missed him moved on. But if one were to look in a certain booth, in a certain restaurant, they would find a man smoking and nodding his head to the music.

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Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories

Detroit, MI

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