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The Rainbow Diner


Harry Buschman

Part 3 - Dinner

All was quiet in the factory now. It was lunch hour. The overhead belts were still and the dust from the buffing machine hung motionless in the air. There was a picturesque quality to the place that reminded him of photographs of the old water power factories that lined the river banks of New England a century ago. The rivers didn't stop for lunch, they rolled on, and in the summer the men would sit along the riverside in the shade playing cribbage and trading lunches with one another. Through the open windows the wheels could be heard turning inside powered by the restless river. But nowadays, they pulled the switches, the power was shut off and everything was still.

That was why life was so much better. It didn't stop; that was the main thing. Something about someone to come home to -- that was a big part of it, maybe the biggest part. There was always something to do and always something to look forward to -- the next three-day weekend -- the next election. There was no purpose in it now -- no future.

He punched in again and walked to the window -- the grimy glass made the sky seem darker than it actually was, and the room was gloomy. He opened the window and leaned far out. He bent his head back, and the snow, gentler than it had been earlier, caressed his face softly. He blinked hard and searched for her face in the sky -- someone he could talk to. Maybe God, if Jocelyn wasn't there.

"Does anybody hear me up there?" There was no answer, no one to hear him. "It ain't all peaches and cream down here y'know." He felt anger surge up inside him. "You ain't all that omnipotent. If you was, you would'a known things like this would happen ... you could'a warned me, I would'a been ready. I would'a known what to expect."

He pulled his head back into the workroom and closed the window gently. Looking around the shop he saw old man Crips sitting at his workbench eating his lunch. He knew Crips wouldn't speak to him unless he spoke first and he wondered if it might not be just as well to ignore him and get back to work. But the sight of Crips sitting there chewing like a mechanical doll and staring at him was too much. We must talk to each other, he thought -- we are men after all. We must communicate.

"How ya doin, Crips -- eatin' in?"

"Yeah, I'm eatin' -- you et?"

"I skipped it. I went over to the Rainbow ... but it was too crowded."

"I don't like crowds. That's why I bring my lunch. My wife makes me lunch. Why'nt you bring lunch?"

That's one of the reasons Gordon didn't want to get started with Crips. He was sick of telling Crips his wife was dead, ten minutes after he told him he'd forget it -- what was he supposed to do, hang a sign around his neck?

That seemed to end the conversation, yet Crips continued his doll-like chewing, until suddenly remembering his manners, he reached into his lunch box and pulled out another sandwich. "Wanna sangwich?" He waved a waxed paper wrapped sandwich at Gordon. "Wife always makes me two."

"What kind is it?"

"What kind?" He partially opened the wrapping and looked inside. "I dunno. brown meat, like this one." He waved the one he was eating. "It don't matter much to me."

"Do you remember my name, Crips?"

"Your name? 'Course I remember y'name ... we been workin' together here fer twenny years ain't we?" He took another bite of his sandwich. "Gotta be twenny years -- ain't it twenny. Funny damn question to ask. What was it you asked me?"

"Forget it. Sure I'll have one of your sandwiches. Nice of you to offer, Crips." Gordon got up and went over to Crips.

"Y'gotta go easy with me," Crips reminded him, "I had a stroke a little while ago y'know. It ain't so easy rememberin' things the way I use'ta."

"I know Crips, I know. You're a good man, Crips -- thanks for the sandwich."


He stood at the bus stop. There was still a bit of light in the sky, a bright band of yellow gold lay stretched out flat on the western horizon. He could see the blinking lights of planes heading into Logan. The air was brisk and turning sharply colder, clouds moved quickly overhead and it looked as though the weather might change for the better. He wondered where he should go next. The only other place he knew was the flat. The place he called home.

He felt invisible standing here at the bus stop -- as though the driver might pass him by without stopping. "Is this the way it is when you're dead? It must be like looking in on a movie you've seen a hundred times before and having no part in it. You'd lose interest after a while, the people in it would be strangers -- you wouldn't care if they lived or died."

"Does anyone but me remember Jossie? Maybe Howie does. You've got lots of time to remember now, Howie. All the time in the world ... No matter, Jossie. So long as I live someone's gonna remember you."

The people on the bus were more alert in the evening. He looked around to see if he could find a familiar face -- he'd been riding this same bus for three years now, and never -- never once had he seen a face he had seen before. "What happens to them when they get to where they're going? Am I the only one who travels both ways?" Like a prisoner exchange, he thought -- the man sitting next to him had his life's possessions in two paper sacks, Gordon could see a toaster sticking out the top of one of them. Wherever the man was going he could have toast in the morning -- if he had bread and a place to plug in the toaster.

Maybe that was his problem! He came and he went, like a Gypsy, never getting anywhere, never leaving anywhere! "No!" He said aloud. "It can't be that simple!" The man next to him hitched himself away, looking at him as though expecting something dreadful to happen.

He tried to explain, "Excuse me, I just thought of something I forgot to bring with me." The man shrugged and raised his eyebrows a bit as though to say, "Don't blame me."

"I'll have to go back for it," he explained weakly. He reached over the man and pulled the cord. The man continued to watch him warily as the bus careened wildly to the curb. Gordon leaned over and said, "I hope things go well with you."

The man clamped his mouth shut and took a firmer grip on his packages as Gordon staggered his way to the exit doors. The bus, although fully stopped, rocked fitfully at the curbside. The doors remained closed, and turning to the left, Gordon saw the driver, a huge red-faced man, stand up and face the passengers.

"I don't feel good folks. I ain't takin' this bus no further." He walked unsteadily to the center of the bus and wrapped his two beefy hands around a pole in front of a young woman wearing earphones. She wagged her head from side to side in a slow mechanical rhythm, oblivious to the driver and everything else but the music in her ears. "I ain't kiddin' folks -- it's been a bad day f'me. Both my kids got the flu and my wife's gotta do another week in re-hab." He turned back to the driver's seat and pulled the lever to open the front door. "I'm outta here," He said. "Get'cha self home the best way y'can."

He was gone, leaving his bewildered passengers looking at each other. Gradually they began to stir and talk to each other; they all had places to go. The bus always took them there, there was no other way to get from where they came from to where they wanted to go. No one ever thought of the bus driver as anything more than a part of the bus. He couldn't walk out on them! It was not supposed to work that way!

No one was going to leave the bus -- no way! This bus was supposed to take them somewhere -- a place they had to go to. They had no interest in where they were, the important thing was where they wanted to go. There would be another bus, another driver -- until one came along they would just sit and wait.

It was not so with Gordon. He didn't want to go back to the apartment. He had no interest in the shoe factory after his day was done either. The only other thing in his life was The Rainbow Diner.

Gordon walked to the front of the bus and stepped out into the night, using the same door the driver did. He was calmer now out on the street, the air was fresher and there wasn't a soul around. He could think at his own pace now and he was sure of one thing. He wasn't going home. Not right now. There was nothing there to make him want to go home. Another night listening to Mady and her girl friends play bridge -- he could almost hear their voices coming up through the openings around the waste pipe in the bathroom. He didn't want any part of sitting there alone -- listening, and trying not to.

Now he couldn't remember why he got off the bus. Something about Mady's bridge club ladies and not getting anywhere. Yes, it was both of these things. Both together, and the obvious answer was not to go home. Home was one of the anchors of his discontent -- it was not where the pot of gold was. Neither was the shoe factory. It was someplace in between. The Rainbow Diner must the answer! The sky was dark now. A few very fast moving clouds and a sky riddled with stars -- "Could there be a rainbow at night?" Of course there could.

Gordon turned around and began walking back to the diner. There was a spring to his step again, he was going to give it another try. This morning was great, maybe this evening would be good too. Something went wrong at lunch time, but it had to be a freak. Yes, tonight would be fine -- Lois would be there; what would she say? "What can I get'cha hon?" That's what she'd say. Then she'd remember his name, and say, "Gordon, honey. You're back -- did'ya have a good day?"

He tried to remember the menu, but he hadn't seen the specials of the evening. They were probably different from those at breakfast and lunch, but who cares! You could order anything you wanted at The Rainbow Diner. Just around the corner now. Looking up he could see the darkened windows of the shoe factory, staring down at him, dead-eyed and opaque.

But across the street; in all its splendor, like a cruise ship at night, riding at anchor in some glamorous port-of-call, lay The Rainbow Diner! How warm and inviting it looked, Gordon could almost smell the onions a block away.

He pulled the highly polished chromium door wide and stepped inside -- yes, there she was. Lois! Her hair was the color of a polished copper pot. She was filling the coffee urn with care, her brows were knitted in intense concentration and she didn't look up until she had measured out the last droplet of water from the the carafe. When she did, her eyes lit up with surprise. "Gordon! Come back f'supper did'ja? Sit y'self down -- take a table by the winda, nobody comes into The Rainbow this time of the evening."

The warmth of the diner and the smells from the kitchen were overwhelming.

Gordon stumbled as the front door swung shut and nudged him inside. For the first time today he knew he was where he had to be -- not at the end -- not at the beginning, but on the rainbow. He sat at a table by the window, took off his cap and folded both hands in his lap like a penitent. He was contrite, at peace -- and waiting. Not for dinner. Not for Lois. For something else. All his questions would be answered one by one, right here in the Rainbow diner.

©Harry Buschman 2003

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