IT WAS NOVEMBER TWENTY-SECOND and winter had come early that year. Shivering winds from the East swept over a desolate town and covered it in impenetrable frost. The local savings bank and grocery stores remained closed until the weather retreated. This storm had brought the town back into the dark ages of history. Fortunately, there were snowplows to clear off the roads and volunteers at the local food bank traveling door to door, dressed like little marshmallows, handing out food to the elderly, who couldn’t get it otherwise. But of all the places that should have been closed during this snowstorm, one was not.
Lou’s Restaurant remained open snow or shine. Never in sixty-three years of the restaurant’s history had it closed its doors. Not on Christmas, not on New Years, and certainly not with a six feet of snow on the ground and a sheet of ice on the roads. There was still money to be made, belly to be stuffed, and most importantly, a long-standing legacy to be upheld.
A few years ago, Lous’ was acknowledged as a historical site, but everyone knew that what magic was there at that time, had now long since disappeared. The getup itself was disgusting and it never used to be like that. What quality chefs Lou’s employed had long since passed away to leave the fate of this establishment to their spoiled sons, whom we all know give as little of a shit about family honor and care more about filling their jewel-studded pockets. It was a matter of years before that inherited legacy was rammed into the ground among all the other failed family businesses. On a good day, the place could approximately serve four guests. On a bad day, someone threw a rotten tomato at the window or perhaps a rock with a note stating vulgar remarks.
The once-secret ingredient to Lou’s was the murals illustrated on the front walls. These hand-painted stories chronicled the town’s forgotten football team. Some parts even had signatures from the players of the good old days themselves. Lou’s also served the magnificent J. F. K., himself, who was frequent before running for president in the late fifties. Jack had his own booth with a very hush-hush and very special menu, but everyone knew what a little money and fame would do for you then. A picture of Jack shaking hands with Lou hung at eye level inside the men’s bathroom, right above the urial. It was proof that there were more prosperous days hidden in the past than laden on the horizon ahead.
But still, Lou’s carried on, by the clutches of its seat, and today was no exception.
The first guest entered Lou’s by way of the ancient fifties-style doors. They swung open with a ring and through the jam, appeared a man, dressed from head to toe in warm materials, largely consisting of wool. As the customer entered, the only waiter on shift greeted him with a warm but unkept smile.
“Pick where ever you’d like to sit my dear,” she said. “You’ve every seat to choose from.” She laughed awkwardly and collected a glass of water and a pitcher for her customer.
The man limped towards a ripped vinyl booth in the rear next to the emergency exit door. This booth had golden rivets and maroon leather covers, that had all since cracked like the salt flats of Utah.
“Can I fetch you a cup of coffee, my dear?” the plump waiter asked. The ruffled silver pinned name tag read the name Stephanie, which would have made sense after reading it. Her face screamed that name.
“Yes, two cups but no sugar. A little cream.”
“Expecting company?” Stephanie asked.
“Yes, as always,” the lamb man said.
Stephanie nodded her head and wobbled her way back behind the counter to turn on the coffee pot for a fresh cup. The aroma of canned house coffee drifted through the air and when the pot completed its brewing cycle, Stephanie noticed her customer placed a shoe sized box on the seat in front of him. The lamb man spoke to it. He smiled and he laughed as the conversation intensified. And when she was certain that this man wasn’t of sound mind, she noticed him place a photo on top of the box. It was an older photo, like the one you’d take with a Polaroid camera, there was a thick white border at the bottom.
If you were watching this happen, you might have assumed the wrong thing, however, Stephanie was well versed with unusual customers. Just last week an elderly woman came into dining with her seventeen cats. They all wanted tuna. The placed reeked with feces after. Mrs. Fisher was her name and she’d been coming here since she was a little girl, just this time with more guests than usual. And the week prior a boy that appeared to be ten came to order a beer with his lunch. He had a fake ID under the name Lone Star Rider. Whatever weird came through that door, Stephanie was prepared to handle it.
Tip-toeing back with two pipping coffees balanced on her sausage fingers, the waiter placed the cups in front of her customer and the lamb man removed the winter shell from his shoulders and greeted the warm cup with his bluish fingers. The man pushed his grey hair across his head, removing his hat.
“Did you want to order now or wait for your guest?” Stephanie asked shifting her eyes towards the box resting on the bench seat. The photo was too worn to make out.
“We’re ready now I think,” he said. “I’ll have the Eggs Benedict and she’ll have the chicken and waffles with extra syrup on the side.”
Stephanie looked up from her notepad.
“Is that okay?” asked the man.
“Hon, you can have whatever it is you want, no judgments here.”
The lamb man turned to his server and smiled.
“Eggs over easy?” she asked and was answered with a nod and collected the menu.
Two ivory eggs splattered on the grill top. It didn’t take long to finish the orders. The hollandaise sauce was reheated from the previous week and the waffles were freshly frozen, a quick zap in a toaster oven was all it took to bring them up to his standards. The health department definitely wouldn’t have agreed with the quality of this food. Truthfully, Lou’s should have been shut down years ago when the raw chicken was served to a customer, but for an unknown reason, there was never any negative action taken.
“Order up,” yelled the cook.
Stephanie retrieved the two oval plates from the kitchen window.
“Here you are dear,” she said placing the plates down on the table. “Those waffles get cold rather quickly. Will your guest be joining you soon?”
“She’s already here,” the lamb man said rifling through his breakfast like a ravenous wolf. “Aren’t yah Jackie?”
“Mmhmm, let me know if there’s anything else you need.”
Stephanie could not but help examining the man sit there and talk to himself. He slapped the table at the punchline of all his jokes and somehow he knew all the responses to his questions.
“How are the waffles?” he asked and where one would have expected a person to say good or bad he let out a laugh. “Isn’t that true, they’re not like the ones you make. Can I have a bite?”
“No,” Stephanie thought to herself.
“Why not? I always share with you,” the man responded.
“Finish your food first and then I may share,” Stephanie replied.
“Very well,” the man said.
Stephanie could not help but watch the series of events unfold the infant of her eyes, but just when conversation made an interesting turn, the restaurant door’s swung open and more guests entered.
“Ma’am? Ma’am? Can we be seated?”
Stephanie exited her haze.
“Yes—sit wherever you’d want—like.”
The family of three seated themselves and Stephanie poured them water and gave them menus before taking the route to check up on her other table.
“Everything tasting good?” Stephanie asked.
“Good, it was good wasn’t it?” asked the lamb man.
“I asked you—”
“I was talking to her,” the man pointed across the table at the box and the chicken and waffles.
“To whom?” she asked.
“My wife,” he smiled, “Jackie.”
The photo fell on the floor and Stephanie went to pick it up out of courtesy. Her reach was soon met by the lamb mans’ but not without revealing what the photo was. There is a pink spring dress, on a boat with a cigarette in her hand was Jackie. Her thick brown hair blew in the sea’s wind while she read. She was pregnant. It was dated 1963.
“What’re you doing?” the man asked.
“I just—you dropped your photo,” Stephanie stuttered.
“Don’t touch it!” yelled the lamb man.
“She was beautiful.”
“Was? She is beautiful,” the man grew violent. “She is beautiful.”