Robert Gribble ~ 24 Hours a Day

Benny and Joe sat in the sun-warmed seats of the diner. It was sometime in the afternoon, and their food had just arrived. Joe had ordered a BLT with extra thick slices of tomato, which he asked for and a large, cold glass of iced tea with no lemon. Benny had ordered a stack of pancakes decorated in maple syrup, butter, and jam. The television mounted at the leftmost corner wall of the diner was tuned to local news station. A brown-haired woman spoke:

“And that makes the fifth hit-and-run accident this week reported by the Sheriff’s Department.“

“Hey, you remember Kyle?” Benny asked through mouthfuls of pancakes.

“Yeah, the redhead with that thing with his eye,” answered Joe, hands folded neatly on the table, having not yet touched his BLT.

“Do you remember how annoying that ginger fucker was. Looked like a damn ventriloquist dummy with that creepy look in his eye.”

“Why do you bring him up?” asked Joe.

“This kid over there, sitting at the counter, reminds me of him, little creep. Except I know it can’t be Kyle, cause we gunned him down five years ago outside‘a Maryland.”

A sticky purple and yellow concoction of pancake dressing dripped slowly down Benny’s chin as he spoke. “That was around the same time you and Suzanne got together wasn’t it?”

“Well, I really wouldn’t call it getting together,” Joe said. “She teased me, lied to me, cheated on me…” Joe took a long, slow drink of his iced tea, carefully situating his teeth just far enough apart above the rim of the glass to drink the maximum amount of liquid without having a single cube of ice pass his lips.

“And I buried her,” Joe concluded, putting down his glass.

We report another attack occurring today along the Palestinian-Israeli border in the West Bank after negotiations fell through with the—

“Wipe your face for God’s sake, Benny, you look disgusting.” Joe berated his friend from across the white table.

“My bad,” Benny said, taking a napkin to wipe his face. He failed to clear most of the syrup from his face and instead further decorated his visage with tiny bits of torn, white paper napkin, which clung to his chin and lower cheeks.

My friend is a goddamn clown,” thought Joe, but he didn’t say anything.

The boy who looked like the ginger-headed Kyle walked by. Several bullet holes pierced his yellow shirt.

“How’s that new thing goingthat bouncer gig?” Benny asked.

“It’s not bad. They pay me to stand there and look tough.”

“Ever bust some heads?”

“Once or twicethey usually got up afterward.”

Joe’s plate was empty now. He stared at it without blinking. His hands were resting on the table, fingers spread and palms down like two pale spiders sleeping, their legs sprawled out; it was a pose he cultivated. He was concentrating on his pose so carefully that he did not notice three men stumble drunkenly into the diner, sit down at the counter, and proceed to order milkshakes while blood dripped from cracks in their heads.

“And now we go to sports with Eddy—Eddy—”

“Thanks, Linda. Domestic abuse accusations still plague star NFL running back—”

The diner was more crowded now, with all sorts of people sitting at the counter, bleeding.

“How’s your Mom, Joe?” asked Benny.

“She’s good, still watches her shows, that’s all she can do any morebut she does it well,” Joe said cooly. “Right time, right channelshe always remembers to put them on, even if I am not there. She doesn’t always remember me, but she always remembers her soaps.”

Benny responded, “You’re lucky to have her still kicking around. Both my folks bit it years ago.”

“I don’t know,” said Joe. “She’s therebut not there. My dad was an ass; I wish he’d bit it a lot sooner than he did.”

“He was the first you wasted, wasn’t he? How old were you?”

“Sixteenthe worst part is Mom still thinks he is alive. I tell her he’s at the store. Sometimes I want to tell her the truth; he’s been in the ground for almost 20 years with a fireplace poker stuck in his left temple. But I don’t tell hereven if she will forget it 5 minutes later. I worry that maybe she will get better suddenly right then and there, and the only thing that will stick in her mind is the fact that her son killed her pyscho husband.

Joe looked blankly at his friend Benny, whose eyes were wide and thoughtless like the eyes of a toad.

God, he looks stupid,” Joe thought.

“Still, she’s there” Benny replied.

Joe changed the subject. “Remember that time we got stuck in traffic and the police siren went off behind us, because some idiot in the next lane had a broken tail light?”

Benny said “I near shat myself. Here we are carrying like 100 rifles in the back of the car, wrapped in an old Milwaukee travel map, and this fucking siren goes off behind us.”

“I still can’t believe we fit all those guns in a map.”

“I’m telling you, Milwaukee is a big place!” Benny laughed and took a sip of his coffee. “You know I haven’t seen Mary in some time now. I should give her a call.”

“Haven’t you two been on good terms since the divorce?” Joe asked.

“Yeah, she’s all right, won’t let me see the kids thoughprobably for the best,” Benny shrugged.

The waitress brought them the coffee they had ordered and took away their plates. Sticking out of the back of her candy-striped, red and white uniform was the black handle of a small knife.

“You know what I think,” Benny started. “Mary left me after she got tired of putting up with my shit, but you have put up with more of my shit than anyone. Why the hell are you still here?” he asked with a hurt chuckle.

“I’m a patient man,” Joe replied.

It was completely dark outside now, and the artificial lights hummed illumination in the diner. By now, there wasn’t a square inch of the white, tile floor of the rest stop that wasn’t covered with tightly packed corpses, both motionless and ambulatory. Finally, the pressure was too much for the walls of the diner to bear, and a flood of dead bodies burst out through the plaster walls. The wooden support beams rupturedcausing the diner to collapse in upon itself, leaving a pile of rubble and scattered limbs. Body parts twitched amongst the wreckage. The only structure still standing was the blue neon sign reading “Open All Night,” which flickered its message into the darkness.

 

Robert Gribble is 24 years old and a creative writing major at the University of California Santa Cruz. He loves graphic novels and Miyazaki films, and believes that children’s Saturday morning cartoons are the highest form of art.

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