The first time Patrick came to Delilah’s Diner he was so afraid she’d laugh that his face went pink. “Two eggs over easy, sprinkled with sweet relish and pine nuts. And one orange juice with maraschino cherries, please.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Delilah replied.
“—If that’s too hard, I can try something else,” he said.
But Delilah’s eyes were bright as a blue jay. “My husband used to have me wear a pig snout in the bedroom. This is nothing to that.”
“Well great,” Patrick said, shaking a pillbox he’d filled with pine nuts for emergencies. “Don’t worry about the pine nuts. I’ve got plenty!”
“You’ve got the nuts covered all right,” she said on her way to the kitchen.
Then Delilah returned with his eggs and sweet relish on her best plate, accompanied by an old champagne flute.
From then on Patrick came to Delilah’s Diner every Friday morning for her creamy, crunchy yolks, pleased to be the only one there.
“Never better,” he’d call to Delilah as she strode back to the kitchen, her grin glinting over the empty tabletops.
So when he got there Friday and the diner was dark, Patrick went stiff. Delilah had left him no note—no sign—for him, her most loyal customer.
The only other place to go at this hour was the Speedy Stop, and he trudged through five grey puddles to get there.
“Bleak as an Ohio rest stop in winter,” he knew Delilah would’ve said. “Makes you want to splash it up.”
Some days she’d joke that they should elope to some swampy old cottage down South.
Leaning across the table she’d say, “Don’t you want to be smothered with sun till you pee pure gold?”
“My pee is already gold,” he’d say.
Then he’d tip her triple, hoping that he’d made his point.
Maybe he hadn’t been so clear.
Patrick stared at the circular but his eyes were bleary. He cleared his throat and turned to the bearded cashier reading The Columbus Dispatch. The man owned the place and had more hair on his face than Patrick had on his whole head.
“Bad storm last night,” Patrick said, gripping a shopping cart and glancing outside.
Bagel Barn lit up across the street. Patrick’s stomach gurgled but his lips would go nowhere near that barn. That barn stole Delilah’s regulars—and if she’d really fled, then that barn stole Delilah too.
“Power went out last night,” Beard-man said. “Dairy’s half off. Else I’ll have to toss it.”
“Must be rough losing so much in one storm,” Patrick said, steering towards the produce and wondering if he should get things for breakfast, or if he was giving in too soon.
“This place? I could take it or leave it.” Beard-man said. “Who needs it?”
Patrick’s eyes were leaking. “You’re needed. You know you’re needed,” he said, realizing even as his voice cracked, that this was the first time he’d entered this shop in at least two years.
“Sure,” Beard-man said, cracking his newsprint like a whip. “But this here paper’s the best part of my day.”
Beard-man had priorities.
Patrick’s were harder to locate. He picked a nice-looking orange and rolled it in his palm. Maybe he’d make his own eggs. He could check the diner later.
If Delilah returned maybe then she’d know that she couldn’t just toy with her customer’s appetites.
The Speedy Stop aisles were cramped with bags of seeds on sale.
Back when Patrick’s birdhouses were still glossy, Laura had filled them with feed to watch all day. Even after her treatments, Laura huddled by the kitchen window and he would join her for the show. Then no matter how weak she was, or how much he protested, she would always make his breakfast. She made the crispest, briniest pickles for that runny yolk. And he built her the boldest, beefiest birdhouses. For her, he’d filled the yard with sunflowers.
Patrick never cooked, but he sure could nest.
After Laura went, the birds and the flowers went too. For a year he’d watched them go, unable to do more than stay right there in that kitchen. But when he finally got himself out of the house to enjoy breakfast again, he found he couldn’t invite Delilah over. She had pink nails and buoyant hair, too glitzy for his grunge. And he lived too far out of town to offer her a casual cup of coffee.
He didn’t know exactly where she lived, but he knew it was some place near the diner, some place she’d lived alone since her sister fled to Florida.
Florida, where the sun retches on your roof all day.
Florida, where some swamp sucked up all of Delilah’s daydreams.
So what if her sister had moved from her cottage and she couldn’t find a taker? Patrick had his own place that he could polish for her. He could paint it yellow, plant new flowers. He could wear a gold lamé suit to bed every night.
Who needs the Sunshine State when he could offer what neighbors once called the Sunshine House?
He knew how to take a house and smear it with citrus.
Patrick pushed through the tiny aisles. Boxes and cans crushed his shoulders. He grabbed a jug of juice, a bottle of cherries, and a jar of relish. But when he reached for the box of half-price eggs, the screech of a car crashed his thoughts.
A beat-up Ford engine growled as a woman entered, armed with a pink coat across her face. “This is a stick up,” she said, poking something pointy into the fabric.
Beard-man pulled down his paper.
“I’m here for groceries,” she snarled.
“Don’t move and don’t call the cops,” she said. “Got it?”
Beard-man shrugged and returned to his paper.
The woman went for the dairy and Patrick dropped his eggs.
“Over easy,” she said, meeting his eyes with a wink.
When he didn’t move she wiggled all ten of her well-manicured nails to show that they were empty. She surveyed his cart, threw in a block of cheddar, and smiled. “Today’s the day,” she said. “You comin’ with me?”
Patrick blinked. “Why here?”
“Out of eggs,” she said, snagging a fresh carton, eyes bright as a blue jay.
“We’ll need some sunflower seeds,” he said.
She laughed and grabbed a bag as they piled in for a long drive.
About author Julienne Grey
About artist SickNasty