Truckstop diner breakfast

Tommy gets more than bite to eat

      Just outside Memphis, I stop at a diner. There’s a gravel lot to the side of the place. I drive past the rigs and park. I walk in and take a seat at the counter one spot over from where Jim Gantry sits holding a cup of coffee. We ignore each other. I study the menu. He reads the paper.
      The waitress sets down a plate with a single large pancake in front of Jim; it comes with a big pat of butter. She refills his coffee and pours me mine. Jim tilts the bottle of syrup. He pours it until the pancake can’t absorb another drop. He cuts a piece from the center of the plate and forks it into his mouth.
      I look up. The waitress taps a pencil on her pad; I order breakfast. She walks away, tears off the paper, and clips it into the order wheel hanging in the pass through. A cook sets down a plate of eggs, rings the bell, and pulls my order.
      Alone, I swivel in my seat and say, “Hey Jim,” to the tall man in blue dungarees, plaid shirt, and cowboy boots. Jim raises his cup. He holds it there and stares over it as if he’s reading the specials on the wall. A second or two passes. He says, “Tommy,” takes a sip, and sets the cup down. I swivel back in my seat and mutter, “Heading to Nashville,” between my teeth.
      “That so? Business or pleasure?”
      “Business.”
      Jim cuts another bite.
      “You need another loan?”
      “No, but can you fix me up?” I say out the corner of my mouth.
      “You got cash?”
      “Yes.”
      “Can do.”
      Jim eats his pancake. He works his way out from the center—forming an atoll in a sea of buttery syrup—until the only thing left on his plate is a maple slick.
      The waitress says, “Here you go honey,” and sets down a plate in front of me. I spread jelly on my toast and stab my eggs with a fork. Jim goes back to reading the paper. Two truckers nod at him as they leave the diner. The waitress refills our coffee. She leans over me; her breast rubs against my shoulder. I finish eating and pay for my meal.
      I go into the men’s room and clean my hands. The door swings open as I pull the loop of towel from the box on the wall. Jim checks if anyone’s in the stall. I set my money on the edge of the sink. Jim picks up the cash. He takes a small plastic bag full of pills from his jacket and places it where the money had been. I pick up the bennies. No words are spoken. I leave and get back in my car.

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