Change

byvet42©

Breakfast at Lucy's Diner is how I start each day. In fact, I've been doing it for the last five years because it's the only one in town,unless you count Big R's at the west end of the highway.

But that's really just an overpriced truck stop.

The small, colorful, breakfast crowd here is mainly the veterans and miners.

The veterans take up the yellowed counter, stained by years of their scattered coffee cups, wearing decorated hats with patches that say things like "The Chosin Few" and "War is Peace."

The far back wall, décor 1960's, is for the town's miners, dressed in typical, worn flannel.

Their group number varies in size according to what they call "Boom or Bust." While a handful of the men are regular, local boys, most follow the work here when it's to be had in the good times, when the bars and motels overflow with them.

Lucy, the waitress, cashier and part time cook, runs the place. After her husband's untimely death, (he was rolled over by 200 tons of dump truck and crushed to death) a decade ago, she used the insurance money to purchase it.

Lucy's old now; she takes care of the mornings and lunch, but hires someone else for dinner, though she used to do all of it.

Her body's too tired now she always tells me.

I can tell by the lack of color in her leathered cheeks and the way her hands shake when she pours the coffee that she's nearing her limit.

I moved here in an attempt to mend the broken relationship I'd shared with my partly estranged mother for nearly most of my adult life, and, to start a new one for myself as well in a small town atmosphere.

Thankfully, my mother and I were able to see eye to eye before her passing shortly afterwards, but now five years, two student loans and an undergrad degree later, I'm still stuck here without my hoped for English position at the college.

Boom or bust towns are fickle, and things sometimes don't pan out.

Eventually though, I got on with The Tattle, the local six-page paper writing interests columns, where my threadbare earnings allow enough for me to get by, but enough not to leave. Hell, I don't even own a car.

Even if I did have one, it would sit, useless, in the parking lot of the motel where I live for $50 a week, complete with a tiny refrigerator and cable.

Though my rent doesn't buy heat or cold, I make do with a fan in the summer and extra blankets in the winter, I've gotten used to it.

At Lucy's, I sat in the same booth by the window, third one from the door, every morning.

Someone had covered the small tear in the ancient red leather with plumber's tape in another decade. There was a small opening in the tape, near one end, where a section of spring poked through that I loved to run my finger over whenever Lucy was slower than usual to get to my table with the bill.

The long-timers here say that they've never seen a dry spell like this one.

But sometimes things change.

The day that they did started out in the usual way.

Forty-five minutes had passed since I'd finished my eggs as I sat in my booth by the window, trapping tiny bits of hash brown in the congeal with my fork, wondering how long it would take Lucy this time.

Not that I was in a hurry.

It was Saturday and I didn't really have to go into the paper, but there were a few things left undone before the next edition. Besides that, I didn't have anything else to do. I rarely have any pressing tasks on Saturday so I sometimes go in after breakfast to kill time.

According to the clock above the register, it was nine-fifteen, but I ignored it because I knew better. The clock was an artifact that had been exactly eighteen minutes behind since the first day I walked in, and to the best of my knowledge at least, no one had ever bothered to reset it.

It was one of those odd little things around here that people acknowledge, but don't really seem to care enough to do anything about.

There are many things in this town like that and it's taken me awhile to come to accept that way of living.

But I'm getting better at it.

After pushing my plate across the table, I dug into my back pocket for my torn leather wallet. I really should have gotten a new one before then, but I hadn't been able to force myself to part with this one yet.

Of course there was still no sign of Lucy, and I now know that her habitual slowness saved her. But I didn't want to wait any longer. Counting out the bills for the amount that I knew by heart, I laid them on the on the table, plus one for Lucy, and grabbed my coat on the seat beside me.

That's about the time that everything went to hell.

Standing awkward between the seat and the edge of the table, with one arm into my coat and struggling with the other, I spotted a rather attractive young woman pass outside the window.

From her appearance it was obvious that she was not from here, but somewhere bigger.

She was wearing a dark cream overcoat, belted at the middle, and simple heels. Her hair was pulled back into a bun, revealing her bright, clean, youthful face.

Turning to look at me she passed, she smiled pleasantly through the glass. I returned the smile, finally getting the best of my coat, before she disappeared behind me out of sight.

To me, the lady represented just another happy traveler stopping for breakfast or maybe to purchase some of those rare but genuinely worthless trinkets that can only be found in hidden, small town tourists traps.

I gave her no more thought as I waved to the veterans and turned towards the wall where the register sits.

Now, one thing that I have come to understand in my forty-three years is that luck plays a part in the courses of our lives whether for good or bad.

Mine was both that day, because if I had not turned my back to the window, the exploding glass shards would have shred me.

My jacket, being rather thick, protected me from that, but it did nothing to stop the buckshot from ripping through my flesh.

As I turned, I heard what must have sounded like a grenade detonating.Suddenly, it felt like someone body-tackled me from behind.

In an instant, before I could grasp the situation, I was thrown from my feet, spun completely around in mid-air and spit into the register counter, splitting my head on it.

At that point, things get fuzzy.

I vaguely remember that there seemed to be four or five blurry balloons floating, detached, moving above me, their fuzzy outlines contrasted by the darkness surrounding them.

Someone was saying my name from what seemed like a very great distance, almost as if they were somehow calling to me over a vast expanse of time. But it was hard to hear anything through the piercing, off-key ringing noise that filled my senses.

I don't remember any definite pain at that time, but I felt very tired and I just wanted to sleep.

All total, I spent a week in the hospital after they removed the shot from my neck and back and stitched the gashes in my head. While the doctors had assured me that I would be okay--the shot had failed to penetrate any vital organs--they were adamant that I would face a long, slow convalescence of possibly several months or more.

Naturally, the story stopped the press at The Tattle and it was out the next morning.

My editor made sure to bring it by a couple of days later, allowing me ample opportunity to read the details of my incident before leaving the hospital.

It seems that after walking past, several witnesses, including a young boy happening by on the other side of the street, who told the story to the police, had seen the young woman pass the diner, turn abruptly in her tracks and quickly retread her way back, stopping in front of the window.

She then drew a shotgun from under her coat and fired several times, emptying the barrel into the diner, annihilating the window, dispatching me face first into the counter in a rain of glass and buckshot.

Immediately following, she fled, dropping the weapon groundward, but was taken into custody relatively immediately.

When later pressed by investigators as to why she had shot up the place, all she would say was that she hadn't liked the way I smiled at her.

Luckily for me, the veterans were far enough away to be sheltered from the blast and those that were able, rushed to my aid and quelled the bleeding until the ambulance arrived, saving my life.

The damage to the diner itself was nominal, consisting mainly of the window and the leather seat where I sat. The table was peppered with buckshot, but still usable and it remains as a kind of a memento.

Besides the window, the only other true casualty of the day was the clock above the register. Struck by a stray piece of shot, it crashed to the floor and has not been replaced.

Lucy was able to get a new window installed and clean things up rather quickly and the diner reopened in just two days.

Months later, the story is still the topic of breakfast conversation at Lucy's. Each person who was there, and some who were not, has a part of it to tell.

Since that day, I've come to understand that change, while rare in this town, and seemingly, the only lasting changes are small--barely perceptible really, even when propelled by catastrophic events--does happen.

Though I still start each day at Lucy's, still order the same plate of eggs, Lucy still takes forever to bring me the bill, and I still wave at the veterans before leaving. Things are different.

For example, there's a clean, clock shaped space on the wall. Also, I carry a new wallet and coat.

And, I don't sit by the window anymore.

The End.

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