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Try The Waffles


Acclaim:Published in "Scribble" magazine.


Try The Waffles

"Do you know who I am?"

It was one of those days. The man sitting next to me at the counter was watching intently as I finished my House Special. I reflected that I had broken the first rule of diners - my rule, I must add, that "Thou shalt not sit next to other people in case they turn out to be weirdos" - and here I was, about to pay for it with inane conversation. I waited a moment, hoping he might lose interest if I didn't answer, but then he asked me again, "Do you know who I am?"

I swallowed slowly, and carefully ventured that I did not.

"Damn it!" exclaimed the little man, and only many years of experience dealing with weirdos stopped me from jumping out of my chair. I suppressed interest as best I could, and thankfully the man turned away without seeking a response. "Why does no-one recognise me anymore?"

Maybe it was his lack of intent to discuss the subject further, or maybe it was my surprise that the House Special didn't, in fact, taste of beef as advertised, but I found myself suddenly off-guard, and lacking another response I asked him who he was.

"Why, I'm God, of course." I immediately regretted my actions, but before I could eject from conversation, he continued, "Haven't you seen the pictures?"

Brief images from the Children's Sunday School Bible flickered in my mind. They were, pretty unanimously, all of a tall old man with big hair and a beard you could lose kids in. The person sitting next to me was clean shaven, bald, and only in his late forties. A tattered brown suit rested on his short and round body.

I enquired politely whether, perhaps, he had changed his hairstyle since the pictures.

The man shook his round head and said, "Damn it" again. "You know, kiddo," he said, looking sidelong at me, "Never trust an artist. One minute they'll be offering to paint your portrait for fifty bucks, next they'll be making you look like a goat in a thunder cloud."

I nodded insincere agreement, all the while calculating how much money I would have to leave on the counter to make a quick getaway without under paying. However, my window of opportunity disappeared quickly.

"Time was, you said to people, 'Yo! I'm God!' and it meant something. Nowadays, those kids are as likely to pop a cap in your ass as anything else." He winced and rubbed his backside. "I mean, hey, I wasn't asking for the trembling and bowing before me, but it sure beats a slug from a 9mm, know what I mean?"

I professed a lack of personal experience and started hurriedly counting notes.

"And hey, kiddo, don't get me started on what the fire department do if you're caught with a burning bush these days."

I threw notes at the counter, waved to make sure the waitress had seen them, then stood up quickly, expressing sympathy to the man and making apologies for having to run out. And, because I felt it paid not to leave people on a bad note (godly or not), I wished him better luck the next day.

I left before he had a chance to reply.

A couple of days passed in which I religiously followed the second rule of diners, which is to say, never return to the scene of the weirdo soon enough that he might remember you. However, on the third day I was caught in rain and, lacking anywhere else to take cover, I headed into the diner again.

It was quiet thanks to the bad weather, so I seated myself at the far end of the counter (half the chance of a weirdo sitting next to you, or rule three as I call it) where I could drip on the formica surface in peace. It was only after ordering that I realised that the same bald guy sat at the opposite end of the bar, drinking coffee.

I ate quickly and without looking up for fear of accidental eye contact (rule four), mercifully distracted from my soggy salad that seemed to have been brought in from the rain at the same time I arrived. When I had eaten all that I could and the last remaining lettuce leaves floated forlornly at the bottom of the bowl, I threw some notes of approximately the right value at my coffee cup and made to leave.

It was then I caught sight of the bald man again, still staring into his coffee, and for reasons unknown (probably some failing inherited from my parents) thought I should enquire if he was alright. I figured I could always make a quick exit again, should the rain appear to be easing up.

I stood next to the man and said hello. He turned to me, looked me up and down, then after some thought said, "I guess it's raining again then." I nodded confirmation and he turned away, muttering, "Never could get those clouds under control for long."

I dripped quietly for a moment, unsure if it was technically tricky to control clouds and whether it was appropriate to reassure him of success in the future. He slurped his coffee noisily as I stood there, and I noticed that he was the only customer who showed no signs of being rained on. I thought to mention it, but he carried on before I got the chance.

"Rain wasn't my idea, you know? It was all that Gabriel's doing. 'An easy way to get water around,' he said."

I gave the most sensible response I could, which was to say, nothing, and idly considered adding special subclauses for this type of conversation to the rules of diners. The man seemed unconcerned at my silence though, and just shrugged instead. The same tired brown suit and the same shirt as before flopped about his shoulders.

"Thunderbolts now - they're easy." He looked around conspiratorially then, and leaned in close to me. "You want to know what's really impressive though?"

I shook my head, fearing I was going to find out regardless, and wishing I hadn't started the whole thing. I considered feigning death to escape, but then thought the waitress might stop to count the money I left before I was taken away.

The man leaned in even closer and whispered, "You get a balloon, you blow it up nice and big, rub it on your jumper, then blow me! The damn thing sticks to the wall!"

I looked around subtly, hoping for an obvious escape route, but none presented themselves. Instead, the man nodded approvingly, apparently pleased that I considered this such a hush-hush matter as to check for eavesdroppers. "Damn right, kiddo! Now that's a miracle, straight up."

The distant drumming of rain slowed at this point, and I took the opportunity that divine intervention offered to make my excuses and leave. I thanked the man for the information and bolted towards the door amidst statements about a gap in the weather.

The man just called after me, so the whole diner could here, "Sure thing, kiddo. And I'm working on the clouds."

I let a few more days pass, eating lunch at various places and honing the wording of rule five ("Run if someone claims to be God"), before a downpour forced me back into the same old diner again. I was prepared this time though, as I was taking a late lunch break and there was no risk of encountering the same people in the diner.

Or so I thought.

Even as the door shut behind me, the bald guy turned around on his stool, gave me a cheery wave and called, "Hey, kiddo, come and pull up a pew."

Resigned to my fate, I sat at the indicated seat and mumbled pre-emptive excuses about being busy and short on time. The man nodded and smiled, saying, "Sure thing, kiddo. Me too. I'm on the next bus out of here." He gestured towards a holdall by his feet.

Surprised and slightly relieved, I almost forgot to order coffee, but instead offered my now-short-term companion another cup to be going on with. He declined it politely, then when the waitress left he leaned in closer and whispered, "Actually, I only come here for the company. The coffee sucks."

I gave a forced smile, but not wanting to jeopardise his leaving or my quiet lunch, said nothing. It was unnecessary anyway, it seemed.

"I tell you," said the man, "you never want to go down to that church on Sycamore Street. Oh sure, they say they want to listen, but you just try correcting them when they're quoting scripture. It sure doesn't go down well." I looked aghast as best I could, and the man nodded. "That's why I'm getting out of here."

My coffee arrived and I stirred it slowly, wondering if I could out-wait him, or whether I was better finishing it off quickly and writing the day off. Hope for the next day filled me, but I figured the waiting game wouldn't hurt for one day. I enquired politely where he was planning to go next.

"Oh, I don't know," he said, and again there was the suggestion of a shrug in the rise and fall of his suit jacket. "I was thinking somewhere nice and small, Pluto maybe. You know, somewhere easy to control and with none of those damn clouds!"

I said that sounded nice as the rainwater dripped from my coat into my coffee. The barely black liquid rippled almost imperctibly, and I made a mental note not to order the coffee again.

The man pulled out a worn leather wallet and counted out coins onto the counter. "Yeah, Pluto sure is nice this time of year. And you know, a view of the stars that you just wouldn't believe. You ever really watched the stars, kiddo?" I evaded the question by suggesting that they were probably undervalued by most of the human race, a response which seemed to be well accepted. "Damn right. Me, I went up to Hollywood just last month, and you know they've got stars in the damn pavement? I mean, hello? Did I waste my time on the sky or what?"

A few of the other nearby clientele turned and gave us strange looks, and I suggested quietly that it was indeed a shame and didn't he have a bus to catch.

The man checked his watch and nodded. "Yeah. Oh, hey - I almost forgot! I've got something for you. You're so late I thought I was going to miss giving it to you." He rummaged in his bag as a sinking feeling started in my stomach and images of a variety of hard-to-dispose-of items entered my head. Then, with a final call of, "Got it!" he yanked his hand out of the bag and dropped something on the counter next to me.

I realised, with a moment's consideration, that it was a small, yellow, uninflated balloon.

The man pointed at the balloon and gave me a conspiratorial wink. "There you go, kiddo. Your very own miracle."

I thanked him for the balloon as he stood up and made ready to go. "Nice meeting you. If you're ever passing by the pearly gates, drop in and tell 'em God sent ya. And hey, kiddo - try the waffles." And with that he patted me on the shoulder and walked across the diner to accost the waitress on the way out.

I paused from my coffee and looked at the balloon a moment, and then feeling slightly silly picked it up and blew into it. A small yellow sphere formed in my hands. I rubbed it on the driest part of my jumper and then waved it across the back of my hand, watching the hairs stand up as it passed. Sure, I knew about static electricity and electrons, but how did they all work anyway?

I turned in time to see the bald man wave goodbye to the waitress and then squeeze out the door with his brown suit flapping around his limbs. He stepped into the rain, amongst the soggy afternoon shoppers, and even as I let the air out of the balloon I thought I could see the falling droplets parting as he walked away.

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