Stir The Coffee

leslie hern

Through the steam of my coffee I could see a miniature set of shiny red shoes swinging back and forth underneath the counter at the diner. A little girl had been sitting atop the red stool since I had arrived, just sitting watching the cook flip pancakes all morning long with a mature sense of fascination. Up and down, and up and down, over and over again, the batter always formed into delicious solid creations, some with blueberries, some with chocolate, some just plain and simple. The cook sported a wonderful apron that looked like it had been around forever, cooked a million pancakes, and still lived to tell its tale of the oils and toppings and syrups it had seen in its day. The old man?s red shirt could be seen through the burn holes in the apron, as if they were war wounds. The cook didn?t seem to mind the heat of the stove, or stir at all when the burning oil from the pan spat at his flesh. He was caked in a film of grease, butter and batter, and only occasionally broke from his cooking rituals to wipe his forehead with the sopping wet rag that was slung over his left shoulder. Each pancake was a delicate creation that the old man prepared with great consideration and effort, making each one perfect, but none the same. Never would the man be compared to any machine- every one was original, every one special.

The special of the day was peanut butter pancakes, although I didn?t see anybody order that one. The little girl with the shiny shoes, who had been there since I had come in at 8;20, kept watching the cook flip his pancakes over and over again. I like people-watching and tried to figure out who the little girl belonged to. There was a young couple sitting in the booth to the back of me sipping on coffee and discussing family issues, from what I could hear. There was also a business man in the corner eating chocolate pancakes while engaging in stock talk on a black cell phone. He was dressed in a dark suit and dark shirt but wore a wonderful bright red tie, perfect for the Christmas season I thought. Although it seemed too hot to wear an additional jacket on top of a suit, the man didn?t seem bothered. I glanced around the diner and noticed the lack of decorations; it was abnormal for a little diner not to dress up the place.

The little girl was still a mystery to me. The couple had just recently come in so I knew they weren't the little girl?s parents, and the business man was obviously not associated with the child. There had been a boy in his twenties tending the counter, but he had disappeared into the back long ago when his service wasn't needed anymore. I wondered if he was busy in the middle of a brilliant game of solitaire back there, or perhaps that he was still in school and was studying for a mid-term exam. Maybe the boy hadn?t gone to college at all and his future was running this small diner on the corner here. Or then again, maybe the boy was just a boy.

The old man would make piles of about nine or ten pancakes tall on a plate to the side of the stove, and then he would let the stove cool down for a few minutes while he prepared more batter. I didn?t know why he continued to make pancakes when there were no new customers. It was already 9:48 then, according to the clock above the entrance. Most people would have been on their way to work or been at work by then, so nobody else was due to enter the diner now that the morning rush had ceased. The entrance to the diner was at the front and only a door blocked my view to the street; the wall to the street of the diner was glass and I could see cars inching past the glass to the right. The diner seemed very still although the cook was still working steadily at his pancake business, the girl?s shiny shoes still swung back and forth, and the sizzling of the oil and the buzz of the business man