Intersections

June 15, 2008
By
"The usual?"
"Of course."
This was how it happened every single weeknight at Phillie's. Charlie the soda jerk, who had been working at Phillie's for far longer than his memory stretched, would offer Susie and Oliver, a young couple, their "usual": for Oliver, a whiskey on the rocks; for Susie, just a plain soda, never any flavor. Charlie, the picture of perfect professionalism, never drank anything with them. The two were always there so late was because they worked nights at a local club as a dancing pair, and going to see Charlie had become such a ritual for them over the years that they had never thought twice about going anywhere else. Charlie knew Oliver and Suze so well by now that they didn't even do much idle chatting, instead for the duration hey usually just sat together and enjoyed having company while sipping something sweet (or strong, in Oliver's case).
But then of course, like most ongoing rituals, the pattern was eventually broken.
There was one fall night in October the trio never forgot. If you asked Susie about it, she'd tell you that it was an irregularly warm day, warm enough for her to wear her new pink dress she had wanted to show off. If you asked Oliver, he'd tell you their boss had gypped them on their paycheck and consequently they only had enough money to have one drink each that night, if they wanted to eat during the week. And if you asked Charlie, he'd tell you the couple had been later coming in than usual due to some unforeseen circumstance and as a result he'd had enough time to clean out all the dirty dishes instead of just doing enough for the two of them. So on this night, as the three were sitting together in respectful silence, they heard the bells above the diner door ring. A strangely mysterious man with a neat little bowler hat walked in and sat at the corner of the bar opposite Susie and Oliver. At first, Charlie was so taken aback by the presence of a fourth party instead of the habitual three; he forgot to ask the man what he wanted. But, after a minute, he composed his professional manner once again. "What can I do for yah?"
"Just a water, please," the man said slowly and quietly, as if he was afraid giving Charlie his drink order would get him killed.
A water? No one (or at least nobody Charlie could remember) had stopped into Phillie's at midnight just for a water. But, being that it was his job (and he loved it) he got the man his water and went back over to Suze and Oliver, who were sporting the same puzzled look he assumed he had.
It went on many nights like this, the strange man imposing his presence on the three and only ever ordering a water. On one particular night (they would all agree it was definitely a Wednesday) Susie's curiosity got the best of her. "Excuse me sir, I do hope you don't mind my asking, but why on Earth do you come to this diner at this ungodly hour just to order a water?"
He chuckled. "Would you like to hear my story?" he said.
"Oh, please!" she replied.
His name was Jackson, and he was a reporter for a local newspaper. He and his wife had recently had a sort of falling- out, and she couldn't stand to be around him nights when she wasn't working, so he came to Phillie's to escape from the pain of being within her vicinity. He said he never drank alcohol as a personal rule, as his father had been a lousy drunk and he'd always promised himself he'd never head down that same road. And as for soda, he just found the taste to be personally disgusting. Hence, water. "A bland choice as bland as my personality, as my wife would bluntly put it," he'd state with a laugh, but you could always see the pain shining through behind the jokes. After he had explained everything, the usual quietness was back. So, for every night after that, it was the four of them; Oliver, Susie, Charlie, and Jackson, sitting together in Phillie's in respective silence, sipping whiskey, soda, nothing, and water, respectively.





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