Skip Stone sat down at the corner booth in the diner and smoothed his hands across the tabletop once before tucking them back in to adjust his tie. He peered out the wall of windows beside him and watched the team of 20-somethings on their smartphones huddled up at the edge of the parking lot. He watched them from inside, sneering and unaware of his sneering, until the waitress arrived.
“Good morning,” she said.
“Hello,” Stone replied.
“What can I get you to drink?”
“Coffee. Black.” He looked out the window again. The waitress went back behind the counter to fetch a cup and carafe. Stone watched the 20-somethings outside and muttered to himself. “You all think you know so much already. Look at you: cheap clothes, fancy gadgets, stupid hair.” He pause to let the sneer spread and stretch deeper into his orange-ish plastic skin. “My suits are all hand-made. Tailored. You think that takes too long. You think everything takes too long. Well, you can thank me for that. Life’s so easy for you. Everything’s been easy. And that’s because of me. I’m the one who spent 24 years up there, fighting. Fighting every damn day so that life could be easy for you. And the thanks I get?”
He stopped talking and looked up at the waitress as she neared with his coffee. She set the cup and saucer down and then poured coffee from the carafe. “You want cream?” she asked, still pouring.
“Yes,” he replied, “and sugar.”
She finished the pour and nodded toward the window. “Sugar’s over there,” she said, fishing a pair of liquid cream packets from her apron pocket. “You want something to eat?”
He shook his head ‘no’ as he took the creamers in hand and attended to his cup.
“All right,” the waitress said before leaving him alone.
Once he finished doctoring the coffee, spilling sugar all over the table in the process, Skip Stone resumed his stare and sneer out the window. After a few sips the muttering resumed, “It was me up there all those years, making education better… fixing roads… staving off the rabid and radical, it was me – me – who kept you safe from the other party all this time. And the thanks I get?”
Then he scoffed and, head shaking, looked down to his coffee before taking another sip. But as he brought the cup up to his lips and his eyes lifted and steered to the window again he paused, frozen, staring. A shadow gathered outside in the parking lot, like a cloud shadow at first, then coalescing into a light fog that soon surrounded and absorbed the team of youths standing at the edge of the blacktop. Stone lowered the mug to its cradle and slowly turned to face the door, his face stuck with widened eyes and opened mouth.
The diner’s double-doors flew open together, the shadow fog flowing inside and billowing like tire fire smoke caught in a jet of wind. It veered at the counter, still billowing, still coalescing, hardening, driving, and eventually settling in the bench opposite Stone. It held the shape of a large man – silhouetted and topped with a hat. All black and rippling like smoke trapped in glass.
“Hello, Senator,” came a voice from the shadow.
“Wh – what?” Stone replied, still frozen stiff.
Stone wanted to look away – he wanted to see if anyone else in the diner saw what he was seeing. He wanted to know if anyone heard what he was hearing. But all he could do was stare, watching the smoke before him swirl like ashen milk.
“It’s time to move on, Senator,” the voice said. It came from everywhere and nowhere all at once: in Stone’s head, from behind him, from the shadow, through the vents, even vibrating through the table his hands rested on. It was everywhere.
“But I’m – I’m–“
“You’re overdue for retirement, that’s what you are.”
Stone shook as head as much as he could, still unable to look away from the shape across the table. “But, no! I’m two weeks away from re-election here,” he said.
“Your time for begging has come to an end.”
“Begging?” Stone snapped.
“Yes. You are a beggar, a leech, a moocher, freeloader.”
Stone managed to slam a fist on the table then, rattling the spoon in the saucer. “The hell I am! I’m the one–“
“Who’s spent the last 24 years begging for a six-figure salary while spending your days playing golf and telling other people what to write.” The volume of the voice increased. The shadow swelled. Stone began to speak again but stopped, horrified, when he watched a pair of red eyes begin to glow beneath the silhouette’s hat. “Your service to yourself is at an end. It’s been many years now since you’ve contributed anything to anyone but yourself.”
“B – b – but I–“
“Shut your mouth now,” the voice boomed. “We hope you will find this dispassionate enough to consider appropriately. You were born into a world of opportunity – a world built on the shoulders of giants, those men and women who won a war across continents to save the world. And then you took that world they built for you and decided it wasn’t as perfect as you thought it should be and therefore it needed to be ‘fixed,’ as you always said. But you never fixed anything. You prolonged or postponed or procrastinated until you ruined what you had never even earned. And now you continue to beg, as if entitled to something from the younger generations, but it’s all because you’re ashamed of the fact that you’ve destroyed the world they will have to live in. It’s time to let them fix it.” Then the shadow swelled larger, the eyes glowing brighter, the smoke swirling into a boil.
“Who? Hu – Who?” Stone asked, now squinting his eyes as the shadow grew all around him. He could feel the wind and smell smoke then, raising his arms to shield his face from what he thought was a certain and painful end. The smoke surrounded him and thickened, blocking out the light from the wall of windows. Stone closed his eyes and gnashed his teeth. He waited for his coup de grace.
“Mister?” came a small voice. “Who you talkin’ to?”
Stone opened his eyes and slowly lowered his arms. He sat in the diner. The 20-somethings chatted away outside. The waitress stood with a hand on the counter and her head canted, watching him. And then there was a young child standing beside Stone’s booth, looking up at him with a furrowed brow.
Just think about it. No, I’m not proofing this. I typed it directly into the blog dashboard, so it is what it is.
Y’all help me out here: is there a war against (insert sex)? Hell if I care, but it’s all mildly interesting. I’ve heard the phrase thrown around, seen promos for books with it in the title, etc., etc. Whatever. I googled “war on men” and this came up. I think one thing both sexes have in common is differentiating between the other sex with generalizations and no one really gives a fuck because the sun comes up tomorrow whether you piss standing or sitting. Everybody wants to get on a team and tear the other team down, right? Or am I missing something?
Love this song.