‘I don't belong here.’
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The coffin sank slowly below the broken earth, mourners circling the graveside. She was reminded of crows in their blackest feathers from her hillside vantage point near the gravel parking lot. "They call them a murder." the thought startling in its context.
’I didn't even know his name until yesterday. Damn Cara and her big mouth!’
[i]Cara had been teasing her, as was her way. Still it got damn annoying after nine hours of lustful eyes and lecherous advances spent behind the faux mahogany bar.
"Kirsten, check this out. It seems that tall, dark, and creepy kicked the bucket last weekend." Cara slid the paper under Kirsten's nose, her oval face expectant.
"Piss off, Cara." she replied without looking up.[/i]
She wasn't quite sure how she made it from there to here, watching a memorial service for the quiet man who had eaten his lunch at the end of her bar for as long as she could remember.
They rarely spoke, other than her perfunctory; "The usual?" with him replying with a distracted "Please". There was nothing more between them than an endless string of club sandwiches, empty beer glasses, and ashtrays filled with exactly three crushed butts, smoked to the filter.
It was the other girls, Cara in particular that noticed his stare. At first, Kirsten ignored it. Other men did far worse than stare. One even had the audacity to spill a glass of ice water on her white shirt and claim it an accident. ‘Accident, my ass!’ she had thought on her way to the storeroom for a dry shirt. The lustful eyes of one quiet middle aged diner didn't faze her. Not one iota.
At least not at first.
It was later, after endless witless speculation and mockery by the like of Cara and her gaggle of sorority harpies that Kirsten began to feel the weight of his eyes on her as she poured beers and mixed drinks. She quickly decided to turn the tables. She watched him as he watched her. Thankfully the bar was full of reflective surfaces that allowed such makeshift surveillance. Kirsten quickly realized that there was no malevolence in this man. He simply watched, his face never showing even a shadow of lechery. It was as if he were bird watching, making tiny notes in some backward slanting mental shorthand. He seemed to study her, trying to understand something just out of reach. She wondered what question he thought she was the answer to. After a few months of almost daily patronage even that didn't matter, the middle aged eyes at the end of the bar with their ten dollar tips and the fifty under then empty beer mug at Christmas were just part of the job. A nicer part than horny alcoholics in shit kickers and cowboy hats to be sure. It became almost comfortable, like he was watching out for her.
Kirsten was so lost in thought she didn’t realize the service had ended. The gathered mourners had begun the walk up the hillside towards their cars. Several men, somber in their black suits had walked by their faces puzzled at the sight of a stranger at so intimate event.
Feeling like an interloper, Kirsten turned from their unspoken questions and toward her waiting car.
"You're the waitress. Aren't you?" a strained voice interrupted.
It wasn't a question; Kirsten could feel it in the woman's voice. She turned.
"I'm Kirsten." she replied. The words came out blunt, like a shield.
"I'm Eleanor Poole. Raymond's wife, or I was." the woman explained, her voice crumbling under the strain. "He spoke of you...told me I should come see for myself...but I couldn't." she continued, the tremors gaining strength.
Kirsten could only look on, puzzled and somehow embarrassed by the older woman's grief.
Noting Kirsten’s bewilderment, Eleanor dabbed at her eyes, streaking her mascara.
"You don't know, do you? I should have known he wouldn't tell you."
Kirsten shook her head slowly, once. She wanted to bolt, Eleanor’s pleading blue eyes held her still.
Eleanor produced a slip of paper from some pocket in her purse. Handing it to Kirsten with trembling fingers she spoke.
“Do you see? Do you understand why he had to keep coming into that bar, while I cried into my coffee alone?”
One look at the photograph was all it took. Raymond stood in his Sunday suit, Eleanor beaming at his side, and a young twentish girl grinning from her place between.
“You look...” Eleanor sobbed, her sorrow tearing her voice into ragged pieces. “She was so young…drunk driver…Ray… never recovered…” she stammered throwing her arms around a surprised Kirsten. The older woman was sobbing uncontrollably calling her Heather at least twice. But strangely Kirsten didn’t mind.
Smile if you're stupid,
laugh if you understand.