What Might Have Been

Tied down to the terror of what might have been

Tied down so tight when the man walked in

Swinging the door like he owned the place

And put his two cents on the line for a cup of If-You-Call-That-Coffee

So tied down when she saw him seeing her unbridled loveliness

Her eyes darted to a grain of sugar on the counter

She swatted it off – one sharp flick of the towel with catsup on it.

He sat on the red swivel stool

Legs gliding over it – boots hugging the silver pole like leeches

He took off his hat

Ran his fingers through his hair

Flattened his head on the counter

And looked up into her eyes

Like she’d been waiting for him her entire life.

Her eyes tightened with ‘Just ‘cause I’m a waitress don’t mean I’m a hooker

So take your boney knees out of here –

I’m goin’ places you won’t never see on accounta my dust.

You got that?  My dust.’

And for a split second he understood her longing

He understood the dream that took her far away

From stale bread and eggs-over-easy

From the metallic taste of nickel and dime-ing it

on a goddamn shoestring.

And for a split second her eyes caught

The understanding washing across the folds on his face

And she wondered how many dreams he promised to fulfill before

Hightailing it out of wherever

How many nights did he wonder at the meanness in his bones?

Girls left like road kill in 52 states

Some – bellies swollen

Others pummeled by the rip tide of everything he never meant to become

No, she was different

So different her heart pounded

On the door of a new direction

Any day now she would turn the handle

Any day …

He knew she was tender

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to hear her calling

She was tender and restless and full of hope

And he had seen so much all he wanted was …

“Cup of coffee,” he said then lowered

His voice and added, “And make it sweet as you are.”

She raised her eyes

Looked over his shoulder

And twisted just enough so he could see

The diamonds in her ears

Diamonds she had paid for with her own money.

And when she was sure he’d gotten the message

She wrapped her fingers around the sugar jar

Slid it in his direction

“Comin’ right up,” she said turning her back.

He watched her as she brought the cup together with the saucer

Her spine straight and strong

Her veins swelling with come hell or high water

He wanted to take her hands – beg her forgiveness –

Make sure before she headed into her life

With him nothin’ more than a thin whisper in the far reaches of her brain

She would hold everything he really was inside her

So he’d know one person knew … one person …

But words only got him into trouble

So when the late shift walked in

Breasts sticking out so far she’d already popped a button

When one apron went on and another went off

And the door slammed behind her like she was free and clear forever

He stirred his coffee and looked at the magnetized crucifix

On the side of the cash register.

And as the late shift threw him an easy smile

And filled the creamer in front of him

He sipped his coffee – lukewarm, dishwater black

No sugar.

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