My life is driven by the unpredictable chaos of the crime. Every time the phone rings, bad news takes control of my life. I suppose that is why I so enjoy the small comfort of everyday routines. Like my daily stop at Shirley's Diner for my bottomless cup of coffee, my slice of Dutch apple pie, and a smile from my blue-eyed Mary.
You often see these stainless steel diners scattered in hard-working areas of big towns, but Shirley's was a classic. It had the look of a railroad car dressed out with a red and white stripe canopy that just barely shaded the windows that ran the diner's length. You entered at metal steps at one end and then made your way down a long counter lined with round, red revolving stools. I never could understand how it could be, but Shirley's was twice as long inside as it was outside.
Shirley was always cooking behind the pass-thru window. In fact, I think in all these years I've only ever seen Big Shirley from the chest up. And Big Shirley was big, a big redhead with shoulders that would make an ironworker proud. Everyday she wore the same thing, white cap, white apron over a denim shirt. And when she messed up back there in her kitchen, she'd curse like a sailor.
On good days, the third stool from the cash register would be open for me; on crappy days, some non-regular would have his carcass parked there. I am not sure why I have to have that particular stool, but somehow my universe feels better from that vantage point. My Dutch apple pie is kept in the glass case right in front of that stool and it is close enough to the cash register so that my blue-eyed Mary in her pink waitress uniform has to keep passing by.
I had known Mary now for over nine years and she was still mostly mystery to me. Pretty gal, who was aging out just fine. Curly headed, dishwater blond, tiny and trim. Perfect smile, almost sky-blue eyes, pleasant as could be. No ring on her finger and though we talked everyday, she seemed to have no other story to her life than that she showed up each day to work at this crowded diner and then went home somewhere on the seven o'clock blue line bus.
She always wore an over-sized gardenia and kept a yellow pencil behind her ear. She always greet me by name and gave me a wink, kept pouring me coffee and cut my slice of pie on the generous side, took time to see how I was doing. Almost every day for over nine years and that's all I can tell you about my blue-eyed Mary, the woman I should have married a long time ago, but never did and probably never would. I always sensed that Mary had a secret and she was going to keep it that way.