Updated: Jan 18, 2022
Kathleen is getting older but not old enough to call old. The Price Is Right has always been her claim to fame, but she didn't win back in '73, and now, in '78, she sits in Frank's Diner on Second Street in the middle of Clarkstown. Some things seem like they happened yesterday, while others were surely two lifetimes ago. She fancies pretty dresses adorned with pink flowers and bows, but she's most comfortable in her worn bell-bottoms even though they're going out of style.
Donald is barely past his prime, but men tend to age well. His buddies all call him Donnie, even when he was the boss a few years back. Since they cut the ribbon, Frank's has been his early lunch break stop, at first because of the world's best coffee but now for another reason. Those worn hands have held many hammers, but not for several seasons now. You can still see the imperfection from the time the nail went all the way through. He was back to work the next day.
Kathleen takes her break at 10:30, and in the beginning, it was to avoid the crowd. Frank lets her sit in the corner booth by herself because he knows she'll be gone before the rush. Kathy brings along her worn copy of Reader's Digest every visit, but she never reads it. The magazine is only a prop, a part of the show. Sometimes she'll turn a page or two, but most words are impossible to read behind the world's best coffee stains covering the literature. She'll often spend time thinking about how her nature is to hide her own story. It's kind of like a self-imposed wound whose purpose is to conceal any beauty.
Donald brings his newspaper from home but rarely reads it at lunch. He saves the articles for bedtime because it helps him sleep most nights, but it doesn't always work. Most days, he'll catch himself daydreaming about running through the forest. He's never run a day in his life, but the thought of sprinting as quickly as he can through the woods and never losing his breath gives him peace. It's the sort of serenity we all accomplish in our fantasies, but it leaves us hollow when we wake up. Donnie's chest is like an auditorium filled with ghosts he isn't ready to let go of any time soon. It's not as easy as you'd think. Apparitions linger longer than an old broken power drill we'd discard and replace.
Kathleen's tears cascade in reverse, washing down the inside of her cheeks, hidden from you and me. Houdini probably crafted her mask because all we're allowed to see is what Kathy is comfortable showing us. And it isn't much. She married the devil soon after her five minutes of fame. He spoke the perfect words and gave her the universe before confining her on a small island. The demon dictated every move and thought, and she did her best to comply. At sunset, he came home and rewarded her efforts with bruises and broken bones. She ran away to heal her body, but no distance ever repaired the destruction, picking and pinching and ripping inside her spirit.
Donald can hardly walk after the accident at work left him crippled perpetually. His broken back earned him enough money to get by, but currency is no better than a wet Band-Aid when it comes to repairing the true tragedy. His life is as charged as a brand new Duracell, but a battery is useless without something to power. Donnie has the impulse of a younger man but the body of an old-timer frittering away, waiting on fate. Memories of youth inspire most, but yesterday's photos leave Donald frustrated with the desire to live again. He'd love to climb a ladder to stand on a rooftop where he felt most at home.
Despair recognizes misery when it's hidden beneath a bed of roses like a trained eye senses the body under the lawn of a serial killer. Don caught Kat's eye the day she strolled into Frank's for the world's best coffee. She spent the first day spying on him, the second feeling his emotion, and every day since loving the man, she'd never approach. Kat knows why he brings the paper but never opens it and why he hardly drinks a drop from his mug. Sometimes, he'll order a muffin on Wednesday, and Kat knows if Don will add butter or eat it plain before he even decides. Like anyone else, she can see the physical torment in his face when he stands. Like no other, she discloses the overwhelming sorrow that haunts him.
Love burst through the diner door for Don the first time Kat walked in and had a seat. Her confidence fooled everyone, even Benny, who sits on a barstool every Friday complaining about his marriage. The masquerade failed within moments when Don took a more intimate gaze because he knows tragedy like the back of his scarred hand. Whenever he'd catch Kat scrolling the greasy menu, he knew it was because she felt the need to hide. Sometimes she'd drink a second cup with two lumps of sugar instead of one like the first round. "If we could only sweeten life as easily," he would contemplate as she stirred. He imagines she finds comfort in at least having control over her coffee.
The two meet six days a week, right on time on Second Street. Sundays must be unbearable for both of them. Then again, the separation undoubtedly intensifies the magnificence of the daily encounters. They've never shared a hello or a goodbye, but what they do share is something Benny has clearly never experienced. The comfort of being close to a person who understands and ensures you aren't alone is a gift many never find. Kat and Don depend on one another, and they never break the plans they never made together. Unfortunately, that's more than most obtain when they compromise.
Kat and Don's eyes have met a time or two, and it's enough when you aren't ready for anything more. Perhaps the world's best coffee isn't as great as the sign may suggest, but it gave our two misfits an excuse to find each other. Thirty minutes, six days a week, turns into one hundred and fifty-six hours a year that these two forget and feel complete. If Benny gave that much time to his wife, he wouldn't plan on leaving her. Maybe the passion between Kat and Don is indeed unique, and it's doubtful it'll ever move any further than Second Street. Sometimes that kind of love is enough—a love that demands attention from across the room and is admired forever from a distance.