Last summer, two men sat at the counter of a plebian diner somewhere between the sounds of cooking in front of them and the clinking of forks on ceramic plates behind them. Daniel frequently stopped at the diner after work. The cold air calmed his body after a long day landscaping in the sun. Eugene only stopped at the diner before his last night shift of the week at the factory. Both middle-aged men sat at the counter hunched over their own business. Daniel thumbed through his phone and Eugene flipped through a marked up sample ballot wrinkled from being frequently taken in and out of a pocket. The woman working behind the counter brought Daniel a plate with two eggs, two slices of bacon, two sausage links, and hashed browns covered with cheese. Eugene’s eyes dwelled on Daniel’s plate.
“I want good health,” said Daniel out the side of his mouth as he chewed sausage. Eugene snorted when he suppressed a laugh. “Is something funny?” asked Daniel.
“You might want to get your cholesterol checked,” said Eugene.
“I don’t go to doctors,” said Daniel as he cut through the hashed browns and stuck a piece in his mouth. “If I go, they’ll find something wrong with me.” Eugene turned his head, squeezed his eyes shut, and wrinkled his forehead.
The woman behind the counter surveyed her area of responsibility. She tossed a towel she was holding in her hand into a tub that released the smell of bleach into the air. She picked up a remote, aimed it at a television, and turned it on. A politician appeared on the screen speaking angrily and pointing his index finger at a map of Europe that was superimposed on his right. The woman behind the counter listened to the rant for a minute and then flipped through the channels until she found a baseball game. She tossed the remote next to a cash register and looked around.
“We should be polite to our neighbors,” said Eugene aloud to no one in particular.
“We want foreign allies,” said Daniel.
“That’s right,” said Eugene turning to Daniel.
“…so we can’t be polite,” Daniel finished saying. The expression on Eugene’s face conveyed confusion and regret.
“Sorry?” asked Eugene.
“We need to tell them how it is and what we want, or else they won’t work with us,” said Daniel. He finished chewing his bacon and looked at Eugene. “Do you want a world free from terror?”
“Of course,” replied Eugene.
“Then we need to kill all the terrorists,” said Daniel.
“Well; yes – obviously, killing all of them would do it; but…”
“If you’re going to kill all of the terrorists then you must be able to identify all of them,” interrupted Daniel.
“How do you propose that we identify all of the terrorists?” asked Eugene.
“We have to sort out the terrorists from the non-terrorists,” replied Daniel. “Are you a terrorist?”
“No,” replied Eugene.
“See? Like that,” said Daniel. He wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, placed his knife and fork parallel on his plate pointing to three o’clock, and called the woman behind the counter. She pulled a bill out of her apron and placed it in front of him along with a red and white mint. He looked at the bill without picking it up. “Food costs more and more every day.”
“The economy will get better,” said Eugene.
“Or worse,” said the woman behind the counter.
“Or both,” said Daniel.
“The economy will certainly not get better, honey,” said the woman behind the counter. “It will get worse.”
“Or both,” repeated Daniel as he placed his money on the bill on the counter. “Have a good one,” he groaned as he spun on his stool, stood up, and walked out.
Eugene watched the woman behind the counter. She pinched and scratched at her crotch. Her eyes met Eugene’s when she looked up to see if anyone noticed. She smiled apologetically and said, “Sorry, hon: I have a rash and the itch is just torture. It just comes on all of a sudden. I’m scratchin’ before I know what I’m doing.”
“Do you think anyone is going to vote for that guy?” asked Eugene.
“Who knows?” replied the woman behind the counter.
“Would you vote for him?” asked Eugene.
“That’s a very personal question, don’t you think?” asked the woman behind the counter with raised eyebrows.
“Sorry,” said Eugene.
“You want some coffee?” asked the woman behind the counter as she scratched her crotch.
“No, thanks: just the check,” said Eugene. The woman behind the counter pulled a bill out of her apron, glanced at it, and placed it in front of Eugene. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the sample ballot. He stared at the page and the candidates he circled until someone new sat next to him and startled him. He shoved the ballot back into his pocket and felt the other pockets for his wallet. The woman behind the counter watched as Eugene left his payment on the counter, got up, and walked out the door. She continued to watch him through the window as he stood in front of the store. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled sample ballot. He looked down at it, clenched his fists around the edges, bit down on the top of the pages, and whipped his head sideways to tear off the pieces.
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