Written with my Thursday night group with he prompts: Howard Johnson’s, she liked it because she didn’t have to tell them her name, the toothache wouldn’t go away, but you knew that, be here, it was unusual and delightful, finally figured it out, bursting pomegranate, give me a little sugar, just shut up, are you still
It was nearing midnight when Cheri pulled off the interstate into the Howard Johnson’s. She liked it here because she never had to tell them her name. Night after night she’d stop in after her shift at the hospital and the wait staff never asked. They brought her a burger with bacon strips and BBQ sauce or maybe one of those opulent chopped Chef’s salad’s, chock full of American cheese and cold cuts, theoretically turkey and ham, but mostly salt and fat—and a lot of gall they had too—calling it a salad. But Cheri liked it here because they al just shut up and let her eat in peace. Nobody fawned over her, enticing her with flaky pastries or vegan wheat bread laden with avocado and some kind of faux cheese made out of ground cashews.
One night long ago in a different restaurant in a different city, Tony had brought her fruit salad—fresh pineapple, apricots, peaches, and papaya, drizzled with homemade blueberry yogurt, bursting with pomegranate seeds, red and shimmering like jewels. It was unusual and delightful, the way he used to fuss over her. Raspberry scones sprinkled with big rough cut sugar droplets like tiny diamonds. No, she’d say, teasing—that’s not the sugar I want! Everybody would laugh. Everybody in the place knew they were a couple—or soon would be.
Was it everything she’d ever wanted there, as warm and cozy as cinnamon toast? Sure!—but you knew that. Do these stories ever end well? Maybe, sometimes. But for Cheri, it was just too sweet, and the inevitable toothache wouldn’t go away. Now here at Hojo’s, when you order a fruit salad on the side of your burger instead of French fries, you get honeydew and cantaloupe, hard and metallic tasting though the green and orange flesh is bright and colorful.
Cheri finally figured it out: in an ordinary life you can only handle one sensory delight at a time. Salty or sweet, not both. Red or purple, not both. Music or poetry, not both. Fun or security, not both.
Be still, she thought as the waiter brought her BLT. Be here.