At the counter is a guy in fatigues who says he’s a writer. I know, you’re never supposed to write about writers, but that’s what he told me and I don’t believe him anyway. He eats a slice of pecan pie and never opens his notebook. His pen spins between the salt and pepper.
The androgyne in the back-booth sips her coffee. She’s an every-other-nighter. Never says much of anything. She’s got tattoos on her knuckles and doesn’t order food. Just coffee. Black. No cream and no sugar.
My nephew, Armand, is sixteen and has bright purple hair. He told me pronouns are a choice you can make for yourself now. He told me about Ze and Hir and I tried to make sense of it.
Ze shouldn’t say ze’s a writer if ze’s not.
I want to ask hir what brings hir here every other night, but I’m shy, for a waiter, and I’m afraid she/ze? doesn’t want to be bothered.
Most people who come in for coffee or pie at two in the morning don’t want to be bothered. There’s something, or someone, they’re hiding from, in the middle of the night, with notebooks and pens and tattoos on their knuckles.
I watch the guy in fatigues look back toward the booth. I expect him to turn around and ignore hir the way everyone else does. But ze doesn’t. Ze stands up, tucks his fatigue shirt tight into his fatigue pants and walks back to hir booth.
There’s a baseball bat in the kitchen. The owner has kept it handy all this time, after he was robbed in 1992.
She/Ze? tilts up hir bright blue eyes at the faux soldier. I expect hir to tell him to leave hir alone, get the hell away. But she doesn’t.
I’m standing there tight as a drum, waiting for something awful to transpire. Not just expecting but knowing something awful is about to unfold.
But I stand and watch—and there is this guy in fatigues who told me he was a writer and then didn’t scribble a word in that damn notebook for a whole hour, there he is taking a seat in the booth across from the androgyne with the beautiful eyes whose pronouns I don’t know, and before I can get my hands around that Louisville slugger to protect hir from this Army/Navy stiff, the two of them are talking like they’re at a freakin’ high school dance, and one of them might be about to say, “Hey, you wanna—?” and the other will say, “Sure, why not—” But I don’t know which one is gonna say what, and I don’t know where they’re gonna go or who will lead and who will follow.
All I know is that I’m standing there alone at the counter, looking down at a piece of fried egg hanging off a fork on a paper napkin, thinking that it looks sort of sad and lonely, and also, like everything beautiful in the world, at the exact same time.
Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffin, Litro Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, and Wigleaf, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland, and she is co-Editor of MoonPark Review.