Tuesday nights are slow at the diner after the dinner rush. We stay open till midnight anyways for the truckers and the cops, but the place was empty when the stranger walked in. He had a worn looking duffle bag over his shoulder, bags under his eyes and three days or so of stubble on his chin. He looked around carefully before sitting down on one of the stools at the counter. He picked up one of the menus, looked at it briefly and then set it back down on the counter.
“Just a coffee,” he said with a sigh.
“Coffee’s cold,” I said. “I can make you a new pot if you’ve got a couple minutes.”
“I’m OK with the old coffee. Don’t worry about the grounds. Gives it a little texture.”
“Suit yourself,” I said and proceeded to heat up the dregs in the microwave.
He added two creamers and at least six packets of sugar, then sat nursing his coffee for the next hour or so, glancing up occasionally at the clock.
“You want anything else?”
He glanced over at the menu, but did not pick it up. “Nah, I’m good.”
After a minute he reached into his duffle bag, pulled something out and held it out to me. It looked like a Tupperware container filled with some kind of greasy meat.
“I gotta go out and take care of a couple of things. Could I leave this here with you to stick in the fridge and get you to heat it up for me when I come back?”
Reluctantly, I took the proffered container, walked back into the kitchen, and put it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was couldn’t have been improved by being carried around in his duffle bag. How long had it been sitting there, I wondered, hours? Days?
I walked back out to the counter and rang him up for the coffee.
“I’ll be right back,” he said. “Before midnight. Thanks for holding on that for me.”
I sat there thinking about whatever was in the Tupperware he had left with me. It hadn’t looked edible. More like roadkill, I thought, half-chuckling to myself, and then wondered if that might not be too far off the mark. Some of the old-timers up here trapped possum or even squirrels and ate them. Finally, I decided I would just throw it away and cook him a new meal when he came back. I didn’t want to make anyone sick and I didn’t want the smell of whatever that was getting all over the microwave.
It was just before midnight when he came back.
“I changed my mind,” he said. “Don’t worry about heating up that Tupperware. Just give it back to me and I’ll be on my way.”
“I threw it out,” I said. “But don’t worry about, I’ll cook you a new meal. On the house.”
“You did what?”
“I threw it out,” I said. “But I’ll make you something else. Whatever you want.”
He got a panicky look on his face and began to shout.
“Where is it?” he shouted. “Where is it?”
“Where is what?”
“My Tupperware. What did you do with my Tupperware?”
“It’s outside in the dumpster,” I said. “But what..”
He didn’t stay to hear the end my sentence, but raced out the front door and around to the dumpster at the back of the building. He threw open the lid and began searching frantically through the rubbish.
“Mama,” he wailed, piteously. “Where are you, Mama?”