Short Fiction: Last Meal

He slid into the diner booth and stretched his aching legs beneath the table. If the floor were cleaner he would have kicked off his shoes. Outside the window the world was grey: sky, rain and misty highway. It was peaceful. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, massaging the back of his neck. The rhythmic swish of speeding tyres over the wet road, like the steady wash of waves on shore, lulled him into a calm, and for a moment he had second thoughts.

He reached into his jacket pocket but withdrew his hand when the waitress approached. She was about twenty years old, thin and awkward-looking. Her hair was dyed a purplish black, and hung too much over her face. It was a beautiful face in a way, but not the kind that young men would notice. An old, faded red cardigan slumped on her shoulders and drooped around her bony arms. She smiled; not a happy smile, but it was kind. She took his order, and he watched her return back past the other tables and behind the counter. He reached into his jacket pocket and brought out, concealed in a loose fist, five small tablets. He placed them in a napkin and folded it up around them.

The table was cold beneath his hands as he rested them in front of himself, guarding the treasure folded in the napkin. Five tablets. More than enough, he had been assured. No pain, no side effects; just drift away. Quickly. That was important. Enjoy a cheeseburger, slip them down with some water, and then sit back and watch the rain until you doze off. No mess to clean up, no nightmares for the kids at the nearby tables. It’ll be a while before anyone notices. Too late to change anything. Someone calls an ambulance, and everyone thinks it was a heart attack. It’s all over. Not so bad. The rain is pretty.

The waitress returned with his order, unable to hide a sweaty look of defeat. The diner wasn’t busy, but she was struggling with the work. She was probably paid accordingly. The plate clunked onto the table, and she winced in self-disapproval. He took the plate and gave a weak smile, trying to set her at ease. The food looked good. As she placed the glass of water on the table and slid it across, her hand stretched out beyond the cardigan sleeve, exposing the bandage on her wrist. She quickly pulled the sleeve down and asked him if there was anything else he needed. He saw the edge of a bandage peeking out beyond the sleeve on her other wrist. He looked at her eyes, to see what was there. She glanced at him, and then looked back down at the table. Was there anything else he needed? No, he didn’t need anything else. What was her name? Fiona. Thank you, Fiona. She turned and walked back to the counter, back to the next order.

He watched her for a while, and then turned back to his food with a blank stare. After a minute his hand slid back off the table and into his jacket pocket, depositing the folded napkin and the pills. He ate. He watched the rain. It was pretty. He asked Fiona for a slice of cheesecake, and thanked her again when she brought it. When he finished his food he paid the bill and left a generous tip. He said goodbye to Fiona and left. Outside in the rain, his breath steamed in front of him. More grey. He lifted his jacket collar then put his hands in his pockets; he rubbed his fingers over the bumps in the folded napkin. There was a rubbish bin nearby.



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