The Man at the Diner

Winston sat by himself inside the diner in his usual place, a table meant for two. The waitresses always greeted him with a smile and the coffee always tasted the same. His eyes roamed around the d├ęcor of the place, which had surely been the same since the '70s.

Between orange formica table tops and faded yellow bench style seats, his eyes met those of a man he'd never seen there before, a man who'd already been staring in Winston's direction. Winston held his stare momentarily and then let his eyes continue to move, glancing across light brown interlocking tiles and the old black grout sandwiched between them.

"What can I get for you today, honey?" a waitress asked.

"Oatmeal with brown sugar and fruit, please."

She took down the order and walked away wondering why he didn't just make that for himself at home, but then again eggs were easy to make too, and some people just liked to get out.

Winston wanted to get a better look at the man who had seemed to stare at him, but was afraid to lock eyes for a second time. He did his best to seem casual about it. Immediately he knew that nothing had changed. Even as the man ordered breakfast, his glare never left Winston's face. 

Something else began to bother Winston as he slowly abandoned his attempt to hide his own stare: other than the man's loosely hanging long hair, bushy beard, and flashy style of dress, Winston thought the man could be his doppelganger. Winston's own close cropped hair, clean shave, and plain clothes prevented him from seeing this at first, but the longer he looked at the man, the clearer the resemblance became.

"Here's your oatmeal, sweety. More coffee?" 

"No, thank you."

As the waitress placed the food on Winston's table, he'd already risen from his seat and started walking across the room. The man nodded toward the old yellow bench across from him as Winston approached.

"You look familiar, do I know you?" Winston said as he sat down.

"Yes, I thought you might say that. We haven't met, but you do know me."

"How so?"

"Remember how you didn't have the balls to ask Penny Tate out in college?"

"Huh? How do you know Penny? And what makes you think I wanted to ask her out?"

"Come on, don't bullshit me. How about how you intended to move out to L.A. and pursue acting, but instead you took that desk job back in Philly?"

"Where do you get your information, pal? And who are you?"

Just then the waitress approached, "Here you are, sir: eggs over easy, pork roll, bacon, hashbrowns, white toast."

"I'm you, Winston. I'm every decision you never made. I'm the free-wheeling, fun-loving party guy you wish you could be."

Winston sat back in his chair, thought for a few moments about his life. Then he laughed out loud. "Enjoy your breakfast. I'm heading back to my table to eat mine. Nice to meet you."

"Wait a minute! You can't just walk away! Don't you wanna hear about all of my adventures, the adventures that could've been yours? All the fun and good times you missed out on?"

"Sounds enlightening, but my oatmeal is getting cold. Maybe some other time."

"That's the problem, Winston: 'maybe some other time,' you've been saying that your entire life. When will that time ever come, Winston?"

"Can't tell you that, but one thing I do know is that Penny Tate turned out to be a real bitch."

By the time Winston returned to his seat, the table where the man had sat was empty, just an orange formica table top and a faded yellow bench.


  1. The Ghost of Bygone Choices stops by to bother me twice daily. Quite and obnoxious fellow.

    1. John, what do you tell him when he stops by? I'd love to be a fly on your wall at that time.

  2. Really nice little story. C'est si bon!

    1. Thank you, Natalie, for reading and for the compliment!

  3. What if the man at the diner had a Ghost of Bygone choices of his own? Scary thought. Richard, 'what might have been' - it resonates with us all. Thank you! By the way, I've pointed others to your liminal fiction to illustrate what web 2.0 storytelling CAN be.:)

    1. Ana, thank you very much for your kind words, you've made my day!

  4. Oh I like it, Winston is not worried about the past, there's nothing he can do about it, so he gets on with the future. I like how when he confronted the past it disappeared - the lesson in this story, I think is see the past for what it is and let it go.

    See Richard, you got me thinking again. ^_^

    1. Hi, Helen, I like your insight on this one. Thank you!

  5. This gives food for thought Richard, I think everyone, myself included, sometimes ponders on the fact of "what if?" What if I had taken this choice instead of that?

    Happy Christmas Richard. :)

  6. Hi again Richard, I have a late Christmas prezzy for you, which you can find here...

    I hope your Christmas has been greatr, and send you my best wishes for 2013.


  7. Thank you, Steve, for your comment on the story and also for the Liebster award! I hope Christmas treated you kindly, and best wishes to you as well for 2013.