"Yes, yes," she says. "Sit wherever you want."
You wonder if there is a rule about empty diners, kind of like there is a rule about ordering the fish special on Mondays. Something like: Don't eat at an empty diner because its likely the cook has grown lax about hygiene in his boredom; Don't eat at an empty diner because an unused grill tastes like baking soda. It takes seven years to digest the food eaten in an empty diner.
You know there is a rule about opening a diner in a space where other diners-restaurants-fast food places have failed, but that seems to be something that just the lay public knows and are keeping from the food industry people. You can see where the heart would rule the head here. Emotionally, it feels like a great location the way some places feel haunted. Intellectually, the place looks like a great spot for a Going Out of Business Hot Pastrami Sandwich Sale.
The waitress sets a glass of water on the table, disappears.
The cook comes into the dining room, looks around, takes your order.
You want a hot sandwich, chips. He nods. He looks like Sinbad.
The waitress returns and continues cleaning, disappears.
The cook carries your plate into the dining room, looks around, sets it on the table. Spins, returns with a single napkin.
When he goes back to the kitchen, you grab silverware and more napkins. You try not to eat like a beast.
The waitress returns just in time to see you spill half-a-plate worth of Ruffles on the floor.
"Sorry," you say.
She shrugs it off. In an empty diner, sometimes the waitstaff spends its time wishing for new things to sweep and disinfect. You know this. You worked in an empty diner once. That's the winter you learned everything you know about Reba McEntire.
The cook goes into the back room; The waitress goes into the back room. She comes out and he calls her back. When she leaves again you hear him stage whisper: "Ask her if she wants more water." She walks past your table, spins as though it's a second thought and says:
"Would you like more water?"
"No thank you," you say.
Now, suddenly, a child has appeared and he's dragging a mop across the floor. You see that all of these people working here are related, probably siblings. They're talking about family matters while you finish your sandwich. You feel like a hitchhiker privy to boring intimacies, your head rested against the back window of a station wagon.
The cook flattens a 2-inch receipt onto your table and takes your plate.
An old man, who has suddenly appeared, rings up the bill.
He asks you about the quality of your food.
You can't remember how it tasted.
Maybe the rule is: You'll never remember the food in an empty diner.