She pours the coffee out again, into the same cracked mug, in the same weathered hand, that has been held out to her a thousand times before. It doesn't matter that Steve doesn't actually come in all that often; that the diner has an army of coffee mugs; that she has only been in this job a couple weeks. The coffee, the mug, the hand are the same, are eternal. The coffee is poured. It's still in the pot in her hand. It's disappeared down the throat of her customer, who's already left his dollar on the counter and gone. She tips another measure into the waiting mug before her.
She is pretty sure that she's in hell, that this is hell, this endless no-time of Now, of Here, of Pluggerville. She is the waitress at this diner, and has been, forever. The small town has slumbered around her forever, it is always a Saturday in early summer, and the coffee is in her hand. She is pouring, she is brewing, she is opening up the cash register. The tireless bell dings as she puts in the same dollar bill, a hundred, a million, uncounted infinities of times. The mug is out. She pours. It's a gorgeous day outside.
The diner is maybe half-full of men talking, drinking coffee, eating eggs and hash and Micah's special biscuits-and-gravy. Soon they will disperse, to mow their lawns, or tinker with their cars (good Detroit rolling iron, every one!), or play ball with their kids. They have always been here, and they have always been in their yards, their garages, in Strawford Park by the creek. It is always a beautiful lazy Saturday in this peaceful little town. The world has always been theirs, been all of theirs, a gorgeous oyster cradling every pearl there ever was.
The mug is out, she is pouring, not taking her eyes off that large chapped hand, just as she has done, is doing, will always do; but she doesn't remember ever hearing her name spoken in that tone before, not Here, not Now, and she looks up for what she thinks may be the first time.
Steve is looking at her with much the same expression she feels must be on her own face: the look of calm and serenity that everyone else Here has, that seems to come with existence Here, but with an undercurrent of fear, of honest horrified bewilderment that she had thought no one else felt. She had assumed she was the only one out of tune, the only one who hadn't asked for this, wasn't here by choice.
"Ellie." Steve has her attention, has it in full, and as he casts a quick glance around the diner she marvels at how quickly things can change, even in this unending Now. Steve is just another Pluggerville resident, middle-aged, affable, who likes his truck and his dog and the occasional brewski, and she had assumed he was here by choice, just like everyone else but her, but --
"What the hell, Steve," she murmurs through her Pluggerville smile, "what the hell."
"You feel it too?" He runs both hands through his thinning hair. "My god, I thought it was just -- that I was the only one who -- "
Mike Andrews comes in; has always been here; seats himself at the counter and orders the same plate of ham and eggs he has ordered infinite times before, and she is taking, has taken that order, over and over her coffee pot filling the same endless eternal mug held in the hand of the man, all of them, it's always the same hand and the same mug and the same Now; but she has hold of the thread that connects her to Steve, and when the Now turns again to the two of them and the coffee pot and his slightly trembling hand, she is ready.
"It's like hell," she says, and he only nods, not the least bit surprised that she has stated his own belief. "It's like the whole world's gone except this one town and this one day and this one damned -- damned --"
"I think it is," Steve replies simply. "Or the whole world's still there -- still out there, somewhere -- and we've just stolen this place. Here. Now."
She pours coffee, Steve melts into one after another of the various townspeople asking for coffee, sausage, pancakes, toast. It is either a few seconds or a trillion years, or maybe both, until she can answer him. "God, can't they feel it?"
Steve looks at her over the rim of the eternal mug of coffee, and in his eyes understanding, sorrow, and pity do a brief dance. "Don't you think that's the whole point?"
Ellie is about to answer -- something along the lines of how they can't possibly understand what's going on, understand that this Saturday morning and this summer day is stuck, it's stuck and it's not ending -- she is about to say something like this, except there's no one to say it to, because Steve isn't sitting there. It's Bill Evers who has come in and taken a seat at the counter, spending some time with his buddies before he goes back to the game of catch he will always play with his two young sons. He comments again on what a day it is, what a god-damned gorgeous day, and Ellie agrees as she always has, as she always will, because it will never not be a gorgeous summer day Here and Now. She pours the coffee, always, in this place that is peaceful and static and exactly as its handful of inhabitants want it, forever. She is remembering the look of pity in Steve's eyes, the look that was there, will always be there, and for a brief instant she understands; but as the bell over the door jangles and Steve sits down again the coffee pot is in her hand, and she has forgotten again. She is pouring the coffee into the same cracked mug, in the same hand, that will always be held out to her on this endless perfect day.
Apparently when I come back I come back in long, wordy, run-on-sentence-y style.
There is something fascinating about the way the waitress-dog is standing in this comic, coffee pot at the ready, as if she has been there for a million years; it spoke to me, and made me want to spend a thousand words saying "look at me, I've read 'You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band'!"
There is also this thing people do, perhaps especially the "plugger" types but all kinds of people, where we think that if we could just put things back to the way they were at some point in the past, then everything will be awesome. These days people complain about how fast-paced and competitive the world is, and long for the simplicity of the 50s. But I've been going through my box set of the original Twilight Zone, and it seems like back in the day people spent a lot of time complaining about how fast-paced and competitive the world was and longing for the simplicity of, say, 1888. And when you get right down to it, wouldn't everything just be easier if we could just freeze time while the world was on a nice calm peaceful day? Surely that would be a nice thing to experience for all eternity with no variation whatsoever.
I explain things too much.