We ate breakfast at Paul’s Pancake House every Sunday, Fred and I, always at 10:00 a.m. sharp. Rain or shine, we sipped our caffeine magma. Joking helped us digest our weeks: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fred’s crow-like cackle could soothe any ache. The barstool hogs hated our humor, shot glances at us in disgust. We didn’t mind them. We had each other.
One day, fog crawled over the city and lapped at the skyscrapers like a kid with a lollipop. Raindrops spoke Morse Code against my window, but I had only studied Spanish. I settled into my seat and propped open a book. Saturdays dripped anticipation.
I shot Fred a text, “Paul’s tomorrow?” and waited for a reply that never came. Was his phone dead? Did he suddenly prefer IHOP? Maybe he had just fallen asleep. It was getting late.
As the minutes passed, the ticking of the clock grew louder. At midnight, it let out a yell. I silenced it with earplugs and slipped into slumber.
The next day, our booth was empty at 10:02 a.m. My gut dropped like an elevator gone rogue. He had to be here somewhere. He had to be. Light peeked out under the bathroom door, a pair of shoes in its spotlight. I hoped to god that they were his battered sneakers, off-white and mud dusted, but the click-clack of heels said otherwise.
The waitress glanced at the front door and frowned. She hesitantly offered a shortstack, my usual, but I knew I couldn’t stomach it, not without Fred sneaking bites. I left at 11:00 a.m., quieter than a mouse.
The coroner said that Fred died around midnight. “Car crash,” she explained. The fog had devoured the interstate; there was nothing he could do but get swallowed.
3 March, 2021