Curtis sat alone at the counter a diner hunched over a bowl of soup that was too salty. Steam from his soup warmed his face, still half numb from the walk over. He was not hungry, but he did not want to stand in the cold, so he had ordered the soup. He had no intention of eating it. His spoon had not left the counter. Instead of staring at the chocolate cakes sweating under their glass domes and empty porcelain mugs waiting to be filled with coffee, his head was turned all the way to the right so he could gaze out the front window at the people passing in the street. They all seemed so happy, laughing, holding hands, having animated discussions he could not make out. Children scampered, playfully tossing hunks of newly fallen snow at each other, screaming joyfully upon impact, their parents taking all the mischief in good stride. A man rushed by talking into his cell phone holding a brightly papered box under his arm. A young couple passed with a Christmas tree. Curtis wondered if it was their first.
Curtis stirred the onions from the bottom of his soup and made careful, slow whirlpools in the bowl. He thought about the last Christmas tree he’d bought and about decorating it. It felt like so long ago. It was so long ago. He loved the smell of a tree when it was first brought home. Something about the contrast between his dismal inner city life and the rich green freshness of the tree made him feel as if everything was ok for the time being. The smell of the tree was the smell of the holidays. It was, for him, to the holidays what the smell of coffee was to the morning. Just as his day could not begin until he had a cup of coffee, the holidays could not begin without the pleasantly overwhelming scent of tree in his house. When he realized that his tree metric would mean that the holidays had not begun for him in nearly 15 years, he turned his face away from the crowds on the other side of the glass, living a life he had long since lost.
He pulled his old, barely functional phone from the one pocket in his jacket it wouldn’t fall out of and placed it beside his glass of water on the counter. He flipped it open to see if he has missed any calls. He had not. No one ever called. He thought about just getting rid of the phone all together, but while she was still out there, there was potential for her to call. She wouldn’t, he knew, but something had to keep him alive from day to day. Something had to make all the emptiness worth it.
After stirring his soup for two hours, he finally worked up enough hunger to actually eat it. It was cold, but he felt like he deserved nothing better. At least this diner was open, as he sat alone on yet another Christmas Eve. There was a lot of night left. He ordered another bowl of soup.