All Stories, General Fiction

Fries and Coffee by John Brantingham

I found Ginny at the diner with her face square against the linoleum of the table. I thought she might be crying to herself, and I thought that tears were maybe a good thing. The waitress, Joyce by her name tag, asked, “Is she yours?”

“That’s what her mother claims,” I said. It was the same bad joke that I’d been telling for sixteen years now, and it wasn’t getting any funnier.  I felt regret the first time I said it, and I felt terrible now, but that never stopped me from making it.

Joyce only nodded. “I’ve got one just like her at home.” She folded her arms. “I mean I hope she’s at home right now. Yours has been waiting for you.” I thought for a moment about the desperate loneliness of a late-night waitress and stopped feeling sorry for myself for a quick second, knowing that my self-pity would come rushing back momentarily.

At the table, I found that she wasn’t crying as much as just trying to sleep and that she reeked of wine coolers. When I sat down, her head popped up and she stared at me without an expression. She was either tired or defiant. I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to test it so I said, “Look, you want me and your mom to get back together, for all of us to be a family, right?”

I’m not sure what I expected, but she surprised me. She had about a half second when I thought she was going to weep, and then her face self-corrected, and she nodded seriously. “Yes.”

It had been half her life since the divorce, and I had no idea that she held onto that level of desperately self-deluded hope so many years after I had given mine away. I didn’t know what to say except, “She left me because of the drinking.” Which was in no way true. She left me because of the lying, but that didn’t occur to me right then.

“I know,” Ginny said. “That’s why I called you and not her.” She took a breath. “Make me sober.”

So I ordered us two plates of bottomless French fries and coffee, and I told my daughter how to cover the smell, what to say, when to look people directly in the eye and when not to.

The waitress kept checking her cell phone like she was expecting a call or text, and I imagined it was from her daughter, but who knew? I doused the fries with ketchup and asked my daughter what she’d been doing all night to get herself this wasted, and she told me about her friends and the boys and all, leaving out nothing, or that’s what it felt like. This was the truth telling, I realized later, that was possible only between two addicts, two people who knew each other beyond knowledge.


John Brantingham

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6 thoughts on “Fries and Coffee by John Brantingham”

  1. Hi John,
    So many folks can’t understand the involvement of family which instigates destructive behaviour but it happens time and time again.
    You addressed this issue truthfully.


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