Dina Tyson

Beneath The Ice

It’s cold and dry outside. The kind of night where it seems the air is frozen solid and life itself is suspended in midair. I wish I’d brought a warmer coat to wear over my light, breezy cocktail dress. Harvey says we could stop in at McCall’s for some coffee or hot cocoa before we catch a cab back home. Now it’s so late that Phillie has already cleaned up, and the place is surprisingly immaculate. It’s pleasant to be inside where it’s bright and safe. The yellow glow of the diner’s storefront makes Phillie’s seem like the lone beacon of a lighthouse in a sea of darkness that is the sleeping city. Phillie pours me a second helping of reheated black coffee, his last brew of the day, and I thank him quietly. I look across the street at deserted and desolate storefronts. An old blinking streetlight illuminates the real estate agency and the apartments above it. Only a few years ago Harvey and I lived in one of those red brick, dingy apartments, back when we visited Phillie’s on a regular basis. Look at us now. I’m wearing priceless diamonds and a crimson satin dress, and my hair is curled to perfection. It’s so easy to forget my old, deprived life. I think we’re going to leave soon, because I don’t like the way the guy at the other end of the counter is looking at us. It isn’t uncommon for when we visit the poorer areas of town. They’re just jealous. I know I used to be.


“Harve, I think I want to go,” Stella says in a whiny tone. But I’m not ready to leave yet. I love being in this little diner. There’s nothing like the shiny redwood counters that get polished every night. And the spinning maroon leather stools, that breathe out a sigh when you sit down on the cushion. Doesn’t she remember? This was where we had our first date, on an icy night like this one, years ago. It’s always open late, and Phillie keeps his two gleaming coffee machines on till closing time. At the end of the night, he’d take off his starchy white apron and go behind the mustard colored door, where nobody knew what was back there. We used to stay until that time, staring out at the red building across the way, ‘cause we didn’t have anywhere else to go. I don’t think she remembers that life. As I take a gulp of the plain coffee in its plain white mug, I consider telling her why I brought her here, but I reconsider. I don’t want to make a scene in front of Phillie and his one other customer, a lone older guy in a dark blue suit and fedora. Phillie’s an old guy and I don’t want to make him upset. Stella wouldn’t understand anyway. She doesn’t always get these kinds of things. She’s stunning looking, with long copper hair and porcelain skin. Her eyes are priceless blue diamonds and her lips are rose petals. Other guys envy me because I’m with a gal like that. I just don’t think she appreciates any of it. I take a deep breath in and take in the warm still air around me. Stella leans forward with her elbows on the table like a child. “Yeah,” I finally reply, “let’s go home.”


Inside an unadorned but friendly diner, I sit by myself at a rounded glossy wood counter across from a rich couple who look like they’re from the other side of town. Nervous and uncomfortable, I fiddle with the salt shaker in front of me. Phil’s working the late shift tonight, as I imagine he does every night. He’s wearing his white soda jerk uniform, paper hat and everything. His hair is iridescent white, from years of experience. It covers his head like a thin layer of solid ice, not letting on to its previous state of flowing water. But it’s still in a buzz cut, just like the last time I saw him. The creases around his eyes and mouth are new, however. Phil appears to be a simple guy, and if I didn’t know any better I’d believe it. But I know where he’s been. I was there with him, in Japan in the Second World War, and I’ll never forget his saving my life when I got shot. He doesn’t recognize me now. Originally I had come here to say something, some kind of thanks, but the pretty lady in the red dress across the way is starting to look at me uncomfortably. Maybe I should just go. I don’t want to cause any trouble here. As I get up to leave, I get a glimpse over the counter of Phil’s prosthetic leg, awkwardly not quite filling in the pant leg, I turn my head in shame and step out onto the empty street.


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.