Michelle Ho

Discontent And Disconnect

Two minutes to midnight, Ruby’s is still opened. A man and his red-dressed date tenderly touch the tips of their fingers at the bar. Their coffee has long been cold. The woman examines her glossy nails as her man strikes up a conversation with the old bartender.

“When do you think the war will end?” He asks.

The tired worker looks over at the couple and there is a long pause as he stows away glassware, thinking An employee of a cheap diner, how should I know when the war will end? But he says “Anytime soon, sir” as the clock strikes midnight, “We’re closing now”.


He couldn’t sleep. Every night he went down the street to Ruby’s for a plate of scrambled eggs and a cup of coffee around midnight. Problems at home, he told the kindly old bartender who took care of him. Tonight, he contemplated the salt and pepper shakers before him. They were black and white. Nothing in life was ever black and white. He stared at the two shakers, kept separate, but always together everywhere: pepper and salt, black and white. Sort of like his wife and him. He couldn’t make any sense of that either. So he just shook both over the eggs.


The street is completely deserted, dark and dismal. The half-shaded windows of tenements peer down at the street with great timidity. A serene charm has enchanted the neighborhood into a surreal calm. But Ruby’s beckons nighthawks like moths to the light. From a far distance, the twin metal coffee dispensers, one decaf, the other caffeinated, stand like beacons through the generous picture windows. Light spills into the concrete sidewalk and frightens the demons lurking among shadows. When morning breaks the spell, workers crowd into the worn leather stools around the bar like bees to the hive, but at night it is an oasis on the forbidden street.


“Carl, let’s go out tonight” Sandra pleaded. His weary eyes searched her sapphire ones. She had a peculiar face with a bone structure that made her cheeks more prominent than her sharp nose. Red hair paled her fair skin to bone white, enhanced by scarlet lipstick. Dressed to kill in a daring red gown, he knew she meant business.

The gray suit was wrinkled but hung nicely upon his frame. The crease of his collar was immaculate and the black tie hung jauntily loose around his neck. She pressed herself against his chest and began playing with the tie. Her forehead reached the coarse bristles of his angular jaw. He kissed it hesitantly.

Looking out the small window down at the abandoned street, he wondered what their lives would be like if they weren’t so poor. Maybe they could go out every Friday and eat Italian or Chinese cuisine like the rich folk. Then maybe a stroll through the city before turning in for the night. Wouldn’t that be nice? He loved her so much, why couldn’t he give her the world like he promised?

Holding her in his arms, he gave a sly grin and said, “Ruby’s is still opened”.



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.