Flash Fiction: ‘The Diner’

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An old man continues his unusual revenge against the Catholic church.

The Diner

Glenn H. Mitchell

A small grey-haired man in a black suit holds a red flower. It has been crushed beyond recognition, but it was once a rose. The pews are scattered around him like spilled toothpicks. He considers the rose and his customary calm smile wilts.

Feeling a light vibration in the right pocket of his tailored trousers, he digs out the tiny mobile phone and sees the name ‘Toby’.

The kid doesn’t say hello. “Rex, you done yet?”

“Just a minute.”

“I’ll come in.”

“That isn’t necessary. I’ve made the decision. I’ve already called the agent.”—Rex can tell the lad is disappointed, so offers a consolation—“You can arrange the finances.”

“Did you haggle?”

“No. I need to get this over and done with.”

“You could have waited for the auction. It’s a piece of shit. I doubt they’d get the reserve.”

“You’re going to hate this, but I’m giving them twenty above the reserve.”

“Holy hell!”

“Let it go, fella. I’ll meet you outside in a minute.”

Rex’s mother died in this church. A German bomb punctured a beautiful stained glass window and it was as though Jesus himself spat that explosive charge at the congregation. He imagines that moment and glances up to see the hole: a wound poorly bandaged with slats of plasterboard, still reminding older locals of the day a generation of Christians died. Lost in thought he wonders if it would be inappropriate to have the window replaced. After all, it belongs to him now. Even the scars belong to him.

As a child he watched his father beg for help, a soul-destroying act that stripped the man of pride and replaced it with misery. The church never really helped. They offered advice and comfort but you can’t feed your children with sentiment.

His father was inherently good. Even as a child, Rex could see it wasn’t naivety—it was trust. They went to a new church where the Catholic penguins waddled through rows of yearning followers, taking what little the parishioners had, trading it for something that couldn’t be seen. His father gave the most and had the least to give.

Those impractical deposits fueled hundreds of arguments between the younger, spirited Rex and his dad.

The old man is gone now but Rex’s irreverence remains intact—a deeply seeded hatred that has become rigid and ingrained over time.

So the small grey-haired man buys another church. This one means more to him than the others. He purses his lips and stares into the shadows.

As a teenager he told his father that all churches should be demolished and turned into diners, bars or brothels where foul-mouthed sinners could blaspheme to their heart’s content. Rex chuckles, remembering the way his dad used to fire up. Sometimes it looked as though he’d literally explode.

He was a good man and he never laid a hand on his son. His usual weapon against his kid’s hurtful comments was a quiet surrender, using a guilt trip to shame the youngster. It rarely worked because it was too Catholic, and if there was one thing Rex hated, it was Catholics.

A car horn sounds in the distance. It’s Toby. As Rex carefully negotiates debris and finally feels the warmth of sunlight, the youngster runs from the car, holding a mobile phone. When he sees how relaxed his boss is, Toby takes a deep breath and composes himself. The older man takes a glance over his shoulder at the wilting structure and smiles.

“What are you going to do with this one?” Toby asks.

“I don’t know,” says the old man. “It’s close to the highway. Maybe a diner.”

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