When Junior looked up from the string, her string, and saw the little girl’s plastic Triceratops, they were already gone; he and Triceratops were alone together in the mismatched, multi-patched pleather booth, empty spots of white wall and loose nails above him, drywall plaster trickling to his shoulder and coating Triceratops’s middle horn.
Junior rose from the booth and slid past the rounded corner and the jutting metal and popped nail. He scooped up Triceratops. The voices of counter jockies came into aural focus: demands of refills, refuels and refunds for the cold food left sitting, for the burgers burnt to a charcoal briquette and for the oil spattering and sputtering at them from the legendary grill of myth. Beady spewed super-literate posturings of foodstuff demand, since, after all, dear fellow, you did neglect to land the plate of sustenance in front of my person and furthermore, did neglect to replace said sustenance when it did, most disturbingly, crash to the floor because you failed to complete a stunningly simple string figure, that really, even that ill-mannered and frankly petulant child could have executed; it’s the principle, dear fellow, the principle! In his more inebriated moments, Beady was fond of telling the gathered counter jockies that his favorite book was Roget’s Thesaurus and that he had read it for the 33rd time the night previous; this was his 22nd year of reading the tome for the 33rd time the night previous.
Junior ignored them. He carried the unlocked box and Triceratops to the back room. He clutched the string tight. He went to the spot where they never quite got the guy’s blood up off the floor and remembered that night: a rough one for a four-year-old with a mop that was too tall for him; damn thing gave him a splinter, too. Couldn’t make figures for a week because of the infected, deep red blister between his pinky and ring fingers, and the lancing-by-needle his father had insisted upon. He cleared space next to the boxes of brown-paper-wrapped napkins on the rusted metal shelf for the rusted metal box. He sat Triceratops next to it.
He wrapped the string around his fingers: first position, opening A. Palms turned towards. Loop from left index to thumb. Separate hands. Bend little finger. Far little finger string: do not disturb. Release loops.
He opened the box again and put the completed figure, Lochiel’s Dogs, leashed, inside it. He closed the lid. It squealed with rust. He locked the box with the key and put the key in his apron. He brought two fingers to his lips and kissed them. He placed them on the box.
– We’re celebrating.
He brought his fingers back up. He patted Triceratops on the head.
– You keep her safe, yeah?
He wiped his nose on his arm and smoothed out his mustache. He turned off the buzzing lightbulb and pushed open the doors to the diner and got back to work, the “ene’s iner” sign lighting the way in dull green neon.
To be continued.