Tomlin Martinson has been a journalist, taxi driver, short-order cook, graphic artist, and writing teacher.
He now lives in western Washington state with his wife, Dona. He has a master’s degree in creative writing.
At Closing Time
B y Tomlin Martinson
Ten past the hour and Davis felt the pang of elsewhere. The owner and the chefs had gone home after the last desserts, and left it to he and Lucas to close the little bistro. Soon as they did he’d hit a bar down the street for a few rounds. Maybe he would meet someone tonight. But there sat his coworker, at a table with the tourist couple from…Omaha, he thought they’d said, chatting away like the place never closed.
He fiddled with the key, turning it over and over in his hand. His customers. They’d already paid and tipped him—although not well—so what was this about? Lucas had done it the other night, too, with the couple from Japan who’d come in because they couldn’t find an open table at any of the more conventional restaurants on the street. Davis would give it a couple of minutes, but then he’d have to ask them to leave, and maybe have a separate chat with Lucas about the rules. For the moment he set the last of the five tables for the next day’s opening while he eavesdropped.
“So what’s your plans while you’re here? Anything special?”
“We’re going to a play tomorrow night. On Serenity Street I think it’s called,” the woman said.
“Oh, you’ll like that one. Very intense. And dinner first I suppose?”
“An early one, yes,” said the man.
“Where at, if I might ask?”
“We found this place online called Tandy’s. It’s just a couple of blocks from here.”
“I know it.”
“You don’t want to go there. It’s a tourist trap. Bad food and high prices. And the waiters aren’t the friendliest.”
“Figures,” said the man.
“All the money they make goes into advertising, not improvements.”
“Maybe we should come back here,” the woman said.
“I’ve got some places you can try.” Lucas pulled a pen and paper from his pocket. “They’re like us. They believe in the experience.” He started to write while describing the other restaurants.
Davis moved away. Chitchat. Nothing special. He must be that lonely. Nothing to go home to, and doesn’t like to party. He was older, about fifty, maybe older than that. Divorced, he’d said. Two kids, but he never got to see them. Davis felt sorry for him. Didn’t know how he had wound up in this job, but knew he’d had something six-figure once. Screwed it up, he guessed. When he listened again, they were into family matters.
“It’s a surprise,” said the woman. “We’ll show up tomorrow morning at her apartment.”
“She’s only twenty-three,” the man said. “Way too young to be on her own in the city.”
“We worry. This isn’t like back home.”
“I understand, but I have a feeling she’ll be alright,” Lucas said. “You get to know people, and trust them, and then they watch out for you. You just have to let them.”
Davis had wanted to be at the bar around midnight. He let a spoon fall from his hand and clatter against the table. The others looked up.
“Folks, it’s past closing time,” he said. “I hate to ask you to leave, but we’re not allowed to be open. City regulations.”
“Who’s going to know?” Lucas said.
“We’ll take our chances. Why don’t you join us?”
“Can’t. I’m supposed to meet someone.”
“Then leave me the key and go. I’ll lock up when we’re finished talking.”
Lucas had only worked at the bistro for a few weeks. No way Davis could do that. And if the owner found out it was his ass.
“I promise I’ll give you the key back before we open tomorrow.”
“And what if something happens?”
Lucas looked at him as if to say he knew Davis was bullshitting him.
“We should probably go,” the woman said. The couple got up from the table. They thanked Lucas, and then the man went up to Davis and thanked him too. They left, turning and waving as they got to the doorway, and then went out to the street. Lucas hadn’t moved and was still sitting at the table after the door closed.
“Come on,” Davis said. “Let’s lock this place up.”
“I think I’ll just sit here for a while. Maybe make myself a cup of coffee.”
“You can’t do that.”
“Because we have to close.”
“We are closed.”
“We have to leave.”
“Give me the key.”
“Why would you want to stay here any longer than you have to?”
“Go and have a good time. It’ll be alright.”
“I don’t know.”
Davis took the key out of his pocket and threw it onto the table. It bounced, and Lucas snatched it out of the air.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Lucas said.
Davis grabbed his jacket from the peg and headed out. The autumn night was still warm, and dozens of people walked along the boulevard, some in couples, and some in groups of what looked to him like close friends, people who had known each other for a long time. Most of the stores and restaurants were closed, but the bars were open, and he could see and hear the people carousing inside. He began to get excited and started to move faster. He thought that he would never go to Omaha. As he got close to the street corner, Davis whirled around, just to check. From where he was he could just see the front of the bistro. A pinkish glow shone through the window as though the open sign had been turned back on. He loitered for a few moments, waiting to see if anyone would go inside. He turned back and walked on toward the bar, a little more slowly than before.