Andy Plattner ~ Two Stories


A nine-year-old boy, I want­ed a sir­loin steak at a neigh­bor­hood restau­rant, an Italian place on 4th Avenue in Dayton, Kentucky. The week before, I’d heard some guy at the next table ask for that, a leisure-suit man with a cement block of hair accom­pa­nied by a woman who beneath her mul­let was a dead-ringer for the blonde who sang with Abba. At my order, my par­ents and grand­par­ents laughed in sur­prise. Spaghetti and meat­balls (made with pork and veal) was the pop­u­lar dish, every­one want­ed that. After we got home, I threw up the steak. My par­ents the­o­rized it was always safest to order the specialty.

Years lat­er, decades in fact, I went into the same restau­rant to get a take­away for my grand­par­ents. Out in the din­ing room, I spot­ted my father at a table for two with a woman who wasn’t my moth­er. He and I glared at one anoth­er. I guessed it didn’t mat­ter, it was only how our lives were turn­ing out. I brought those orders of spaghet­ti to my grand­par­ents, who of course want­ed to reim­burse me. Schoolteachers didn’t make any­thing; every­one had said that when I told them what I want­ed to be. My grand­fa­ther had gone to work at the age of twelve, shin­ing shoes, and at nine­teen he mar­ried my grand­moth­er, then went straight into her family’s beer dis­trib­u­tor­ship busi­ness. My grand­fa­ther didn’t want his son to work as hard as he had to, so while still in his mid-20s, my father was made a junior exec­u­tive. He did not put in long hours.

I wound up teach­ing at good old Dayton High, where we all had gone. Married. Eventually, inevitably, unhap­pi­ly. Right before she left, my wife remind­ed me “Dayton” meant “ditch settlement.”

At this point, I feel com­pelled to men­tion that as one heads along the bend of the riv­er, 4th Avenue turns into a high­way named for the fabled American pio­neer, Mary Ingles.

My grand­fa­ther, who I felt silent­ly regret­ted spoil­ing his own son, would chide me about the lack of shine on my shoes. He’d tell me to get his kit from the clos­et and talk to me about how to apply the paste.

The woman who’d been with my father vis­it­ed me at school the next day, tapped on the open door to my office, then closed it behind her. Introduced her­self, Sandra Middleton. Call her Sandy. My father must’ve told Sandy where I worked, how much depth I had, how lit­tle I made. She said, I just want to make it clear, I’m not in love with him. He says he needs me, but I’m break­ing it off. Must’ve been out of my mind … us going out in pub­lic like that … will he man up and tell your mother?

I said, Someone will.  I frowned at the stacks of papers on my desk. I blurt­ed out, What do I have to look for­ward to? Sandy appeared to be between my father’s age and my own, a fair woman with hair like David Coverdale.

She said, Hey, I’m just try­ing to do the right thing now. A minute after she left my office, I went jog­ging up the hall­way. In the park­ing lot, she was about to climb into her Wagoneer.

Wait! I said. Of course, the lot was chock full of AWOL stu­dents. (Go Astros.)

She waved me off, said, Forget it. Like father, like son. She whammed the door shut. But then the driver’s side win­dow slid down and her face reap­peared. Feel bad for your folks, she said, and the win­dow steadi­ly went up again. After she pulled out, I glanced around to see if any­one had heard. I went up the side­walk, in the direc­tion of my office.

That the new prin­ci­pal? one wiseacre yelled.

Years lat­er, decades, my father and I were tak­ing a dri­ve togeth­er and he had the idea to hit the Italian place, get a to-go order for my mother.

By this time, my sweet moth­er was afflict­ed with ear­ly onset demen­tia. She’d grown qui­et, her hair had turned as white as soap, and she’d lost a lot of her strength. Then she’d tak­en a fall and had to be sent to a reha­bil­i­ta­tion clinic.

He was retired, his wardrobe down to sweat­pants, polos, ball caps. He want­ed to sur­prise her, see if the food might con­jure a spark. Said he’d cut up the meat­balls. We took stools at the counter and Micah the bar­keep­er, who’d claimed he’d once dat­ed Patricia Neal, placed beers in front of us, then went off to the kitchen to let them know about our order.

I said, Goddamnit, why did you bring Sandy Middleton here? He remained pro­file to me, eyes blinking.

This is my place, he said, his voice quiet.

I want­ed to nail him for some­thing. What were you doing, let­ting a nine-year-old kid order a sir­loin steak? But he’d have an answer all cocked and loaded. I want­ed you to have what­ev­er you want­ed. As far­ci­cal as it seemed, I knew that not to be untrue.

My father and I stayed qui­et, and we sipped our beers. The monot­o­ny end­ed when the wait­er brought Micah the to-go box with my mother’s spaghet­ti. My father and I reached for our wal­lets, but he insist­ed on pay­ing. The bill was $10 and change, then he held out a sin­gle for the tip. Micah did well to look appre­cia­tive. I flashed back to the days when our fam­i­ly had a big table togeth­er and how, at the end of the meal, each of the adults would kick in a $5 or $10 bill. Whoever attend­ed to the whole fam­i­ly always got a ter­rif­ic tip; the wait­ers and wait­ress­es prob­a­bly argued about who would get to serve us next time. Why the whole staff always smiled when they saw us coming.



Sunrise found two vis­i­tors in the din­ing area for the free con­ti­nen­tal break­fast at Sleep Inn. A woman, col­lege aged, white. An old­er man, black, in roy­al blue sus­penders read­ing a wrin­kled news­pa­per that looked to have been from weeks ago. The woman did not attend col­lege. On a paper plate in front of her were two halves of a bagel, toast­ed, salt­ed, but­tered. From her table, she noticed the grimy col­lar of his shirt. The pale-yel­low stains along the shoul­ders. Yes, the man had an odor. Across the lob­by, behind the reg­is­tra­tion counter, sat an appar­ent­ly dis­in­ter­est­ed clerk, per­haps at the end of a shift.

In her room, before dawn, she’d tak­en a show­er and fol­low­ing that stood drip­ping in front of the bath­room mir­ror. She’d escaped. Though in the mid­dle of the night she’d had a dream where the whole earth had over­heat­ed, and it turned out all the peo­ple and the ani­mals and the trees and build­ings were only made of wax. She con­sid­ered her image in the bath­room mir­ror and want­ed to scream. And then she want­ed to do it to see if any­one would want to know why.

She decid­ed she liked the man in the sus­penders, because no mat­ter his sto­ry, here he was, what­ev­er had already hap­pened, what­ev­er he’d gone through. He want­ed to sit down for break­fast, orga­nize his thoughts and get his day off on the right foot. She fin­ished her bagel halves, her cup of cof­fee. Strolling past his table, she said, “Good morning.”

After her, he said, “Yes, it is.” She heard the rustling of paper, a page turning.

In the lob­by, she walked across the pur­ple para­chute-sized rug that said Sleep Inn Inc. She held her hand above the ser­vice bell on the counter until the clerk noticed her. “Check-out time?” she said.

Yeah, eleven.”

Is that firm and fast?”

I wouldn’t use those words.” She peered at the clerk. Early thir­ties, olive-skinned, bushy dark hair, eyeglasses.

Well, I’m going to take a walk,” she said. “I might check out, but I might stay. I’ll let you know. Good morning.”

Good morn­ing.”

At the entrance, the glass doors slid open, and she stepped out into the morn­ing sun­light. And what was his sto­ry, the clerk? Married, two jobs, a baby on the way? He adored his wife; she could tell as much. He wasn’t unloved, he just wished he were some­where else. At the cor­ner of Fallsway and Fayette, adja­cent to a St. Vincent de Paul church, she hap­pened upon a small park. In the park were pic­nic tables and patchy weeds. A wrought-iron gate stood open, and the pic­nic tables were occu­pied by disheveled, worn, black men. One younger man stood at brick gate post, pulling at a chain wrapped around it, this even though the gate stood open. He yelled at the chain and yanked at it with all his might, object­ing, she felt, to the idea of chains in gen­er­al, which she could not fault. She crossed Fayette and then could hear drums. Her ulti­mate des­ti­na­tion for the morn­ing: Phillip’s Restaurant in the har­bor. An old friend, Ava, from high school was a host­ess and might help bring her on. She’d emailed Ava already, and Ava had replied, Always. Welcome. Anytime.

And then it hit her, what was hap­pen­ing with the man in the roy­al blue sus­penders, she under­stood. He was one of the men from the park by the church and for what­ev­er rea­son, the night clerk allowed him to take a con­ti­nen­tal break­fast. As she head­ed for the sound of the drums, she devel­oped a the­o­ry that the man­ag­er, in order to prove to him­self he wasn’t just some shill work­ing for a huge con­glom­er­ate, went against a pol­i­cy that said only guests could par­take in the free break­fast. His kind­ness held inside it an act of defi­ance. His act of defi­ance was a cloak for his kindness.

Under a high­way over­pass, two per­cus­sion­ists thumped sky blue nylon drum­sticks on upside-down plas­tic buck­ets. Beyond them were a clus­ter of ven­dor tents, a farmer’s mar­ket. Obviously pop­u­lar. Handmade note­books, scarves, jew­el­ry, pas­tries. Fruit. A con­tin­u­al thun­der sound­ed from the cars rock­ing along the inter­state above. She tried on a cou­ple of scarves, one scar­let, the oth­er gold, and the ven­dor who had a gor­geous scarf draped over her shoul­ders said she looked beau­ti­ful in each. She thanked the woman offer­ing the scarves and wound up at a fruit stand, where she pur­chased a bag of per­fect­ly soft pears for $6. The paper bag had twine han­dles and she car­ried it at her side. One of the pears would be for Ava. And then on the walk back to the motel, she would bring the bag to the park next to St. Vincent’s, place it on a pic­nic table. She’d keep a sin­gle pear, take that to the Sleep Inn. If the clerk were still around, she’d present it to him. If he’d left, she’d give it to who­ev­er was work­ing at the desk and say this was for the fel­low who had the night shift. She’d say, Tell him it’s from me. He’ll fig­ure out why.


Andy Plattner has forth­com­ing sto­ries in Swing and Tampa Review. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and has taught fic­tion writ­ing at Emory, Southern Mississippi, Univ. of Tampa, Clayton State, and Kennesaw State.