Do you ever wonder about the man in the white suit?
You sat at that bar that one morning when you didn’t have to go into work so early and you thought breakfast at the diner down the street would be nice. You had coffee and some bacon and eggs, read the paper. It was a quiet morning. Not the café, it was busy as usual. Silverware and plates and cups all clanked together in a rhythmic hustle and bustle that was almost soothing. Sounded like progress. Sounded like everything was all right with the world. The clanking meant the diner was in business and business meant that the diner could stay open and that meant that the old man working the register for the past fifty years could keep it open maybe just a little bit longer. Maybe until he died. After that the future was uncertain. But the future up to that point would be all the owner had to worry about. All in all it was a good morning.
Until you noticed the man in the white suit.
He was eating flapjacks. Not a few flapjacks, not a breakfast plate of flapjacks. This was a dinner plate. A plate stacked so high the only obvious course of action after consuming them would be to sleep it off. They didn’t seem to faze him, though. Each bite was bigger than his mouth should’ve been able to hold. Yet there he was, bite for bite. Unhinging that jaw with strangely sharp teeth. Was that an old person thing? If you keep all your teeth longer than you’re supposed to, do they naturally sharpen? No wonder most resort to dentures. And with bites like those he wouldn’t be far away from them. Who eats flapjacks in a white suit anyway? Maybe he has a business meeting or a reverse funeral to attend later. But syrup on white? That’s a cause for concern. Maybe the man’s rich? Maybe he couldn’t care less whether or not he got a gob of syrup on his bone white suit because he could simply go buy a replacement. That must be it. He’s so wealthy he can go to a diner and eat a heaping stack of pancakes doused in syrup in his best suit whenever he damn well pleases. What a way to live.
Satisfied with your newly invented backstory for the mysterious man at the counter, you went on to finish your breakfast without even the slightest awareness that he had turned his attention to you. His full, undivided attention (which unnerved you because who can do that these days?) was focused on you. This wasn’t the first time someone had locked eyes with you. You knew the drill. Either look away immediately as if it never happened, or keep the stare for a few seconds longer if she’s cute. He wasn’t cute, though, nor could you look away. His stare was cold, a peering chill that pierced right through you, hooked you, and held you in place. His blank expression was a hypnotic leash that you couldn’t tear away from, no matter how uncomfortable you were.
Thank God for the waitress. “You done, sweetie?”
“Oh! I’m sorry, what?”
“Are you done? Need a refill?
“No, no I’m fine. Just the check, please.”
“You got it, honey.”
For a moment you stared at the table left empty by the waitress, afraid to look back up in the suit’s direction. But curiosity got the better of you, as it always does. How relieved you were to find out he was gone. The day could go on as planned, and the entire debacle would be willfully purged from your mind.
You don’t wonder about the man in the white suit anymore, because he’s right there. Standing in the doorway of the hospice room you now occupy, he gives you that same look he did forty-three years ago. Only now there are no questions, no made-up backstories. In all your people watching you never once stopped to consider that you might be the people he’d been watching. That we’re all being watched. When he looked at you all those years ago he saw this very moment. You can see it in his eyes. Stark black eyes that contrast the unstained, bone-white suit.
©2015 Benjamin Talley
From Alabama to Los Angeles, I write because if I can no longer scare myself, I might as well try scaring others.