This Is West – JJ’s Café


The coffee was stale already and the sun had barely risen. It was hot and the dry stuffiness of the diner made words thick and heavy. There was no time for nonsense in this kind of heat. The cowboy hats that sat erect across from one another with half-empty plates of hash browns and ketchup scraped up their checks and made their way to the cashier’s counter at the entrance.  Their boots left dust tracks on the tile floor. Everything left dust here.

A woman wearing a blue sleeveless shirt and white capris motioned for the waitress and pointed to her coffee. The men at the table shared features, same dark eyes and noticeably sharp chins, they exchanged familiar glances when there was a pause in the conversation and they both put salt and pepper on their scrambled eggs. The man with the arm around the sleeveless woman had his napkin folded in his lap, the other fisted his fork and shoveled eggs into his mouth. The man sitting next to sleeveless woman slanted his shoulders toward her and put an arm around her chair. He nodded and stared into his scrambled eggs as she kept talking.  The couple sitting across from them listened to the sleeveless woman as the waitress filled up her cheap porcelain mug. They nodded and smiled to the waitress while the woman kept talking.

“She’s mettlesome. Poor thing she’s almost been crazy, twice. It’s a good thing she’s pretty and thank god she found B.J.”

The other woman at the table leaned into the sleeveless woman’s words and before she asked, “Does he treat her nice?” she wiped a small dust spot off of her black wranglers.

“He’s educated, works for Sandia Labs. He buys her clothes and takes her boy to soccer games on Saturdays. She’s lucky. He doesn’t have to do that. It’s like you and your brother, what was it? Down’s Syndrome?”

“Yeah.” The woman in black wranglers answered. “He’d be forty-two. Sometimes Doug would take him out to the farm when there’s wasn’t much to do.” She patted her husband’s leg underneath the table.  “He would go with me to town and help me grocery shop, it was nice to have the company. He loved it here, the diner, we would come on Wednesdays and have chocolate pie together.”

“Like dad, he loved this pie.” The man with his napkin in his lap looked up from his eggs and at the man sitting across from him and spoke for the first time.

“He used to. Toward the end he was happy if he had his whiskey. The wind does that to people. Hardens their taste buds.”

They paused on the asphalt and promised to keep in touch this time. The woman in the blue sleeveless shirt sat next to her husband in their black sedan as they pulled onto the highway. She reached her hand over to her husband and wiped the tip of his chin.

“I’d forgotten how dusty it was here.”

(Fiction and Photography by Jade Smith)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.