Chick’s Diner

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I’ve always been impressed that the apostrophe is in the right place on the old neon sign. It would have added to the cost, but I guess the original ‘Chick’ wanted everything to be just right.

Somehow, the old diner has continued in business with parking in rear, despite sitting on an expensive piece of real estate.

The block would have been on the edge of town when the diner opened, but these days it has been gobbled up by progress.

Steak and Chops are still on the menu, but I prefer the sausages and eggs.

Back in the day, it is said that ‘Chick’s’ stayed open twenty-four hours. These days, it’s open until two in the morning, which is okay by me. The opening and closing hours are flexible, and if the diner has customers at closing time, it stays open until they want to leave, which kind of makes you feel wanted, and I guess if you are up at that hour, you are in need of a bit of comfort.

When I can’t sleep, I wander down to ‘Chick’s’ and sit and write. As long as I buy coffee, they don’t seem to mind.

Taxi driver’s and emergency workers love the place.

The girl who works the late shift is friendly and knows how to listen in the same way that a good bartender does.

No-one messes with her because the short-order cook is a big bloke and rumour has it he strangled someone over a parking space.

Speaking of parking — I rarely drive to the diner, living as close as I do, but when I do arrive in a car, I’m allowed to park out the front. Someone said that it was like receiving a gold medal at the Olympics. Only me and the cops are allowed to park out the front. I don’t know what I did to receive such a high honour, but I have learned not to argue with good fortune. I park out front now and then to show that I can. It has raised my standing in the community.

I found a wallet on the floor of a booth once. I returned it intact even though I hadn’t sold a story in a long while. There was fifty bucks in that wallet, and I was sorely tempted, but I knew my mum would have been disappointed in me if I lifted the money. I remember the look on the bloke’s face when I banged on his door and gave him the wallet.

“Thank you,” he said, “I wasn’t supposed to be in that part of town that night,” he said, handing me the fifty. “Please don’t mention where you found it.”

“Who are you?” said an aggressive woman who reminded me of one of my aunties — the one I was still scared of.

“Just came to return a wallet,” I said, taking a step back.

She pushed her husband to one side and stared at me.

“Where did you find it?” she said.

I looked over my shoulder and noticed the flowers growing on the lawn.

“Just over there, near the footpath,” I lied.

The woman glared at me, and behind her, I saw the man give me a nod.

“Don’t think you’re getting a reward,” said the angry woman.

“No need for a reward lady. It’s enough to see your smiling face,” I said as I stepped back out of range.

I could see my mum smiling as I told her the story. She would be proud of me, and I wished she was still alive so I could see her smile one more time.

Making her smile was my greatest delight.

Lost and Found.

photo-by-henry-clarke-1955-model-in-patou-coat-and-dress-with-mercedes-conde-nastNot something you see too often; a handbag separated from its owner.

Tram stop number eighteen on 112 route. Bright sunny day and I’m on my way home.

My head was in the clouds as I sat in the tram shelter next to the black handbag. It took a few minutes before I noticed it, and when I did I looked around to see if its owner was nearby. It was early enough in the afternoon for it to belong to a classy office worker, but in reality, most office workers would be back at their desks by that time.

That tram stop has a good view, for many metres, in all directions and as far as I could see there were no females in sight. I stared at it for a few moments before I picked it up and the thought occurred to me that I was getting my fingerprints all over it; I watch way too much television for my own good.

The bag felt good in my hands and I knew enough about fine leather to know that this bag was well made. The clasp was gold. Despite its obvious quality, it was an older bag which had been well-loved. The leather had recently been treated. I could smell the cream that had been used to preserve the leather. I use the same cream on my old leather jacket.

Bags are designed to hold stuff, so maybe some of that stuff would give a hint as to where I could find its owner.

The gold clasp clicked open with a satisfying sound.

On first glance, the bag contained all the things that you would expect. Keys, linen handkerchief and a compact with initials embossed on the lid. I couldn’t find a purse, but there were loose items in the bottom of the bag. Eucalyptus lollies; maybe she’d caught a cold recently, or maybe she liked lollies. There was a short length of red string, a single blue button and a pebble. All fascinating items but none of them were getting me any closer to the identity of the owner.

The bag had two zipped internal pockets, one on each side. The zips were also gold-plated and I opened the one on the right and found a letter. From the look of the envelope, it had been read many times. The letter was from someone named Tony and it started off quite informally but before too long it became obvious that this Tony was writing a ‘Dear John’ letter, or should that be a ‘Dear Jane’ letter. I didn’t like the man who wrote that letter, but I would say that the bag’s owner had once loved this bloke. Why else would you keep a letter that was written so long ago? Reading the letter left me with the feeling that I had been peering through someone’s bedroom window. I felt vaguely guilty as I refolded the letter and put it back in its place. The other zippered pocket held a  telegram, neatly folded and still in its original envelope. It occurred to me that Australia Post had stopped sending telegrams a number of years ago. These days, wedding receptions have to put up with emails or fake telegrams, and the best man reads them badly and fluffs up all the punch lines; somethings never change. 

I unfolded the telegram and a chill went up my spine because I noticed the black corner on the envelope. During both World Wars, the Post Office would send out death notices in black-edged envelopes. 

The telegram was dated late in 1942; I checked, just to be sure and it was today’s date, different year of course, but the same date. It informed the reader that an Australian soldier had died in action in New Guinea; on the Kokoda Trail. The telegram offered its condolences. It was addressed to a female with the same name as the dead soldier; sister or wife? 

I needed a moment after reading that.

I sat and looked at the unnamed fountain in the small park, Gordon Reserve, across the road. I was remembering back to the last long drought where all the fountains in Melbourne were turned off for several years. We take so much in life for granted, like water coming out of a fountain. 

I was now more determined than ever to find the bag’s owner. 

Another rummage around inside it returned a couple of bills with a name and an address. When I got home that night, I packaged up the bag as carefully as I could and I posted it off on my way to work the next day. 

Life went on and I forgot all about my adventure with the exception of telling my mates the story of me on the tram with a black leather handbag and no girlfriend to be seen. It got a laugh ever time I told it, and even though it brought my masculinity into question, I enjoyed being able to tell a story that consistently raised laughter. 

About a year later, I received a letter. Not an email but an actual letter; handwritten address.

I loved getting letters when I was a kid, but these days all I get through the mail are bills, so I opened it with a small tinge of excitement.

The letter was handwritten on expensive paper…………. “Dear Mr. Williams, Please accept my apology for taking so long to write, but life got in the way, as it tends to do. I received your package containing my mother’s handbag. Thank you for taking the trouble to post it back to us. We were very surprised when it arrived, and pleasantly so. The bag had been missing for so long that none of us ever expected to see it again. I had heard stories, of course, we all had. Mum left that bag at a tram stop near the Windsor Hotel the day she received that telegram. She was distraught, so it was not unusual that she would be forgetful.

I have to ask, where did you find the bag? It was lost so long ago. We are amazed that it is in such good condition. Mum died a number of years ago, but I know that if she was here now she would be very pleased, especially considering how important the contents was to her. Her husband, my dad, was awarded the DCM for saving the lives of his mates. I know it sounds terrible, but I wish he had not been so brave.

I have included the cost of the postage and I hope you accept it with all our thanks.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Caroline Wilson [Nee McKenzie]”

There were a couple of five dollar notes included with the letter, way more than was necessary.

I thought long and hard about writing back to this kind lady, but I didn’t have any answers for her. I have no idea how that handbag came to be at the same tram stop where it was lost all those years ago and on the same date.

It strikes me that there are some things that we are not supposed to know. Somethings are best left alone.

The owner of the bag and the subject of the telegram are reunited once more and what happens down here is probably only of passing interest to them.

I travel past that tram stop twice a day and I think about those two and wonder what other stories that old tram stop has yet to tell.