Manny closed the register and locked the front door of the diner. Darla had missed the dinner rush again, which wasn't like her. Silently shaking his head, he trudged over to the trash bin and reached in to lift out the plastic liner, which was not nearly as full as it should have been. He pulled it anyway and hauled it out the back door.
By the time he emerged into the alley he had forgotten his daughter's absence and reentered the sanctuary of his memories and meditations. He wrenched the lid of the dumpster up and tossed the bag inside as the familiar sounds of the night assaulted him, a quiet cacophony of crickets, tree frogs, the breathless hum of the city, and distant beeps of horns.
The dumpster lid banged back down when he released it. So much progress we've made, he thought. But with all the new, we still carry the old with us. Forks are still forks, we still lie down to sleep, and garbage is still garbage. He glanced up at Darla's back window. Her light was on; a green anole clung to the glass, waiting for dinner to arrive on moth wings.
He stood there in the alley, envying the lizard. It would never worry about its children's futures, never have to contend with rent, pest control, expired milk, government regulations, or body odor. It would never face war or prejudice or boredom. It would never worry about death or gaze up at the stars and wonder about the meaning of life.
It would also, he reminded himself, never fall in love. Being human does have its compensations. We live and die...but if we're lucky, we get to love and be loved sometime in between. He closed his eyes and touched his shirt pocket again to reassure himself that it was still in there. I'll see her again, he told himself. But even if I don't, even if I'm wrong about everything else, even if there's no God, no Heaven, even if I sizzle into nothing like a drop of water on a hot stove, I have lived and loved, and nothing can erase that. If this is all that I get, it will have to be enough. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
It began to drizzle, and he retreated inside, locking the door behind him. Up on the lit window, the lizard kept its lonely vigil. Eyes that would never cry stared steadily into the gathering darkness.
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