Find more of my work at


Receive notifications when this site is updated:

Subscribe by e‑mail.

Subscribe by RSS.

List of categories

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #4: Time, stopped

Breakfast at Sunrise

“I can’t set foot in the place,” Milla said. “I don’t think I ever will again.”

I was only trying to make small talk when I had asked her about the Sunrise Cafe, the tawdry-looking diner across the street from where we sat sipping lattes at the Golden Spoon. I was waiting for the waitress to bring me a cheese danish. Milla was avoiding carbs today, so she hadn’t ordered anything but the coffee.

“Everything in my entire life since that moment has been colored by what happened there,” she told me. She shifted in her seat and stared into the canopy of the live oak that shaded the patio. Her eyes looked tired.

“When I met Jack,” she said, “I was fresh out of a three-year marriage that was a mistake from the beginning. I had fallen for the first man who said he loved me before dragging me into bed. That one early moment of discretion turned out to be his finest hour. It was all downhill from there.

“So Jack and I were taking it slowly, and I was okay with that. We’d been dating for three months. He didn’t talk much about relationship stuff. I suspected that he didn’t have much of a history. He was a few years younger than me, and I saw innocent excitement in his eyes. They were dark brown, almost black, and always seemed to sparkle in any light.

“That Friday, we’d made plans for dinner and a movie. All week I’d been working up the nerve to ask him to stay over at the end of the evening. I was ready for the next phase. I liked the idea of waking up together on Saturday morning. And not just the thought of spending the night in a man’s arms again. I wanted that warm familiarity. You know that feeling of having breakfast together for the first time?”

I nodded. “Yeah, that’s nice.” I’m not sure she heard me.

“An hour before he was supposed to pick me up, he called to say that something had come up at work. I was disappointed. I said, ‘Okay, call me when you’re free tomorrow. Maybe we can get together.’ And he said, ‘Sure, let me see how things go with the project.’ I didn’t like the sound of that, but what can you do? I called my best friend, Shawna, but got the machine. I left her a message and called my other best friend, Carrie. When I hadn’t heard anything from Shawna in an hour or so, Carrie and I went for soup and salads, then popped into Jason’s for one drink. I was home in bed by midnight. I hadn’t heard back from Shawna, but I didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes she would fall of the planet for a couple of days, and later she would be back and eager to spend time with her ‘best girl.’”

“I was wide awake by seven on Saturday. So I sent a text-message to Carrie to see if she wanted to meet me for breakfast. She replied with an ‘o hell yes’ before I finished brushing my teeth. We made plans to rendezvous at eight at Sunrise. My girls and I had spent a lot of hung-over mornings at the diner in college, and I had met Jack there for brunch one Sunday a couple of weeks earlier. He made fun of what he called ‘a mixture of self-conscious faux-retro decoration and real urban decline.’ I had told him that I liked the food and the people were always nice. He said, ‘Sorry, sweetie,’ and flashed those eyes at me. I smiled and called him a fashionista snob, and I took a few bites from the plate of pancakes that he’d pushed away.”

“When I pulled into the parking lot, I was 10 minutes late. I pictured Carrie tapping an impatient toe on the grubby linoleum. So I was surprised to find her waiting for me by the cash register, just inside the glass front door. She held up a hand to stop me, but I was intent on getting that first cup of coffee in front of me as soon as possible. I kept right on walking toward an empty booth on the right wall near the back. And then I saw him.”

Milla took a long swallow from her latte. She set the empty cup on the table and picked up her water glass. She put it back down without taking a sip.

“I’m not sure what went through my head. There were a million thoughts in quick succession. First I saw Jack’s face, looking as if all the blood had been drained out of it. His eyes were as sparkly as ever. I saw his hand, and her hand in it, and I stared at her but couldn’t seem to register that she was Shawna. I saw the look on her face, and I was surprised that it looked like anger. And months later I couldn’t even hear her name without wondering again how she could possibly have been angry at me. Then in an instant that seemed to last forever, I took in the laughing couple who sat across the booth from them—a work friend of Jack’s, Tim something, I think, and his wife—and the face of the waitress, who stood by with a carafe of coffee, wondering what to make of my presence. I saw my own reflection in the mirror wall, and the reflection of Carrie standing by the register, tears streaming down her face. And somewhere in all of that, I saw the plate of pancakes in front of him.

“And then those three eternal seconds were over, and so was that whole part of my life. I ran out of there, jumped in my car, and tried to drive home. But my hands were shaking so bad that I had to pull over after a couple of blocks. I cried for 20 minutes. I never spoke to any of them again, not Jack, not Shawna, not even Carrie. It was too much. Just too much.”

I didn’t know what to say. “I guess I can see why you wouldn’t want to go back there.”

She didn’t show any sign of having heard me. She stared across the street. Her cheeks were flushed. She began fishing around in her purse and said, “I wonder if the number I have for Carrie is still any good.”

Note: The assignment for this exercise was to write about a moment when time seemed to slow down or stand still.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

1 comment to 50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #4: Time, stopped

  • Gayle Goddard

    Wow. That was remarkably compelling. The emotional trauma is obvious right away, and I was anxious for her and reading to find out why she was traumatized as fast as possible. It really pulled me into the story and along for the ride – excellent story! G.

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting