[Fiction] From the Other Side by Jordan Nishkian


From the Other Side

by Jordan Nishkian


Your breath casts a growing fog over the glass while the other side, slicked with rain, gets battered by this morning’s storm.


Seagulls fight hard against the opposing wind, and the gray high tide’s horizon blends into a colorless November sky.


You always find yourself in this moment: one hand wrapped around a full ceramic mug, staring out the window, ebbing with a sense of longing—even if you never knew what you were longing for.


“How long have you been coming here?” Danny asks, mopping up a puddle of syrup with an already-saturated bite of pancake. A crumb catches the corner of his mouth and leaves its sticky imprint.


“Um, I dunno,” you answer, watching him roll up the sleeve of his green flannel to reach for an extra napkin from the dispenser. “I try to come by when I’m passing through to—”


“It’s really good,” he says between chews. “Sorry I interrupted. What were you saying?”


“Oh, it’s nothing.” You shrug and break off a crisp end of nearly burnt bacon. “It still looks the same.”


“Yeah?”


“Yeah.” You nod, eyeing retro staples around the diner: burgundy vinyl booths, a fish tank, an out-of-order jukebox, a display case full of pie.


“So,” he says, bringing your attention back to his hazel eyes and next-day stubble, “it’s been a pretty successful first couple of months.”


“Has it been a couple of months?”


“Six weeks.”


“Mm,” you respond, lifting your lukewarm coffee mug to take a generous sip.


Hot liquid scorches the tip of your tongue, and you can’t help sucking in a sharp inhale.


“Whoa, you okay?”


“Yeah,” you say, returning your mug back to the table.


“Damn, you just went for it,” Danny says, lifting his fork and knife to begin cutting into his short stack.


You stare. “What?”


“The waitress just topped that off for you,” he answers, pouring syrup over his pancakes.


You peer into your mug and are met with a trail of steam rising to wrap around your tired face, climbing into your sinuses and poking at the front of your brain.


You and Danny have been going out for a while now. He’s nice to you, you think, though you have very few points of reference. He’s cute, too, in the way he makes you laugh even though he doesn’t say anything funny.


Does he ever say anything funny?


“Dammit, I’m a mess,” he says, examining the heavy, blue sleeve of his hoodie, which he had tracked through some syrup. You reach for more napkins on instinct, only to have your fingers met by a plastic backing.


“Gah, I’ll be right back.” He stands, brushing past your shoulder and leaving you with a clear view of the fish tank along the back wall.


It’s void of fish, but still full of water with a bubbling filter and pink, plastic coral. A man walks by it, tugging his son toward the door, but not before the kid smacks his small, fleshy hand against the glass.


The rain thuds harder on the other side of the window. You break off another piece of bacon and lean your forehead against the cool glass. You don’t flinch at the hard, oncoming pellets of rain but let its vibrations soothe your clenched jaw, massaging the tension.


Here you are again, hand on mug, face on glass, eyes on ocean. And the longing—


“Are you going to eat?”


You lift your head. Danny’s back on the other side of the booth in a gray tee; he must have taken off his hoodie. You couldn’t do that; you’d be too cold.


“Hey,” he says, waving his hand at you. “It’s going to get cold.”


“I’ve been picking at it.”


“Your utensils are still wrapped up.”


You glance at your untouched napkin roll, then your untouched plate of bacon and eggs.


“Are you feeling ok?” he asks, cutting into the last pancake in his whittled-down stack.


“Yeah. Tired, I think.”


He peers over to your side of the table and into your mug. “Let’s get you a refill,” he says before waving down the waitress.


You glimpse into the ceramic mug, seeing a thin ring of coffee settled at the bottom.


The waitress appears with the coffee pot in hand—there’s a fullness behind her white apron and a dewy glow to her cheekbones. She smiles at you, friendly enough but vacant, and she fills your mug.


“When you get a chance,” Danny adds, “I think mine is supposed to come with orange juice?”


“Ah! Sorry ’bout that,” she answers, placing her hand on her belly. “Baby brain.”


You laugh with her, even though it wasn’t funny.


“Congrats!” he responds. He’s good with strangers.


“Thank you, I’m lookin’ forward to it.” She smiles at him, this time with more authenticity. “Do you have any?”


You shake your head.


He says yes—that you’re due next summer.


You look at him, unsure.


He eyes you. “I know we weren’t going to say anything for a few months, but I think Racquel can keep our secret.”


“Congratulations, you two,” she whispers before letting her eyes grow wide at the coffee she just poured you. “Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s not decaf! Let me get you a fresh cup.” She removes the mug from your hand. “Be right back with your decaf...and that orange juice.”


He chuckles as she walks to the other side of the nearby counter. “She’s nice.”


You pad your fingers against your stomach.


“Do you feel sick?” Danny asks you.


Maybe.


“I think I’m fine, just tired,” you answer, leaning your head onto the window, fixing your eyes back onto the ocean. All that’s missing is—


“Here you go,” you hear. Racquel has returned and places your mug onto the table. “Are we all ready to order?”


You glance up at her, then to Danny’s empty booth. His paper placemat setting is spotless; there’s not even a ring of condensation from a water glass.


“Um” is all you can manage.


“Do you want another minute?” she asks.


You turn your head over your shoulder toward the bathroom. “Yes, please.”


“Take your time, I’m here all day.”


You slip your hand into the handle of the calescent mug. Before she walks too far from you, you ask, “Is this decaf?”


Racquel looks confused. “Did you want decaf? I thought you asked for regular?”


“Yeah, that’s…” You survey the diner. Two teens select a song from the lit-up jukebox, and Van Morrison starts to play. “That’s fine, thank you.”


She nods and walks to a booth behind you that’s ready for their bill.


The two girls by the jukebox sing along to “Brown Eyed Girl” on their way back to their friends at the counter. The TV screens in the corners above them flash with replays of the Giants’ victory over the Rangers in the World Series.


Pressing the heels of your palms onto your eyes, you take a deep breath and inhale the warm, charred smell of coffee.


“What’s good here?” Danny’s voice snaps your head up. One hand on the laminated menu, one unbuttoning his green flannel, his eyes dart around the lengthy breakfast section.


You tilt your head and flash your eyes to the TVs: Paris is in mourning. The jukebox sits, silent, with a sign reading “Out of Order” taped to its front. Adele’s “Hello” fills the otherwise quiet diner.


“Hello from the other side,” he jokes, waving at you. “You okay there?”


“I don’t feel too well,” you say, noticing an ache begin to grow in your chest. You steady yourself on his bright, hazel eyes.


“You just need to eat. You’ll feel better,” he says, tapping his finger on the Breakfast Special. “Road trips on an empty stomach are never fun.”


You nod, holding the mug of hot coffee to your body with both hands. With his head bowed into the menu, you can see the lonely fish tank; still empty, still bubbling.


“I know what I want,” he says, “‘the Breakfast Special: a short stack with eggs any style, four pieces of bacon or sausage, and an orange juice.’ Perfect.”


He studies you, and for a moment, you forget everything you know about him.


“I’m a little nervous to meet them,” he says, placing his menu off to the side.


“Meet who?”


He laughs. “Your parents.”


You touch the hot ceramic to your lower lip. “They’ll like you, at least my—”


“Do you know what you want?”


Before you can say no, he takes the menu from in front of you and stacks it on top of his.


“What were you saying?”


“I don’t remember,” you say into your mug as you begin to take a tentative sip.


“Do you want to tell them before or after dinner?” he asks, tugging on the wet sleeve of his blue hoodie. You search his face: he’s clean-shaven, and a tiny nick, freshly clotted, glistens on his chin.


A small sparkle on your left hand catches your eye.


“What can I get for you today?” Racquel’s eyes meet yours as she pulls a notepad out of her apron. She can wrap its ties around herself twice.


“I’ll have the Breakfast Special, please,” Danny answers, “and she’ll have your eggs and bacon plate.”


“And how’d you like those eggs?”


“Scrambled,” he responds, “and can we get the bacon extra crispy?”


“You got it,” she says, scribbling on the order slip. “It’ll be right out for you!”


You watch her reflection step away before locking your eyes back onto the seamless horizon. You always find yourself here, longing.


The bell above the door jingles, and you look to face Danny’s vacant seat, fronted by a finished plate with tracks of syrup, a crumpled napkin, and an empty glass of orange juice. A check for the “Bfst Special” and a “#12, scrambled, bacon xtra crisp” sits on the edge of the table. An additional ring is on your finger, but the fish tank across from you is still bubbling, still empty.


Danny’s hand touches your arm on his way back from the bathroom. He pushes down the sleeves of his black sweatshirt, and his thick, bearded mouth asks if you took care of the bill.


You shake your head and follow his gaze to your full plate and an empty to-go box.


“You need to eat something,” he says, picking up the tab. “I’ll ask for some toast.”


He heads to the cash register with a new waitress behind it. A picture of Racquel with a baby joins the collage of photos taped to the wall behind the counter, and clips from protests in Hong Kong flash on the TV screens.


She runs his card as you float a hand onto your empty belly. He looks tired, defeated.


Tightness stretches across your chest as you turn to press your head onto the glass. The rain is still pattering, the gulls still flying, and you are still longing.


“You need to eat.”


Dark clouds create waves in the sky.


“I’m trying to talk to you.”


A wilted branch from a nearby tree is thrown across the beach.


A piercing pain in your stomach joins the chronic ache in your lungs.


A large tangle of seaweed is ejected from the tide.


“Can I top that off for you?”


A crescendo of white-tipped waves crash against windblown sand.


Do you remember when we used to sing—


Hand on mug. Face on glass. Longing. Longing.


“What do you think of the name Racquel?”


The fog from your shallow breath clouds your vision.


“Do you need another minute?”


Your breathing is labored, coming in short gasps.


Sha la la la la la la la-la la la te da


Your muscles writhe with every inhale.


Where is the horizon?


Your face is pulled away from the glass as you collapse onto the sticky tile floor. Racquel rushes over to you, scooping you up in her hands. You can’t help fighting her and the air that’s suffocating you.


“How’d you manage that?” she asks, rushing you to the fish tank. She eases you into the cold, cold water.


You float for a moment, feeling the water hold your weight, hearing nothing but the subtle pulse of bubbles.


Racquel mouths something to you from the other side of the glass and walks away, leaving you an unobstructed view of the diner. A boy glimpses at you on his way to the jukebox while his grandmother points at a slice of pie in the display case. The TVs show a commercial for a mattress sale, and Racquel carries a tray of breakfast food to a family taking up two tables along the back wall.


Not too far away, there’s a woman at a booth, staring out the window, holding a mug and watching the rain. You swim toward her, pushing through the light, bubbled current until you feel your face against the glass.


Although she’s been writing since she could hold a pen, Jordan Nishkian still struggles with creating a decent bio for herself. A native Californian and a firm believer in the Oxford comma, she has produced stories, poetry, and articles for a number of publications. Jordan is the founder and editor in chief of Mythos and the co-founder and artistic director of Ink and Quill Publications. If you ever need her, you can find her curled up in a comfy chair with a book in her hand and a pen in her hair.