"And even if you were in some prison, the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses, would you not then still have your childhood, that precious, kingly possession, that treasure-house of memories?" - Rainer Maria Rilke
Everywhere he looks there's a memory.
Some are faint now with the passing of years, layered with a heavy coat of dust and tucked away like a box in the back of a closet. Most of the time he sits in silence, quiet, not thinking as the darkness and light bleed into each other, making him lose track of time. But today he's chosen to remember, to walk down memory lane, as it were, to look out the windows toward Inspiration Point and the abandoned parking lot, searching for a car shining beneath the sun.
It's deserted, of course, and only the curious or the morbid come here now. They have forgotten as they've expected him to. But he doesn't forget.
He comes to the door, the swinging wood hanging from the rusting hinges, scrutinizing the chipped paint for the trace of handprints. There must be some left, even after all this time. The rain can only wash away so many memories.
His recollection drifts to the kitchen, to the pungent smell of Arnold burgers and greasy fries mingled with strawberry milk shakes and chocolate syrup. He can picture Arnold and then later Al standing there, spatula in hand, apron tied around their waist. They've both been gone ages now but there's a warm light within him at the remembrance.
Then there's the bathroom - Fonzie's office - with the telephone dangling loosely from the hook, a faint breeze through a hole in the wall slightly swaying the cord as if it's just been hung there, waiting as if any second Fonzie will come through the door and answer it.
The main room is next, from the worn tables carved with initials of faded crushes and unimportant telephone numbers, to the stained walls bearing scrawled poems and phrases. He wanders through them like a child in a garden, savoring the most absurd of the phrases sit on it, indeed, pondering each one, remembering when they were spoken aloud, read to a chorus of laughter.
He comes to the jukebox and a sigh escapes, part sadness, part nostalgic joy. Here was an old friend, fallen silent now, but he remembers when it's voice filled the walls to the accompaniment of tapping feet and snapping fingers, dancing and keeping the beat. He remembers Fonzie, the Fonz, with his special knack for making the machine play at his bidding, the shrieking of girls as he entered, the familiar scents of leather and oil that came with him. If he thinks back hard he can even picture Fonzie's thumbs up ayyyy!, see off in the distance the approaching motorcycle as it raises a cloud of dust.
In his memories it's still the 1950s, not the 50s as most see them, dusty and pasted into a sepia-toned scrapbook, but vivid color, moments clear as crystal. He remembers all the names...Ritchie, Potsie, Ralph, Joanie..all the faces. He hasn't forgotten one. They grew up here, spent the better part of their lives inside his walls. And then the visits became fewer and further between. One day there was five, then four, then three, then two. Finally only one remained, and then he was gone as well.
He knows he shouldn't be sad. People change and move on. Children grow up and spread their wings, stepping outside of their safe places to start their own lives. He would be content with that if only there had been others, more laughter, more music instead of the silence.
The crowd that once wrote on those walls and danced to the music is long gone. He's lost track of time but he knows most of those kids would be old men and women now. Some might have passed away. It saddens him and he slumps, foundation creaking in protest.
He's had years to remember, of course, long and lonely decades stretching by with only his memories to comfort and torment him by turns.
He hears a noise outside and stares out, looking down upon two humans, a man and a woman, walking around him.
Several have passed by him before, some commenting with sadness at the state of him, a few remembering with a fond smile. Others are curious, poking at him, peering in his windows. He offers no resistance to all, only waits for the day when another will come with the final words, and a crew will pull him apart and cast him aside, forgotten, putting another, a new building in his place, a shopping center perhaps, something more useful to the children of today.
But he'll go with dignity, with the memories - happy ones - sparkling through his dusty windows, and with the faintest strains of rock n roll echoing through his faded walls.
And then he hears the voices.
"A good coat of paint and a bit of repair would do wonders." The woman wipes a hand across the nearest window. "Think of it, a retro diner, a peek into the past. Why, the memories this place must hold. People would remember and come back here to eat."
The man eyes him skeptically.
He pulls himself upright, proud and strong, as if begging them to ignore the sagging walls, the leaking roof, the weakened floor, imploring them to look beyond the condition he's found himself in and think of who he used to be, loved and alive with voices.
And somehow, almost magically, the man's face softens.
"All right." He says quietly. "We'll give it a go. Tell him we'll buy the property and the building."
The woman tosses a grin his way.
"What do we call it?" He asks.
She kneels and brushes off the sign, long rusted and worn, but still readable, extends it for him to see also.
"What about 'Al's'?"
If buildings could smile the diner would be positively beaming.