Meanwhile, Ferg continued muttering while he scraped and re-scraped the griddle. The ham was long gone, and he was about to run out of pancake mix. Maybe I  can water it down…and serve meals on paper plates. He muttered some more, sighed, and then re-focused on his griddle tasks. Maybe turkey hot dogs would serve as the side meat for pancakes.

Ferguson flinched, jerked out of his thoughts, as the bell over the entry door chimed its welcome. More hungry and soul-empty folks have entered his diner. He watched them shuffle in, hang-dog and forlorn, cramping the small space even further.

This day might never end.

The eggs were already gone and not likely to be re-supplied soon. Farm fresh can’t arrive when the chicken farms are leveled, the chickens all fried on their roosts. Besides, them roads was burnin’. Melting tires, the talk radio commentators said.

He reached up and turned off his hearing aids. He could take in no more bad news. He don’t need reasons to feed people. He don’t want to know the cause.

Damn the cost.

None of these folks would be tendered a bill. There’d be no cash register rings today. Not for a long while. Folks needed to eat. Some might be bedding down in the booths tonight. Or in their cars in the parking lot. Some in the relative luxury of their motor homes.

The lot was nearly full when he’d arrived at the diner this morning. It’s lore that the way to know if a restaurant’s any good is to count the cars parked in the lot. Or to note a cop’s presence. None here today. Most of the small town’s police force volunteered for the fire crew. The lone hook-and-ladder had rolled out about 2:00 a.m.

Ferguson knew because his wife took the robocall from the fire chief and jumped out of bed, rocking the springs. He eased up an eyelid to sight the bedside clock and re-settled to sleep a few precious more hours. At 6:00 a.m. he awoke to the true alarm, dressed and trudged out to start the pancakes, his ritual of respect for the brave firefighters and what he could do for his wife.

Tributes to love, honor, and serve.

Ferg had skipped a shower and shave, deferring to the firefighters’ need for water. He’d washed and re-washed his hands all day, as he served up meal upon meal.

He winked at himself in the rearview as he backed out of their gravel driveway, glad all over again that he hadn’t paid for costly blacktop. The crunch and bumpiness courtesy of the asymmetrical potholes reminded him that he was alive, his home sheltered from the firestorm.

Goldang it! This goldang reflectin’ B.S. had caused him to burn some of the dwindling toast supply. Better snap to and cook until his hands dropped off.

Commitment. Or else we’ll die together, absent a trashed-up home per person. Ferg hung his head and said a silent prayer for the throng.

Scraping the grill complete, Ferguson refocused his mind to whipping up more pancakes and then dispensing them in perfect formation onto the grill. He’d do what he could in the here-and-now. Feed the hungry. Regard their all-around health.

He’d clean up the kitchen and take out the trash later. Ferguson chuckled—aloud this time—as he dolloped the pancakes.

Yeah, I won’t worry about buttoning up the trash against the bears’ forage this time. Them critters would be fleeing their home, likely hungry as bears, too.