The man shivered, but to say he just shook in the winter air of Minnesota would be a disservice to the gnawing, tearing bite of the cold. He could feel the ice replace his teeth and spine and skin as he walked down the dim street. Even though the city of Minneapolis was always full of vibrancy throughout the year, this street and this walk were known to few. What made this treacherous journey through the snowy roads and splitting cold worthwhile was the illuminated sign at the end of the corner. There, in all its neon Americana glory, sat the Nicollet Diner. The man clutched his coat closer to his face, feeling his breath rebound onto his cheeks as he made the last few steps to the door. His skin said hello to the warmth that welcomed him. His nose followed suit, breathing in the tantalizing smell of sizzling meat and grease. He shuffled quickly to his spot, the booth next to the windows, second from the back. Scanning the restaurant he saw the typical late night entourage. A few lonesome individuals were nursing their coffee, a midnight burner shuffled through an abundance of papers, and three silly girls were enjoying the feeling of the night.

“Evening, Nick,” said a hearty-looking waitress with a gleaming name tag that announced her as Brenda. Her smile spread warmly across her large, ruddy cheeks. Her blue, vintage waitress dress with white sleeves hugged her plump, short stature as she stood there, hands placed affectionately on her hips. “The usual?”

“Evening, Brenda,” the man replied with a soft, recognizing smile. “Yes, the usual, please.”

“Coming right up,” she said with a wink, and bounced back behind the counter.

​His eyes returned to the scene of the diner. He noted the shiny, blue vinyl seats of the booths, the soft fluorescent lighting and the speckled linoleum floor. The hum of the conversation blurred with the sound of spatulas that echoed from the kitchen. He repeated his routine of picking at the large tear underneath the seat below him. He silently acknowledged the row of pop culture figurines, including an electric blue-haired troll doll and a small army man that he liked to call Champ, which stood proudly above the bar. Everything was as it had been the night before and to his knowledge the same as it had been every night before that. He had thought to himself many times that the diner felt like a contradiction. It always was full of chaos but somehow sustained a sense of permanence.    ​

“Here you are, sweetie. Enjoy!”

Brenda placed a steaming large London fog tea in front of him along with a bacon cheeseburger and the heavenly gluttonous smell of sweet and savory wafted up. He thanked her and began to rub his palms along the heated glass. Nick contemplated how long he had been coming to the hole-in-the wall restaurant. On a similar night years ago, when the wind was sharp and the snow stung, he had stumbled upon the diner by accident. He was upset about something, maybe a break-up or a bad day at work. It didn’t matter. He had looked up from underneath the frost-dusted brim of his hat to see the neon pulse of the sign. Something about the soft glow of the restaurant against the blurring swirl of snow tugged at his chest like a small child eagerly pulling him forward. Pushing open the door he experienced the overwhelmingly welcoming environment for the first time. People were talking over steaming mugs, friends squished together to all fit in a booth, a passing plump waitress gave a beaming smile to him as she whizzed by. Each moment and breath linked to the next. Nick sat down in the booth, later to become his booth and he ordered what was to be his order. His eyes passed over the scene, letting each detail envelop him. Everything felt right.

Resurfacing from his thoughts he looked outside at the powder sugar snow rushing through the streets. ​The red glow of the Nicollet Diner continued to radiantly shine through the frigid night feeling still and calm and comforting. The scene of shuffled plates, cups and bodies blurred through the constantness of the room. A laugh here, a whisper there. Shouts for another cup of coffee. It was what it was. Nick smiled to himself. Then he picked up his glass and took a sip.

Ava Stanek’s short story “Frozen Americana” won third prize in the Seventh Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. Ava is a freshman majoring in Illustration at SVA.