Written by Brianna Cardenas, submission
They walk in at the same time we do – a man and woman, they’re older. Their steps aren’t hurried, they seem like a patient pair. They remind me of my grandparents. He carries a baby girl, she’s at least one years old with a head full of dark brown hair. She wears dangly earrings like the ones I wasn’t allowed to wear until I was much older. She buries her head into his sweater rubbing her nose back and forth against the soft fleece. She smiles in a room full of apathetic stares; maybe she likes the smell of Old Spice.
The waitress directs them to a table and then comes back for us. We take a booth against the window. The sky is a blinding white. I see them from the corner of my eye, they’re sitting at a table a few paces away. He sits across from the woman, the child in a highchair between the two. Across the room, in the corner, an old man sits by himself, his back against the window. His gaze is fixed on the floor. He’s not in the same place as me and this couple. He’s somewhere far away. He slumped in his seat as if there’s a huge weight on his back. The seat in front of him is empty, the chair has been pulled out away from the table. Was someone sitting there before, where are they?
The waitress comes back with our drinks in hand, a simple water and coffee. She takes our order with an expert swiftness. Just as quickly as she takes the order, she’s then gone. After the waitress is gone she reaches for the sugar and cream. Three creams, three sugars – her spoon clanks against the cup as she swirls her concoction together. The strong smell dilutes into something much sweeter. I sip my water as I look to the counter. The most interesting people always seem to be sitting at the counter, it’s empty right now. Maybe it’s still early and they’re all still asleep. Behind the counter one man does the work of five. The cook deciphers the waitress’s scrawled orders, he rings the bell once a plate is ready. Even from here I can hear the sizzle of a skillet. Everyone hopes it’s theirs.
The baby in the high chair chews at her crayon instead of using it on her place mat. The woman takes it away with a strange sense of composure. The man looks at the child with arms crossed over his chest. His demeanor is stern and rigid, yet his eyes can’t seem to hide the pride he feels for this child. The woman offers the baby a spoon as a peace offering. She’s obviously done this before.
Slowly more people begin to pile into the booths and tables. There are voices coming from all around. None distinct, yet each voice is somehow able to hold its own. It’s not exactly pleasant. Is this what schizophrenia is like? An athletic looking couple sits next to the man staring at the floor. He’s reading a newspaper now. I didn’t notice that before. Politics or Sports, I take him as more of a politics type of guy. They don’t seem to notice him either.
The waitress begins to make her rounds, pouring coffee from table to table with a smile almost too big to handle this early in the morning. A woman a few booths away slowly sips at her cup. Her frail arms are visible from here. She smiles as she lowers the cup back to the table. She sits across from a woman whose face I cannot see. However, the old woman’s eyes show me that she’s in good company. It’s always in the eyes. The eyes never lie.
A bus boy cleans the table in front of me. He wipes the table, knowing exactly what spots to go over twice. He looks outside the window as he works. He’s smiling. Maybe someone left a good tip. Nope, there’s someone outside he apparently knows. He hurries with the table. Once he’s done, he goes to greet the person. I think he works here too.
Looking out the window once more I see the man who sat by himself. He walks to his car, I didn’t even notice him leave. Outside he does not seem as vulnerable as he did sitting inside. He’s a different person, there’s even a bounce in his step. He gets to the front of his car, it’s a fancy new model, top of the line type of car. There must be a scratch on the front end, I can’t see it from here. He bends down to get a better look. He gets into his car and just like that he’s gone.
Next, it’s the old couple with the baby’s turn to leave. The man leaves with baby in tow while the woman stays behind. She organizes the plates, wipes down the table with her own set of wipes, she’s very meticulous. she takes her time and doesn’t seem to mind that she has a baby waiting for her. She takes one last sip from her coffee cup and then goes into a tiny coin purse. She places the tip underneath the cup. She gets up, again taking her time and meets with her husband at the front of the restaurant. Just like that, they’re gone too.
Shortly after, it’s our turn to leave. When I come again next week this old couple and lonely man probably won’t be sitting here waiting for me to slyly study them. It’ll be a whole new set of people. There’s something strange about that, something unfulfilling like this meal. I’m hungry for more, but its time to go.