The Conversation At Table Nine
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By Chris Wood
“What?” The blonde haired girl, half way up out of her seat, red pea coat pulled through one arm, said.
“Thanks for what?” The young man sitting directly across from her, holding the saltshaker tightly in his hand, quizzically responded. His nails were short and looked like he had a habit of biting them.
The Italian pizzeria/restaurant the two were sitting in had a low attendance, but was to be expected at 4:00 PM on a Tuesday. One customer at the counter ordering a slice to go, the cook, and an elderly waitress, who wandered the seating area whistling movie theme songs were the only other occupants in the establishment.
The girl sat back down, placed her coat on the back of the chair, brushed her shoulder length hair behind her left ear with her hand, and sighed. “Your going away and I’m going to be very busy with work,” she spoke like a mother explaining to a child why it’s bad to fib.
“What does that have to do with anything? You’ll be here and I’ll be there. We’ll still be on the same planet. We’ll not be more than two and a half hours apart.”
He had released his grip on the saltshaker and slid his open hands across the table to hers. Her hands were soft and well taken care of. Perfect oval nails covered with clear polish. He looked at them, thinking that maybe if he could convince just one part of her to stay a while longer, then she might reconsider. His grip was tight, but not abrasive.
“Well who would go where?” She broke the silence with a question to the young man she spent the better part of the fall and winter with.
Before the young man could answer, the waitress walked by: “And how was everything?”
“Fine. A fine meal,” the young man, looking at his half eaten shrimp and pasta dish, said.
“Can I get you anything else?” The waitress asked, looking at the remnants of the girl’s salad.
“No, we’re okay. Just the check please,” the girl politely said.
“Okay. Be back in a minute.” The waitress walked back into the kitchen area whistling the theme to, “The Sting.”
This made the pair smile at the unusual waitress, but then the girl repeated the question.
“So, how would it work? How could it work?” She questioned, shaking her head.
The man at the counter, after receiving his slice of pizza and paying for it, left. The bells on the door jingled as it opened and closed.
“I don’t know, but how’s it going to hurt to try?” He removed his right hand from hers and brushed back her soft hair behind her right ear.
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” She had a troubled look on her face.
“Okay, Then tell me the truth.”
“The truth about what?” She pulled back a bit and their hands were no longer in each other’s.
“I want to know if you feel the same way that I do about us? I want to know why you said, ‘Thanks,’ as if I had brought you a meal or a refill of coffee?” His hands were shaking a bit on the table.
The girl looked shocked. She stuttered her next words: “That’s not fair.”
“Just tell me what you meant by, ‘Thanks.’ Tell me you don’t like me, but don’t say that it can’t work because we’re busy and won’t be living on the same block.”
She said nothing. She just looked down at her hands now in her lap. He now knew. There was no need for words. He felt like he was under water. Everything moved a bit slower.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said. “I didn’t want to hurt you. It just seemed like a good excuse.”
“I would rather be hurt with the truth than a lie.” He mumbled the last words, his chin tucked down into his neck.
He to was looking at his hands and not across the table. His hands looked worn in…finally. For his whole life his hands were always baby-like. Many times he wished that they looked beat up; a scar over a knuckle, or a crooked finger that didn’t heal right after being broken, as he had seen on other hands.
He looked back up. The girl was putting her coat back on. She grabbed her hair from behind and pulled it out from the collar of the jacket. “I’m going to go now.” She said slowly and began to rise
His insides screamed. “Don’t let her go,” they commanded, but all he could do was wave.
She rose and he watched her leave. The expression on his face was plain and emotionless. He would have fit right in with a funeral precession. The bells on the door jingled as it opened and closed.
The waitress came from behind the counter and over to the table. “ Okay table nine, here’s the check.”
“Thanks.” The young man reached for his wallet and placed twenty dollars on top of the check. He looked at the wall at the end of the table and saw a nine above it.
“Do you want change young man?” She questioned.
“No. No thank you,” he said, grabbing for his jacket on the back of the chair.
“Well, you and that pretty girl have a good night,” she happily replied, due to the generous tip left over.
“I went to her door a week ago,” he said to the waitress.
“That’s nice,” she said back, looking unsure as to what the young man was talking about.
“We had already said good night, but I went back a few minutes later,” there was a desperation in his voice.
“You have a good night,” she said.
“I went back to tell her all the things I held back. And now, I’ve lost her.” He buttoned his jacket and rose from the seat.
“Come again soon,” the waitress said, turning her back to the young man and walking toward the kitchen. She was not paying his words any attention.
The young man walked slowly to the door, like someone having their first experience on ice skates. He reached out for the handle and looked at his hand. “So many years, and now they look broken in,” he thought.
The bells on the door jingled as it opened and closed. The only sound in the restaurant was that of a whistled tune coming from the kitchen. It was the theme song to, “Gone With The Wind.”