Updated: Mar 13
Her red dress seemed bland. I suppose I didn’t recognize them from anywhere, but there was a regality to how they stayed in that diner. I was far from that “regal”; couldn’t tell you where a single suit of mine had ever been: work? church?
She came in first; walked through that door, smiled at me, and then went across the room. She made a glance once or twice but I was much too tired then. She ordered wedges but called them chips. A guy sat beside her.
The man was dressed in a raincoat, something I asked him about; “It rained earlier, can’t you still see the clouds?” he responded.
I suppose I could see the clouds. It was night, so the clouds that did show were faint and they were dense gray like the night sky in New York anyhow. I was much more interested in the red-haired girl. “Hmph” I said.
“What’s your name, guy?” The red-haired woman had a kind voice.
“How old are you, Joy?” the man beside her said. He was staring at the cup of coffee the waiter put in front of him. It was a ginger kind of setting down. The waiter seemed worried.
“32 in three days.” It was in four days, but in three minutes it would’ve been twelve and I took that into consideration with careful decisiveness.
“Three days? Happy early one.” He had a grumbly voice. He grumbled into the counter as he spoke.
I slid my cup forward. The waiter refilled it. I’d had four cups at this point, but I worked late shifts. Phillies saved me, I swear to it.
“So, miss, what do you go by?”
I hesitated a moment and sipped from the steam of his cup in the silence. When I looked up, the girl had turned in to face the man in the hat. She wasn’t saying anything, only looking into the man’s face, guarded to me by his body. He was saying something, but I couldn’t make out what.
I put the cup to my lips and the suit strained against my arms as I did this. It doesn’t make sense, because I put on an oversized suit that morning in particular. In either case, I took the suit off. Paula watched me as I did this. I’m not much to look at, but she was glued to me for some reason—perhaps a reticent man is nice to look at.
“So what brings you two here?” I cut into their conversation.
They both stopped. Paula was already doing nothing, but now she stopped that; the man (whose name has escaped me) turned and stopped his mumbled, throaty scolding. I thought it was scolding, at least.
“Why?” the man asked me.
“It’s just friendly conversation.”
“It’s almost 12:00, Joy Harper. It’s very late; I’m sure you’re exhausted; you don’t want to talk to someone right now, right?”
“Why is 12:00 too late for casual conversation? Paula, how do you feel on this?”
A weight fell atop the diner and the waiter went to the back. I felt like some disembodied laughter should cue. The man was stupefied and the woman cocked her head at me.
“I think any time is fine for casual conversation. Why should there be a time?”
The man climbed out of whatever trance he had fallen into. With rage in his brow-line, he ducked from the conversation and went into the restroom. Paula watched him the whole way until the blue of his coat vanished behind the door.
“He’s not mine.”
“Why’s a guy like that hang around you then?”
“It’s a long story, trust me. It’s longer than you’d imagine, actually, and that’s something you can believe.”
“I wouldn’t doubt you. But really, any short version? The synopsis?”
“He’s a creep. That’s all you need to know, really.”
“That’s it. Just that he’s a creep?”
“That’s all I really got. But why the interest? You think of me in some way gross?”
“No, of course not.” I rubbed my chin.
“You’re blushing, you know you are. If I moved closer would you blush all over? A deeper red?”
“Blushing, huh? I’m not sure I can blush anymore. After your thirtieth, things start to get bleak, really.”
“I’m 29, so I hope you’re wrong.”
“Well I’m not. But blushing and being cute with pretty girls has all but faded.”
“That seems tedious. Why would you let that happen?”
“I didn’t let this happen, of course. It happens; just does. Change comes so quickly you can’t recognize change is occurring until much later, too late to stop it. I’m at that point now where dating has changed and it happened at thirty.”
“So when did this realization happen?”
“Just now, as I’m talking to you.”
“Was it me, then?”
“Did I push you to this realization? Am I attractive to you?”
“Attractive? Yes. I think you’re very attractive.”
“I think that’s interesting.”
She sat back in her seat and pushed her rear just off the edge of the stool to lean further against the counter. The man returned and he sat beside her, putting his arms down against the oak counter. The waiter returned as well, asking a question of the man. Paula stared at her fingernails; I stared at the image of her in my water-cup.