One Table Over


Public Library


He's an odd one. He sits alone, as many here do, but he breathes heavily through his mouth as he reads his book.
I've been sitting here for a solid hour, jotting down notes and pretending not to notice him. It's hard. His breathing is noisy and broken, almost like a snore, but he's not napping.
I have to stand and stretch every so often for better circulation, but he has remained hunched over the rectangular wooden table in the matching wooden chair, flipping pages and staring at the book.
He's flipping the pages too quickly to be reading, and I wonder if it might be a picture book or a book of art. I notice he is also flipping them in the wrong direction. Am I wrong to assume that a near thirty year old man knows how to read?
He is non-descript- khaki colored baseball cap, navy blue windbreaker, jeans and athletic shoes. He doesn't appear to be a transient. He is shaven, his clothing fits him and is clean. The only identifying feature about him is his pop-bottle glasses. That, and his heavy mouth-breathing.
He never looks up, never clears that phlegm from his throat, never sniffs, never moves at all aside from flipping pages.
I can't see his book, and suddenly, that is all I want to know. What is he reading? I'm tempted to get up and walk to the restroom just so I'll have an excuse to go past his table and sneak a peek. I have a suspicion that he would sense my spying and move his arm to cover his pages. He is still turning them the wrong way. Right to Left. Too Fast. It is bothering me.
I came here to do a little studying and maybe a little writing on my story, but now this unassuming little man one table over has totally captured my curiosity and most of my attention.
This was a bad plan. I should have stayed home in the silent solitude of my walls. No phones would ring, no librarians would meander, and no ordinary little men with serious breathing issues would be distracting me from writing the next Great American Novel!

sheesh...

Another woman about my age comes and sits at a third table. She unzips her pack, pulls out her laptop, her cellphone, her notebook and pens, and she places them on the table just so. She's done this many times before, and she like things in a particular order. I see that she's got the same kind of laptop as mine, though her background is different and she's decorated it with stickers.
I realize that she has taken notice of the odd man with the breathing problem.
She looks at me with a question in her eyes. Is this guy for real?
I shrug and give her an unspoken answer. I know, weird, huh?
We both shake our heads and go back to our work.
A few minutes later a man with a long hunter green overcoat approaches The Incredible Breather and throws his pack onto the table with a thud. It is loud enough to startle everybody else in the room. Breather didn't even flinch.
They know each other. New Guy has long brown hair a lots of energy. He is snapping his fingers in front of Breather to get his attention. Breather ignores him. This makes me think that they are brothers, or maybe roommates.
"C'mon c'mon. It's time to go," urges New Guy. He grabs Breather's book and turns it over to look at the cover. "What're you reading?"
Breather quickly snatches it back. I can see now that it's a graphic novel, which explains why he was reading so fast, but I still have no clue why he was reading it backward.




Mexican Restaurant



La Fiesta. In Spanish, it means "party," but there is no party here today. The restaurant is empty of patrons save for the few of us, each sitting solo in the bar area.
Pardon me.
La Cantina.
I tried to call my daughter before I came, but she didn't answer her phone, so here I am, all alone, dining on a deep-fried avocado stuffed with spicy shredded chicken. This is the only place I know that gets it perfect every time I have it. I'm hardly interested in the rice and black beans on the side. For me, it's all about crunching into the creamy green pulp of the fruit and savoring the flavor of the chicken/avocado blend.
I read on my Kindle (by the way, I love my Kindle, and I could go on for hours and hours about how much I love it, and how you should get one, too.) and listen to the music floating through the dining area. The tune is a popular one, though the vocalist is singing in Spanish instead of English. The colors here are bold. Orange and blue tiles on the table. Purple frames on the arched windows and doorways. Bits of Mexico decorate the walls. Corona is heavily advertised. La Cerveza Mas Fina. The Better Beer.
I haven't decided if my waitor is gay. He is decidedly effeminite, but I don't want to make assumptions. He has that particular lilt in his voice, and he talks to one of the other guests about his autistic niece. He's very charming and friendly. If he's gay, I wonder if he's single, and if he is, then next time I come here, I know who to bring with me. (I am not normally a matchmaker, but if there's a possibility, then what harm is there in arranging a circumstancial meeting?)
The next time he comes to my table, I look and see that he's wearing a wedding band.
Darn the luck.
One person pays his tab and leaves. Shortly after, a woman is seated at the empty table.
She is across from me, so I can observe her without having to adjust my position. I'm interested in her particularly because I feel as if I'm looking into a mirror- a magic mirror that would turn me hispanic.
She is, after all, a hispanic version of me. She has long black hair that trails down her back in layers. Mine is brown. She is short, like me, and has a couple of extra pounds, like me, and she is wearing glasses under a nice sprig of bangs, like me.
The similarities don't stop there. She wears the same style skirt as me. Hers is black. Mine is brown. Her sweater is grey. Mine is tan. Her shoes are the slip-on kind you get at Walmart, just like mine. Guess what color hers are? Black. Mine are...right...brown.
I try not to smile when she pulls out her e-reader and places it on the table. She sees me, and I smile politely at her, trying not to seem nosy. I wonder what she's reading.
I'm reading The Year She Fell by Alicia Rasley.
Our waitor saunters over to her table and asks her casually about her e-reader. He wants to get one for his niece.
She lights up, obviously overjoyed that she gets to brag about her....Nook.

Well.....

I can't believe I thought I would have anything in common with her!





Dentist Office



     My grandson Lyric is an amicable kid for a two-year-old. We can take him into most public places and still be welcomed back when we leave. He doesn't play "musical chairs" like some of the other children at the dentist office. He claims a spot and dares anyone else to try to sit there.

     He tries to share the communal crayons by dumping the bucket in the center of the bright red octagonal table. The other moms tsk tsk him. Older children help him clear the mess.

     Some of the other kids have coloring papers with Dr. Suess characters on them. I have no idea where they got them, so I tear out a few sheets of notebook paper for Lyric. Then, I feel obligated to share with little forlorn Josie in the next chair who also has no paper. Her face brightens when I hand her two crisp sheets. She chooses a stubby yellow crayon and gets to work.

     Baby Adrian is circling the table, slipping between chairs and reaching over the edge toward the crayon bucket. The tip of his tongue peeks out of the corner of his mouth. Just when he nearly...just about...almost touches the bucket, somebody moves it away. This happens a couple of times, and while it is amusing me, it is frustrating Adrian. The other children are unaware of his artistic desires. He toddles away to tattle to his mother. She is in deep conversation with one of the other moms. His one-year-old tongue cannot form the words he wants her to hear. She scoops him up and plants a kiss on his fat cheek. He deems this an acceptable alternative to the art table. He pokes a thumb in his mouth and cuddles against her. He watches the other children drawing on their papers, but to me, it seems he is plotting their individual downfalls.

     My grandson has created a masterpiece of accidental triangles and circles and deliberate squiggles. He holds it up for us to see. We give it a thumbs up.

     He is left-handed, just like me. One of the older children tries to get him to draw with his right hand. He gets mad and growls at her, just like me.

     Eventually, he is called into one of those unseen rooms to be poked and prodded by all manner of torture devices. I smile and wave at him as my daughter hauls him away. He does not go quietly.

     I'm left in the noisy waiting room with the table full of papers and crayons and Josie and Baby Adrian.
   
     I take out my notebook and begin to write.



The Final Essay

One table over, Dr. Dodson is reading through the final essays from an earlier class. I'm just about to write mine. I've got two hours to type up something that will wow her into slapping an A on my paper.

I've done well in this class so far, but this impromptu essay over an unknown poem by an unknown poet--which must be properly analyzed, properly punctuated and properly cited--has got me chewing my fingernails down to the skin.

I'm a fair writer, I think. I used to think I was a spectacular writer. I used to feel so accomplished and intelligent with every A I earned. Under this pressure, I think, I hope, I pray I'll slip out of here with a B.

NO!!! I need an A! (What am I thinking?) I know the day will come when I may have to face a possible B, but it is not this day! (Thank you, Aragorn.)

My classmates have assured me I have nothing to worry about. "No prob," they're saying. "You got this," they're saying. "I'm scared," I'm saying.

They're not sweating it because they aren't English Majors like me. They don't have to crawl back here next Fall and look Dr. Dodson in the eye when she's teaching Dystopian Lit.

And I do.



Party at the Playground



            “Hey ya’ll!”  A skinny, blond woman waves cheerfully to the small party gathered at the covered picnic tables.  She makes her way across the grass from the parking lot. The folks in the group look up in unison but do not reply. They look back at one another and murmur amongst themselves. “I didn’t think I’d ever find ya’ll!” she hollers to them as she approaches. She’s walking determinedly, her flip-flops flapping, her jaw yapping. She pushes her sunglasses to the top of her frizzy, bleach blond head in a well-practiced move so they can get a better look at her, as if they have forgotten who she is.
            They are silent, immobile, and ashen.
            One brave soul breaks away from the group and moves to block her. He is the patriarch of this small family, if that’s what they are. He alone will protect them if he has to. He holds his hands up, signaling her to stop where she is.
            “You can’t be here, Rhonda,” he states boldly.
            Her jaw drops, almost comically. She stops walking and clutches a bony hand to her freckled chest. “What?” she gasps. “Why not?” She shifts the bag over her shoulder to a more comfortable position. The strap of her hot pink tank top falls casually off her shoulder.
            “One hundred yards, Rhonda,” he says pointedly.
            “But it’s her birthday!” she squeals. “You won’t keep me away!”
            “One hundred yards,” he reiterates. She stomps her foot like a child and stands her ground. Another member of the group, a young woman with nothing but a camera approaches them. She holds the camera up, a poor shield, but a powerful weapon.
            “What the hell are you doing, Amanda?” the blond demands to know. Receiving no answer, she tries to swipe the camera away, but the man steps in her path. She huffs and retreats a few feet. She adjusts herself as she thinks of her next move and then reaches into her bag. When she pulls something out, every person in the group gasps and sinks to the ground to avoid the imaginary spray of bullets.        
            “Aw, COME ON!” the woman howls, exaggerating her dismay. “Do you really think I’d bring a gun to a birthday party?” She throws a small wrapped package on the grass at the man’s feet. “THERE!” she screams. “I hope she likes it, ‘cause I spent all my money gettin’ it for her!”
            She turns and stomps away, but she does not leave the parking lot. She props herself up on the hood of her dented Cadillac and smokes a cigarette. As she watches them, they pack up their party and grumble. When they approach the parking lot, she hops off the hood and backs away, giving them their space. They try to ignore her, but she throws a lit cigarette toward them as they climb into their van. The woman named Amanda starts to say something, but the man pulls her by the elbow into the van. They drive away slowly, leaving the blonde alone with her fury.
            She never goes back for the package in the grass.


I-HOP
 
  He has his food. He has his food, and he's almost finished eating. That is how long he's had his food.

I got here first, but he got a waitress before I got a waitress. He got his drink
and his food, and, now that I'm looking, he's gotten his check as well!

I got a cup of coffee.

I ordered some chicken strips, but I haven't seen them. Neither have I seen the perky blond waitress who took my order.

My menu is still sitting on the edge of the table awaiting removal.

I've checked Facebook and Blogger and started browsing Pinterest, and he's over there trying to decide how much tip to leave.

Do you know what they do at I-HOP? They leave a thermal pitcher full of coffee at your table just in case you drain your cup before you see your waitress again. I've had three cups of coffee.

Oh, yippee. There's my waitress. She's coming up the aisle. She sees me looking, but she avoids my eyes. And there she goes...

He's gone. His table has been cleared and wiped and reseated.

Ah...here she is! With a plate of...(drum roll, please)...somebody else's food! Oh, honey, that's not mine. I ordered chicken strips. (You did?) uh huh...

The new folks over there are passing the time telling lame jokes as they nibble their appetizer.

A three-legged dog walks into a bar and says, "I'm lookin' for the man who shot my paw."

Hahaha! Hilarious.

How does a man on the moon cut his hair? Eclipse it!

Wait. I got one.

Where does a one-legged man work?

I-HOP.

(I crack me up.)



 Neighbors

     The man on the other side of my bedroom wall is sick. Sometimes I think he might be dying. His low, rough coughing keeps me awake at night. Every once in a while, he calls for his caretaker. I can hear their voices.  

     He lives there, but it's her place. She moved him in several months after she started living there. She's like me. She does all her moving in one afternoon with the help of every family member she can round up. If I hadn't been home for it, I would have never known when it happened.  

     Mostly, they are quiet.  

     The people before had an affinity for loud music and marijuana. I knew too much about them: when they fought, when they made love, when the children were taken away. I even knew when they were evicted. 

     These new people are private. They never borrow eggs. They turn their television down. They never have parties. It's like they're not there. 

     Except for the coughing.  

     I feel bad for them. They have me for a neighbor.  Oh, sure, I'm the only one who lives here, but I have family. When my kiddos visit, it's as if they live here. They turn up the TV. They help themselves to a hot shower. They do their laundry. They bring their sweet, rowdy spawn with them. We yell from room to room. We play a lot of "Boo!" We laugh and squeal and run and drink and move furniture and hang out on the patio. 

     To her credit, she's never banged on the wall or hollered for us to keep it down.  

     It occurs to me she might welcome the noise. Maybe we are music to her ears. Maybe she's tired of the sound of so much coughing.

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