"I'll call you back," said a woman happily as she waved me down. "I'm ready to order."
I nodded. She was dressed in a coat that was half a size to small for her, but she didn't know this yet. I didn't quite see her face, or I did, but it didn't register. Just her lips, smeared with pigment, a little of it on her unnaturally straight teeth. She spoke, I wrote, transcribing her words without absorbing them. I stopped listening to her voice and the sounds of the cafe invaded me. The old wooden chairs scraping against the polished floor, the clink of water glasses, heels clunking against the boards, the rustle of clothes and napkins and the white polyester/viscose tablecloths. And the words, from different voices, 'yes' and 'something' and 'tomorrow' and 'later' and one that really stood out 'n'est pas'. What were all these people planning to do? Did their words mean anything? Or were they telling stories of things they had done, embellishing for effect, to entertain their friends.
I noticed that no one dined alone, even though it was lunch. Everyone was off in pairs or threes, friends or lovers or coworkers to lazy to part for even an hour. There was a burst of laughter--the overall mood of the place was happy and that was good. I got more tips when the room was happy, but beyond that, good for them. An hour of relief from their day and the strain of just being human. It is good to be idle for a time, to rest. That is when life is most lived, in the quiet pockets between arguments and deadlines and wars.
"Uh, thanks," said the woman punctuating her words.
"Right away," I said. I smiled curtly, and gave her a tiny, ridiculous bow. I turned and walked down the aisle between the tables, noting which patrons required a refresh of water, and placed the order in the kitchen. Then I realized that the woman was sitting alone, looking off to the entrance, waiting for someone who would never come. I didn't pity her, I never pity lone diners because I almost always eat alone myself, and there are many reasons for it. I decided in my head that she was hiding from someone, perhaps the person on the other end of the phone, and maybe that's why her face didn't sink in, just her form and her coat.
I carried out the water jug, metal, semi-classy, with its gorgeous cold beads of condensation which would soak into the white cloth wrapped around the bottom of the vessel. I sometimes let my fingertips stray up to the metal to feel the cold and let it seep into me. It was my relief and idleness. I filled various glasses, meting out ice cubes so they didn't splash but were enough to keep the water cool. I came to her table, and was shocked. She was gone and the chair was pushed in. Nothing was amiss and nothing was left behind. There was just her glass of water, three quarters full, no lipstick on its rim. It was not her that drank it. I looked around the room, alert, sensing, but everything was as it was before. I walked slowly back to the kitchen. What ghosts we can be, how fleeting our presence is in these pockets of unlasting quiet.