By Chelsea Hite/Curated by Michael Kelly
We come to this diner every Saturday. We have done for, what is it, 25 years now? Give or take anyway. As the time goes you forget little things. Haven’t made it to church every Sunday, forgive me, but we always come down for lunch, me and Paul.
Sandy sidles up to the booth, sad little smile on her face as she flips open her notepad.
“Oh, you know we always get the same thing. Surely you know what we need by now?”
“So a coffee for you then?”
“Two even. And get us the over easy and a BLT, no mayo.”
“You sure you’re gonna eat all that?” she asks, that little smile back on her face.
“Honey, I’m well past worrying about my figure.”
She chuckles at this and heads back to the kitchen, picking up a few empty plates on her way. I settle into my seat and face Paul, “She look sad to you? Why you think she’s so out of sorts?”
He doesn’t say anything but I know what he’s thinking—maybe she doesn’t need some white-haired old lady nosing into her business. You been married long enough, things become habits, and me and Paul, well, we aren’t nothing but habits anymore. Same diner, same order, hell, even the same booth most days.
So, I fall into the familiar conversation, telling him it’s not gossip to worry about a person. And doesn’t he get curious about what other people are up to, or is retirement fascinating enough to occupy that old head of his? He lets me ramble on, but soon Sandy is back with the coffee so I start putting in the cream and sugars, my hands fumbling a bit. Sandy notices and asks, “Sure you wouldn’t like me to bring that sandwich out all boxed up? Saves you the trouble of doing it later?”
“No honey, I’ve been packing this man’s lunches for years and I’m not about to let another woman take over on account of some arthritis. We’ve been married over 50 years now you know. Of course, that doesn’t happen unless you start young, like we did.” I’m fishing. I think she knows it, and Paul certainly does. I feel him shift in his seat. Probably giving me a glare too but we’ll see if I give him the satisfaction of noticing.
“No, Rod hasn’t proposed yet. Don’t you think that’d be the first thing I’d tell you if he had?”
Now Paul’s eyes are watering from trying to hold back laughter at his busybody wife. “Oh hush!” I tell him, but Sandy hasn’t seen and thinks it’s directed at her.
“When we do, I hope we’ll be just the spitting image of you and Paul.” She winks and walks away.
He’s struggling to hold in the laughter now, and I’m puffing up like a blue jay, all pink in the face. Which only makes me funnier I guess, cause he’s crinkling his eyes into little slivers that are pushing real tears out of the corners of his eyes. I remember first seeing him, and it was those eyes that struck me. Nailed me to the floor for what was probably a full minute. Back then they were a clear green, tawny spots in the right iris. They’re washed out now, age clouding them over, like looking at a ghost.
Our grandbaby comes up every month or so, to check on us. Another habit. Except he’s up early next week, tidy the place up, go through old things. They are wanting me to move somewhere closer. They say I’ve been acting strange the past few weeks. They are always worrying over nothing.
I call Sandy back over and ask for a box for the sandwich. She sighs and says, “I told you it would be no trouble. And don’t worry about the check, I’ll get this one for your last visit. Grandson still coming up tomorrow? Pack you all up?”
“Oh. Why yes. That’s right.” It hits me all at once. Brandon’s coming tomorrow, not next week at all. I’d lost track of the days. Sandy sees the flash of confusion on my face and looks sad again, “Maggie, let me box up Paul’s sandwich for you. It’ll keep so you have lunch on the road tomorrow.”
“Now, I know you’re gonna love living with your grandson. We are all sure gonna miss you around here. Just like we all still miss Paul. Hasn’t been a day gone by since his passing that I don’t think about the two of you.”
“Oh. Yes. Well thank you.” I pick up the box and turn to leave. I remember now. I found him in bed. We packed up his closet. Then the whole house. Paul is gone, but I’m still nothing but habits.