There are two kinds of people in the world, those that want to face the restaurant and those who do not. Usually, I’m one of those who does not. But this time, the waitress at my usual lunch restaurant guided me to a table with only one place setting, and it was set up to have the diner face the room.
It’s not like moving my fork would have been effort exactly, but I sat down facing the room anyway. Which gave me an excellent view of the woman. She slipped into the restaurance carefully, making a furtive scan of the room as soon as her eyes had adjusted to the light. I pretended to be concentrating on the menu. But she wasn’t looking for me, anyway. She was crisp, efficient-looking, forty or so. Too stylish for accounting, too dowdy for marketing. Office manager, maybe?
Satisfied, she asked for a table, indicating the area near me, away from the windows. The waiter led her to a table ten feet away and she hurried forward. When she got to her place, she slipped off her jacket, revealing a slightly daring sundress beneath. I’d had no idea. I’m guessing that was the point. She laid the jacket across the back of her chair with a studied insouciance and walked toward the bathroom briskly.
A little part of me wanted to jump up, touch her arm and say “No, honey, that’s too businesslike. What you’re going for is a glide. Step at eleven and one. It will make your hips move just so. He will watch, I promise.”
Whoever he is.
I stayed in my chair and looked at the menu again. When she emerged from the bathroom, her makeup was a little too bright, like a teenager’s.
That was when I really started to speculate. Does she have a similarly efficient husband, I wondered? One who lays his jacket just so and wouldn’t notice a frivolity like makeup enough for her to bother to wear any? Did she buy the sundress last week, taking care to find one exciting enough that still looked staid under the white jacket?
The man who joins her is sort of funny-looking, but that’s not a surprise. The people who are looking for this sort of thing are rarely the cream of the crop, and the woman is no great beauty either. They awkwardly hold hands across the table. His pale blue shirt is lightly sweat-stained. He gets a hamburger, she gets a salad.
They lean toward one another and speak with great intensity. I imagine her reading a romance novel, noting down clever things to repeat to him. Does she tell all her friends how awful her husband is, just trying to justify what she’s up to? She thinks of her lunch date when a love song comes on the radio, doesn’t she? Did she name her goldfish after him, just so she can say his name?
I watched and I wondered and I thought about the hotel across from my office. Bright lipstick smeared on clean white sheets, more sweat in that blue shirt, the strap of a sundress pulled down over a freckled arm.
It’s been a long time, but I’ve felt what she’s feeling, the giddy rise of excitement, the desperate hope that he will call and put a pocket of adventure into an otherwise dull life. I am something of a romantic, and she does look like the sort of woman who is married to someone who sucks. I'm not completely unsympathetic to the ideal of trying re-enact Madame Bovary on a Monday afternoon in Fairfax County.
Well, good luck, honey. If this is what you want. Don't forget to splash water on your face when it's all over. That will take the glow out of your cheeks and wash the makeup off, which you need to do anyway. Can't have your co-workers talking.
I look down at my chicken sandwich and sigh, letting myself relive a few past thrills for a moment, but the effect just isn't there.
She's straightening his tie. From the outside, it all looks so banal.