Friday, August 19, 2005

At An IHOP In Munice

At an IHOP in Muncie, I look over from our booth. There's an elderly woman sitting at a table just across from us. She is eating by herself. On this day, I don't want to think something sad. I don't want to think that maybe she feels everyone is watching her...or that maybe she's there alone because she has nobody else. So I try to come up with a story for her of my own. I imagine she likes her iced tea extra sweet - and that's why she's already finished one tall glass and is working on her second. She's reading a small, paperback book. I imagine it's a romance novel - her one vice. Step inside her home and she has old classics that her husband used to buy for her sitting on shelves and tons of home decorating books - but her little secret is that she's a big fan of romance novels. She likes the way the men are always named something regal like Ronan or Grant or Sebastian. Her hair looks like spun golden thread and it is teased up into a roundish hairdo. I imagine that when she was young she was one of those intelligent blondes always mistaken for one a little....less intelligent. I bet she had an hourglass figure and loved wearing poodle skirts with matching sweaters. I imagine that although she was always dressed nice and carried new books, her parents may have had to struggle more than most. Maybe they worked a little harder. Maybe when her friends thought she was at tennis lessons, she was really working to earn a few extra dollars to help out at home. Her hands are cluttered with tiny gold rings and her nails are done. She's been to Vegas. She goes every year with her three best girlfriends. She had one great love of her life. She lost him in winter. But just as he asked, she's been strong about it. That's why she's here, at IHOP, eating by herself. I imagine she is on her way to visit her grandchildren, and that her son is a little too overprotective of his aging mother, so she stops at IHOP for some lunch - and a little quiet time for herself. Just her & a good book. The manager is walking by and asks her if she enjoyed her salad. A new one. With shrimp. She tells him it was wonderful and she really enjoyed it. I imagine she was once forced to cook for a hungry family - and now just likes that someone cooks for her. He is kind to her - which many aren't to elderly these days. But my mind wanders back to her being incredibly lonely...hungry for conversation. A pit in my stomach forms. And then she sees me and I see her. I smile. She smiles back. Almost as if she knew what I was thinking...all along.

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