When she walked into the restaurant a few months ago, she looked like she had just stepped out of a Rolling Stone ad. She was wearing skinny jeans, jump boots laced only half way up, a loose white T-shirt with some vague black logo, and dark-rimmed glasses. She wore a gray fedora tilted on her head at an angle, too, resting on her messy, dirty blonde hair. Her dark eyeliner and eye shadow placed her pale skin in relief, and she was carrying Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted.
She sat in my section and asked if we were a locally owned business. When I told her we were, she ordered an Asian salad, a vanilla latte, and water with no ice. Then she said, “Thanks, hon,” opened the Palahniuk book, and started reading. When I returned with her entree, she was talking on her Android. She nodded for me to place her food on the table and returned to her conversation without missing a beat. Loud enough for everyone to hear, she said, “Josh treated me like I was just a stock character in one of his terrible stories. How presumptuous. No one has the right to label me like that. Stereotyping is so déclassé.”
Every time I came back to the table, she was talking about disliking someone or something. At one point, she said she hated Raymond Carver’s short stories because she thought they were too simple and crude, and because Carver didn’t really have anything important to say. She left me a decent tip, said our place suited her personality, and told me she would probably be back fairly regularly.
A month later, she brought in an Army guy with big tattoo-covered arms. This time, she wore looser-fitting jeans, ankle boots, and a soft baby blue blouse. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she had on some pink blush and just a touch of black mascara. The All-American 21st century girl, I thought.
They wound up in my section. She ordered a smoked salmon bruschetta plate and two Pabst Blue Ribbons. As I brought them their third round, I heard her say to the Army guy, “She’ll never figure it out, Clark. She’s not smart enough. Look, right now, she thinks you’re fishing with your buddies. You know I’d know better than that. We’ll be fine.” I looked at the man’s wedding ring. She glanced at me and said, “Actually, may I have an Amaretto Sour instead?” An hour later, they left arm in arm.
Last week when she came into the restaurant, I barely recognized her. She was wearing cheap, tasteless clothing. Nothing matched, and everything was wrinkled. Things kept falling out of a bulging purse she was fumbling through, and she had made only a half-assed attempt at makeup. Her face was a smeared mess, her hands were trembling, and she had a bruise on her cheek. When she asked if she could sit in my section, I said sure. I guided her to a quiet table in the corner and asked her if she was ok. She said, “No, I’m certainly not ok. This is the only place I could think of coming to. I don’t even know what to do just yet, but I think I need to leave town fast. Everything’s closing in.”
“It always does,” I replied. “Do you know where you’ll go?”
“Anywhere but here,” she said, “and far, far away.”
“What if you keep winding up in the same place?”
“Don’t be pretentious,” she said. “You don’t know me.”
“Neither do you,” I said.
She got up and walked out without ordering anything. I haven’t seen her since.