The bell over the front door chimes and he looks up to see her come in. She smiles at the tall, slender man behind the counter. She’s carrying a bag from a fast food restaurant. He's about her age. He circles around to the customer area and meets her at a two-top. Professional candor, or something else, prevents him from making an overt show of affection but the way he receives the bag of food, without gratitude or acknowledgment, reveals their routine. The two are a couple.
The couple sits. She watches him as he prepares his meal, his eyes fixed on the process––flip-top box flipped open, dipping sauce containers peeled back from a sticky yellow goo.
When he dunks the first nugget she wonders if this is all there is to it: little acts of kindness that expose a humility that he rarely displays at home. The thought of him eating alone has always bothered her, the way that she is saddened by the sight of an old man dining alone in a restaurant. She avoids fast food but picks it up for him because fast food is what he asks for and she has long since stopped compelling him to eat better.
She watches his hand travel from sauce cup to mouth. He leans eagerly toward the table top to accept the entire nugget in a single bite. He snatches another, still not having looked up from the food and she has not taken her eyes off of him. He dunks the nugget over and over until he’s able to swallow the masticated pulp of lord-knows-what and make room in his mouth for the next.
Finally he looks up at her and she is looking at the wall.
He leaves her alone with her thoughts as he chews and chews. The scene strikes her as grotesque. Would it be different if he were eating sushi, or is it the way he takes large bites and stows whatever he cannot presently chew in the bulging hollow of his cheek. Could it be the juxtaposition of his crude manner with the sight of the man she loves responding to his hunger.
A moment later her phone rings and as she looks to the pocket of her cardigan as she withdraws the phone far enough to read the display. He watches her, tries to gauge a reaction. She silences the call, an unfamiliar number, and returns her attention to their silent congress and he is looking beyond her to the wall of windows at the front of the cafe.
“Are we doing dinner at your folks’ this weekend?” he finally asks.
“We can,” she says. “Or we could do something else.”
He shrugs away her hint and says, “it’s fine.”
He’s more interested in the food, she thinks. She’ll ask him again when he’s done eating. Perhaps, when he gets home after work. Or maybe she’ll just suggest something. What, though? What would he like to. . .
The telephone behind the counter begins to ring. She crosses her hands on her lap and takes a deep breath. He would have to get up to answer it and after jabbing at the corners of his mouth with a wadded napkin he does just that.
A television deeper along her line of sight shows a family of animated bears playing soccer. She stares blankly at the screen but is listening to his conversation. A co-worker is going to be late and he is so accommodating. There’s even a sweetness in his voice. She knows he’s talking to the brunette with tattooed arms and big tits and she won’t stick around long enough to find out that she’s right. She fishes her keys from her purse and perches her sunglasses atop her head.
“Taking off?” he asks, resuming his place opposite her.
“I have to pick up Maggie at the vet.”
“Oh, hey, I’m probably going to be late coming home,” he said. He was nonchalant, putting the offal from his lunch back in its grease stained bag.
Why probably? she thinks.
“Terry needs some help pulling his engine.”
“Terry,” she says. “OK.”
Terry was his mechanic friend and it was always Terry. Terry was the type who would lie for a friend without thought or consideration. It was always Terry.
“Thanks for lunch,” he said.
“Sure,” she says and she is burning to be away from him. She pulls her sunglasses over her eyes and he leans in to kiss her on the cheek. How rank he must taste right now, she thought as she let him kiss her.
“See you at home,” she said, not caring in the moment if that were true, and the door chimes again as she steps outside.