Eating Alone - Part I

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Samuel walked into the restaurant alone. Tables crowded near the door and he felt scores of eyes on him. When he looked around ready to meet their accusing gazes, he found the patrons staring down at their food or talking quietly. They were quick. A couple in oversized coats walked in the restaurant behind him. It took him a few moments to find the hostess stand halfway into the restaurant.

This was Janet’s third week as the hostess at the restaurant. Her feet hurt and she moved her weight to her left foot. She needed new shoes. No, she decided. She needed a new job. As Samuel approached, Janet saw the curled-up magazine in his left coat pocket and the apologetic look on his face. She did not need to ask but she did. “Will it be just you tonight, sir?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have a reservation,” Samuel said. “And it’s only me.” He felt the need to explain more. He thought about telling her that while he was on a business trip to New York City, he used to live here, only five years ago, in fact, and a few blocks from this very restaurant. It wasn’t that he couldn’t find anyone to eat with tonight. He could have called friends or old colleagues. Yesterday he had dinner with people from his old firm. They even paid for the meal and offered to buy dinner tonight. He was leaving on an early flight in the morning and decided to eat alone. He wanted to relax before the flight. Drink a glass of wine. Read a magazine. Return to the hotel early. He knew that she wouldn’t understand. He only wished that she wouldn’t look at him in that way.

Janet was short with an exaggerated figure. She wore a tight-fitting blue dress that drew attention to her curvier aspects. She chewed the end of her black hair as she looked over the crowded restaurant. She found only one empty table. Gillian was not going to be happy. This was the second single she would sit in his section.

When she first met Gillian she knew they would sleep together. Gillian was married but he looked good for a married man. He spent time with her during her first week teaching her the basics of the restaurant business. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that this wasn’t her first hostess job. She liked his attention. He was tall and muscled, and she enjoyed that he smelled of old rubber.

After they slept together he kept his distance at the restaurant. He had been tender during that night. He had told her that she was the first woman he had slept with since marrying. She could see the guilt worm away inside him when he looked at her. When she had been younger she would not have understood why he stayed away. She would have thought she had done something wrong. She was more experienced now and she had learned men’s inner workings better. She knew it wasn’t her fault. Besides he hadn’t been that good. For as much time as he spent in the gym every day, she thought those muscles would have been more useful in bed. Janet marked off Gillian’s two-top table on the hostess stand’s whiteboard.

Samuel watched Janet scratch out his table. The edges around Janet’s irises were dark and very solid. Her eyes’ whites were luminous. He could lose himself in those eyes. He felt her judging eyes swing back to him from the whiteboard.

“It’s Christmas time,” Janet said. “The restaurant is full this time of year with corporate parties. Next time you should make a reservation or we may not have a table open.”

Samuel could not think of how to respond. Many of the tables had been pushed together to fit the large corporate parties. His company’s holiday party was early the next day. He would not be home in time to attend. He should have called ahead.