My wife had just had a painful medical procedure that involved cutting into her breast. After it was over she said she was hungry so we went for a late breakfast at a café near our house. The waitress put our plates of hot food in front of us, my wife had her coffee, I had my juice, butter melting on my wife’s pancakes, heated-up syrup on the table, steam coming off our eggs, all set, ready for the comfort of the meal. Cold out, my wife still in her coat at the table, the heat coming off the food already warming her. She picked up the handle of the syrup and started to pour, but the lid came off and the container bounced off the table into her lap. Syrup poured all over her top, her pants, and the lining of her coat. She dropped the handle on the table and took the container from her lap and set it down. The waitress wasn’t in sight, so I stood and shouted that we needed some help. The guy at the table across from us didn’t like the shouting and glared at me, and his wife looked over her shoulder at us. I asked my wife if the syrup was hot, and she said no, just warm. I mopped up syrup with my napkin, and the waitress hurried to the table and said she’d get towels. She soon appeared with a handful of them, and we got to work. I asked the waitress how she could bring out syrup without checking the lid when she knew it would be picked up by the handle. Had she filled the container herself or had someone else in the kitchen done it? She admitted she’d failed to screw the lid on properly and apologized. The manager came up and said he’d be happy to pay for the cleaning bill, and I told him he might be paying for the whole coat if it couldn’t be cleaned and that the coat had been a Christmas present from my wife’s mother. My wife told me to sit down and try to eat, and I asked her if she wanted another plate of food. The manager said he’d get another plate for both of us right away. The guy at the nearby table was still glaring, waiting for me to settle down so he could get back to the wonderful world of his breakfast. I noticed his fork upright in his left hand, his thumb pressed against the handle. Was he suggesting he’d stick the fork in me if I didn’t shut up or was he at all conscious of how he held it? I couldn’t escape the conclusion that the fork in some way expressed his attitude, and it came to mind that there were many things we could do to each other with the flatware on our tables. It’s not a tragedy, he said to me then. Don’t answer him, my wife said, don’t make it worse. I wasn’t in the mood to take his lip, but I sat down. The waitress had done the best she could with the syrup, and she cleared the table and said the manager would be out with fresh plates of food, and all the time this guy sat there glaring, his fork sticking straight up. The manager brought our food out on a tray along with clean napkins and flatware and said that everything was on the house. He set the plates down, set the syrup down and lifted it by the handle to show us it wouldn’t come off. I thanked him for that, I appreciated the demonstration, and while he was there I thought I’d ask him to do one more thing to help, would he ask the guy to stop glaring at me? He’s glaring at you? he asked. And I want him to stop it, I said. The manager licked his lips with a slight air of hesitation, but he turned, tucking the tray under his arm, and asked the guy if he could be of service to him. The glarer had heard what I said, and he answered that all he needed was a little peace and quiet to eat his food. The manager glanced back at me, but I looked at the glarer, who glared a moment longer before using his fork to pierce something on his plate that had no doubt gotten cold during his performance. My wife was already eating when I started, and I asked her if she still had an appetite. She said her stomach was growling and she wanted to eat and go home, get out of her wet, sticky clothes and take a shower, she was tired of being out and having people’s eyes on her, the situation reminded her of a Christmas Eve when she was a girl and her father had pulled their Mercury into a diagonal parking place with a down slope and his brakes had failed and the Mercury had smashed through the wall of the cafeteria where they were going to eat and knocked several customers out of a booth and luckily no one in her family or in the cafeteria had been hurt. Her father had backed the Mercury out of the building, and the police arrived and asked him questions. Then she and her sister and mother and father went inside and through the line for their food, and she remembered the eyes of many people on them as they walked with their trays to a table. Shit, I said, speechless except for that one word. The glarer and his wife got up to leave, and he gave me one last look to absorb as he went by. I stuck my fork in my food and let him pass.
art by Robinson Accola