I have bits and pieces of stories sitting around, and I come back to them every once in a while to add a line or just read them through. It's like visiting a friend you haven't seen in a while—you may not have spoken in years, but you meet again, and you just pick up where you left off. Margaret is a good character, and I think I need to visit her more often. Give her a chance to finish her story.

 


Margaret waited at the corner to cross. She was always patient, as this was a busy time of day and none of the drivers who regularly took this route had any inclination to stop for a pedestrian. She was surprised then when a man, driving a fairly new Mercedes, slowed to a stop, with half a dozen cars behind him, to allow her to cross. All she could think, as she gave the man a quick wave without looking directly at him, was that he had calculated the damage to his car had she chosen to step out in front of him and he was unable to stop before impact. Undoubtedly, he understood the physics of a moving car hitting such a large, immovable object—something about kinetic energy and inertia—whatever it is, the damage would probably be substantial.

The car waited until she had stepped to the other sidewalk before moving slowly forward. She thought she heard someone say, ‘Have a nice day,’ but she couldn’t imagine it being directed at her. She kept moving, looking up now and then, but mainly scanning the familiar cracks and dips of the concrete at her feet. As her path rose, her breath became labored and she forced herself to walk slower and concentrate on breathing in and out through her nose so she didn't appear as a fish out of water gasping for oxygen. Margaret crested the hill and let out an enormous sigh as she started her descent. She looked up now, worried if she didn’t lean her head and shoulders back a bit her body would force its way closer to the ground and she wouldn’t be able to stop the fall.

She arrived at the restaurant as the lunch crowd was dispersing. This was her favorite time of day. The sun was high enough in the sky its rays didn't interfere with the room’s dim elegance. Her normal booth was occupied and she reluctantly sat on the other side of the restaurant, but still facing west. The seat, though just as cushioned and beautiful as the others, did not look the same to Margaret. She pushed her hands down, testing the spring and rubbing the fabric. Satisfied, she removed her sweater and the bag around her neck and placed them next to her. She didn’t need a menu, it hadn’t changed in the two years she had been dining there, but it gave her something to do while she waited.

“Nothing but water, thank you,” she said when asked. She didn’t like to have anything interfere with the flavors of the plated food.

She ordered the sixth item from the top of the entree menu, and asked for a basket of bread. She ate something different every day, but in the order it appeared on the menu, so she didn’t eat the same thing more than once in a two-week period. She liked everything, some more than others, and was excited for today’s meal—roast rosemary pork tenderloin with smashed red potatoes and gravy, and green beans with shallots. She asked for a salad instead of soup, opting for the balsamic house dressing. The croutons were made in house and Margaret sometimes wished there was no lettuce or vegetables at all, but just a bowl full of the garlicky, crisp, melt-in-your-mouth cubes of sourdough. She left the slice of beet on the corner of her plate like she always did. She could have asked for her salad without the offending vegetable, but it wouldn’t have the same aesthetic quality if the crimson round was absent.

Margaret ate slowly, taking time to feel the textures and let the flavors move across all her tastebuds. The pork was fork tender and the meat seemed to melt away in her mouth. The skin of the potatoes was salty and the gravy had a slight tang of garlic. The green beans, probably one of Margaret’s all-time favorites, gave a slight snap between her teeth before releasing juices and a lovely, almost nutty, flavor. She was unaware of being watched until the waitress, a young thing with a long blonde ponytail and too-plucked eyebrows, came and bent near her.

 

The girl’s eyes were wide and she furrowed what was left of her brows when she spoke.

 

“I’m sorry ma’am, but we’ve had a complaint.”

“A complaint? I don’t understand.”

“Well, it seems some of the other diners feel their meal is being disrupted.”

Margaret looked around, noticing only two other diners —those in her regular booth. “I’m still not sure what you mean.”

“They... well, they said they can hear you moaning.”

 

“Oh god, you can’t be serious, can you?”

“Actually, you kind of make sounds while you eat. Like some ‘mmm’s and big sighs. Do you know what I mean?”

Margaret put her napkin to her mouth, talking from behind the royal blue fabric.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize...I’m so embarrassed.” Margaret could feel the couple’s eyes on them, leaning a bit in her direction.

 

The waitress, her nametag said Emily, turned her back to the couple and faced Margaret directly.

“The rest of us,” she nodded toward the kitchen where a few wait staff stood in the doorway, “we're actually happy to see you enjoying your meal so much.”

She winked at Margaret, or at least that’s what Margaret thought she was doing. Both of Emily’s eyes closed in a squint that might have read as an expression of pain.

“If it makes you feel any better, they're finished with their lunch and didn’t order dessert, so they'll probably be gone soon.”
 

Margaret, still with the napkin to her lips, nodded and looked down at her near-empty plate. She pushed it aside as Emily had walked away.

 

 

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