Ray – by Olivia Fink

The small restaurant looked unassuming from the outside. From where I trudged in the rain, all I could make out was rustic wooden furniture, the dim lights that hung low from the rafters, and a snappy beat with a quiet voice that leaked through the door every time it was pushed or pulled open. Besides the rain, it sounded alright.

Trying not to lose balance from a wet sidewalk beneath slippery shoes, I, as gracefully as could be, closed my umbrella beneath a canopy just covering the outside seating. I saw the backside of one man, hunched over something evidently important. He might have heard the slight clicking as I approached the entrance when suddenly he snapped up to look to his right. He intently gazed into the large glass windows providing access into the restaurant, and what else he could be looking at besides a plethora of wealthy middle-aged people, I don’t know. I actually don’t think he noticed me, anyhow.

A stout woman held my jacket and umbrella as I entered and stated my name for reservations. I knew I looked sleek and elegant; a completely black outfit, excusing the red padding on the bottom of my shoes, and the lipstick to go with it. All around were professional yet cordial staff who wore outfits similar to mine in color, minus a brown name tag. This place disregards the presumptions of a high-class eatery— wooden floors that mock the thickness of my heels with its uneven structure, small tables closely packed together, chalk board menus with elastic bands and smiley faces in white, and lanterns for each party adorned with small yellow flowers circling the bottom. The feeling of the restaurant was meant to be intimate, genuine, and above all, real.  Although, the atmosphere felt foreign, and it was unfortunate that, as my lovely waitress led me to my table for two in the center of this dining room, I would not experience such feeling.

I lifted my chin a bit higher as I said my thank-yous and sat down with an empty chair across from me.  A water would be fine, thank you. No, no. I’m waiting for someone. Ah- yes. I don’t think he would mind a water. Lemon with that too, please. Thank you.  With reassuring words, she almost had me fooled; the affirmation of her return was blown into dust as she was whisked away to help someone else in the rush that was her life and everyone else’s.

 I had in mind how this night would end, and despite knowing the outcome, I put myself through it time and time again. I swiped my ebony hair with a simple movement behind my shoulder and got a few nods, grins, and blinks from people whom I made eye contact with as I sat alone. The rain continued to pour. The fire from the oven roared, a few warm-hearted chefs laughed through the kitchen doors. The Zeppole looked divine. The man sat alone, still not looking up.

Looking at dessert first had never been in anyone’s best interest but mine, and I couldn’t help but water over the powder-sprinkled doughnuts dipped into warm chocolate ganache.  He always thought it was a funny word, ganache. A small smile tugged at the corner of my lips as I lifted my face up from my menu, about to direct my absent boyfriend to the dessert section of the menu still laid empty on the table.

Last week, and the week before. No- scratch that. Archer met me the week before last week, but not the week before that one; and I had suppressed the unfortunate stand-ups before those. Things seemed so carefree and easy when both of your parents are of high fidelity and their kids are good looking with a taste in clothing. I suddenly imagined us being couples who were rich and cheated on each other, my husband at his bachelor party claiming his last few days of “freedom” would be over soon, and sleeping on opposite sides of the bed but making up for it with an impromptu anniversary trip to Cancun. I almost thought I would be sick, and abruptly felt nauseous. I excused myself from my empty table and used the restroom. I returned with irrelevant hopes that the seat across from me being taken.

Some more water would be great, thank you. Oh, yes. He is on his way. Thank you for being patient. I checked my watch, which suddenly felt like a handcuff on my wrist, and saw that fifteen minutes had passed. A quick text, a meaningless emoji, and another look cast over the cheerful menu mocking the obvious glee on my face.

One couple had left. A waiter, as happy as one could be cleaning up the remains of someone’s dinner, tapped his feet to an indie beat as he fluffed the tablecloth, carefully positioned purple flowers different from my table’s, and then made his way back to the front. A small indian girl with her parents quietly speaking and smiling to each other watched me from her table. She couldn’t have been more than 5, and was keenly observant.

Hi. I wondered if she thought my mouth was intimidating. I tried a smile, because I knew it looked nice. She sat still, and her eyes widened a bit more. Her face was narrow and her hair was sleek and part of it had caught on the back of her chair. She didn’t seem to notice. What’s more, she didn’t wave. She instead mouthed back the same thing I said to her.

I like your hair. Yes, and I pointed to her, and then stroked my hair. I nodded and smiled.  She smiled back to me, and then carefully took the middle fingers of each hand and whisked them across her eyebrows in a fluid motion. She pointed at me, and then back to her eyebrows. My heart rose a bit knowing that someone other than me appreciated them. My eyes for a moment darted over to the man sitting outside. It had to have gotten too dark for him to see whatever he was hunched over, except the muted light that radiated from the inside. I saw a silhouette sitting up, but nothing else.

Just a few more minutes, he should be coming soon, just running late.  No- thank you, I’m going to wait on my order until he arrives. Thank you…

And that’s when I noticed it.

The small indian girl with the silk hair furrowed one of the eyebrows she traced with her hand. She didn’t nod, but did a small circling motion with her head that said, What’s going on? Her parents looked up from their conversation and gave small smiles towards me.  The man from the window was still a silhouette. The people in the surrounding tables all gave me sympathetic looks as I made eye contact  with each person who looked at the empty chair, and then at me, who was looking at my watch. An hour. I had distracted myself for an hour.

After sinking my head and absentmindedly looked at the specials as my nail plucked the elastic holding the menu in place, I decided I had enough, and I was beyond better than this. I had some fragment of dignity left. I looked too good for this, I had wasted enough time here that I could have been spending on my studies, and these people were feeling sorry for me in this beautiful restaurant. I felt my eyes welling up and carefully plunged my heel onto the top of my foot so I didn’t release any hint of emotion that I hadn’t already. It was also in that moment I realized Archer never thought the word “ganache” was funny, he actually only called it stupid because he didn’t understand it. With hopeless expectations not met,  I offered the indian girl one last smile.

Then, all at once, I felt someone hurriedly hug me and exchange some very loud form of apology. “Hi, so sorry I couldn’t make it on time! I didn’t know if you would still be here— I’m so sorry. I got into a bit of an accident downtown and I dropped my phone in the rain so I couldn’t reach you, or anyone! Luckily it wasn’t too far away… how are you?”

I didn’t know this man.

My eyes wanted to bulge out of their sockets but instead remained inside their rightful place, and all of the held back emotions vanished as I beheld the specimen in front of me.  A tan trench coat jacket over a white button up with a small black necklace dangling from his collar bones that made a slight *tink* when it touched his untouched water glass was his attire, and I believe I saw basic black jeans and black boots. He stripped off the trench coat and draped it over his messenger bag on the back of his chair.  He had a small, simple smile. He was muttering nonsense about apologies and how nice the restaurant was while wiping the water off his glasses’ lens. So he was actually outside. His hair was also a light, frizzy, unruly mess of blonde waves tossed to one side. Then I connected the dots. I had seen the back of that head somewhere, along with the frame of large, boxy glasses in a certain silhouette.

I’m fine, are you okay? It seems you were in quite the situation… did you save the CD’s?  I asked this hesitantly, as he looked up at me expecting an answer after some point.

Whatever I was feeling, I went along with it. The people eating dinner watched for a moment or two, probably judging this man as much as I was, but intrigued nevertheless. This man propped his glasses back on his face and I saw silver-specked navy eyes that glistened with disbelief. “Yes, they did, actually. I have them in my bag,” he said, motioning to the back of his chair. “I am just glad I’m in one peice to see my wonderful date…” Julia. “My darling. What looks good?”

Have you ever heard of Zeppole?

“With the ganache! Of course! You know I love to eat dessert first,” the man smirked behind the menu which he lifted with sculpted hands. His fingertips were smudged with lead and some coal-colored material. That was only his right hand, though.

I love to do that, too, and his eyes shimmered again.

And now, we stand outside in the continuous rain underneath my Coach umbrella. Nothing but the lamplights and brightness of the city past dusk illuminate the busy street, and of course, the welcoming lights from where we just exited.

“Alright, did you actually get into an accident?”

“No,” a small laugh. “I didn’t.”

“Why did you do that?”

Silence. His cheekbones become more prominent with each second he tries to suppress a grin.

“I know how it feels, let’s just leave it at that.”

I contemplate this for a moment. “So, it was out of pity?” I turn my head towards him.

“No, no.” The grin disappeared as his features softened. He took my umbrella and led us over to the table where he was sitting. From where we stood, I could see the exact place we were sitting just minutes before. This whole time, he could see me perfectly. “I draw the things I see.”

He extracted a hunter green Moleskine book from his bag as I took back my umbrella and set it down for a moment.  He brushed past pictures of a street with a taxi motoring by, a lamplight with rain visible through its orange glow, a bird beneath a wired seat. And then, me.

Through the careful pencil strokes, I looked disappointed, my face blank. I held my hands clasped together across the empty table, my eyes staring off into the distance as if they were supposed to be looking at someone across from me. I realise that I held my hands so close to the middle in hopes of someone doing the same, yet no one was there. There were three sketches in all. The one I just described; one of me smiling while pointing a finger with the other hand stroking my hair; and another one of me glancing at the window with distant look yet again. I didn’t know I could look so empty, especially with the drawn version of me looking back with such carefully detailed eyes. I wonder suddenly if his lenses magnified things beyond normal magnification standards.

“I didn’t like seeing you that way.” He said after a few moments of silence, grazing a finger over the first drawing.  “I like seeing you,” With that, I quickly glance back at him while he observes me flip through more pictures. “but not so… sad…” He trails off trying to find the right words. I continue to analyze him, as he blinks upward twice and then drops his head to finish his sentence.  “…the sadness where you had become familiar with it.”

The rain continued to pour. More people went inside the restaurant on a busy Friday night. The indian girl was enjoying her own dessert now, laughing with her parents. I don’t know if she could see me. The sky remained dark and the stars couldn’t be seen, but there were city lights and silver flecks and powder on donuts to make up for petty wishes. I smudged my thumb over my sad, sad eyes and grabbed a pencil bookmarked on a blank page.

Maybe you can see me again.

An area code, a scribble, a brush of fingers, a splash of water on eyelashes. Nothing in this world is certain; even reservations can’t be withheld by some. I wish I could name something definite, something that I know will happen. I cannot, for I can only hope. And if I have gained one ounce of anything from this night, I know that not all hope is lost.

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