A Long Time Waiting

Writing by Ted Boughter-Dornfeld Copyright © 2009

I.

A woman with thick, smoky gray hair and a sturdy, brown-haired young man sit down in a Chinese restaurant in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. A waiter takes their order.

Waiter: “Can I get you anything to drink?”

The woman, whose name is Mary, looks up at the ceiling.

Mary: “Do you have Shirley Temples? I love those.”
Waiter: “Yes m’am. And for you, sir?”
James: “I’ll take a sprite.”
Waiter: “And for your meal?”
James: “We’ll start with an order of steamed dumplings. Then we’ll have the Shrimp Lo Mein, and the Beef with Curry Sauce.”
Waiter: “Is that all, sir?”
James: “Yes, thank you.”

The waiter exits, leaving the two to sit and catch up. The silence eats into the room, leaving little available breathing space. Despite the suffocating atmosphere, James looks comfortable. He has been to the top of this mountain before. He knows he can’t slip. It’s a long way down.

Mary: “I love you, James.”

He sighs with resignation, and looks down at the ornate, red dragon carpeting that covers the floor.

James: “I know Mom.”
Mary: “I just wanted you to know.”
James: “I do.”
Mary: “Ok… just to make sure you did. So, how is everything?”
James: “It’s good, Mom. I’m working a lot.”
Mary: “I had a dream that someone beat you up at school. Did anyone try to hurt you?”
James: “Mom, could you please stop?”
Mary: “Stop what?”
James: “You don’t need to worry about me.”
Mary: “I’m sorry. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since Monday.”
James: “It’s Friday. Has it really been bothering you that long?”

The waiter enters with food. He places the food down, appears as though he is going to say something, and thinks better of it. He leaves them again.

The young man chews quickly, munching methodically as though he consumes to fight a mortal fatigue. As he dines, new energy surges to his face, transforming his tensed pink cheeks to a vivacious crimson. The scarlet-colored beef leaves a stain on his teeth and lips.

James: “Mom, are you going to eat anything, or is this food going to go to waste?”
Mary: “I’m not so hungry.”
James: “Why? Have you not been eating again?”
Mary: “No, I eat sometimes.”
James: “Mom, you know what the doctor said about eating.”
Mary: “But someone might have put something in the food.”
James: “No one put anything in your food.”

Feigning a smile, Mary forces, “Ok.”

James: “Do you want chopsticks?”
Mary: “No, I’d rather use a fork.”

A child squirms in a neighboring booth, and squeals. The youthful current of crying sends a chill down James’s back.

James: “So you’re 47 now, mom…do you feel any different?”
Mary: “Not really. Except maybe that my hair is more gray.”
James: “It looks good. Are they treating you ok?
Mary: “In Norristown? Yeah, just fine. We had some vanilla cupcakes for my birthday yesterday.”
James: “Good. I’m glad I could take you out for your birthday today.”
Mary: “How is your girlfriend?”
James: “Mom, me and Brianna broke up four months ago.”
Mary: “Oh…I’m sorry.”
James: “It’s ok. I guess things just weren’t meant to be.”
Mary: “That’s too bad, I liked her.”
James: “Yeah. So did I.”
Mary: “Do you love me?”
James: “Of course I do. Why would you ask that?”
Mary: “Because I haven’t given you many reasons to.”
James: “I love you with everything I have, ma.”
Mary: “Ok.”
James: “I have to get you back, it’s getting late.”
Mary: “I know.”

The man signals the waiter, who hands them the bill and sets down a pair of fortune cookies. Mary looks at hers briefly, gently depositing it into her sewn coat pocket. The young man pulls two bills from his wallet, and places them inside the black leather folder. He breaks the cookie in half, eats it, and throws out his fortune in the green receptacle by the door on the way out.

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