Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

Lady

She lifted her hand slightly as the waiter passed, an elegant gesture easily overlooked in the mid-morning rush. Her steel-gray hair might have been combed yesterday, but not this morning, not since awakening. And though the diner was warm, she kept her dark wool coat wrapped tightly around her thin frame. Her pale, creased face, high-cheeked and hollow, had remnants of a delicate beauty. Her avoidance of eye contact, the curve of her back, and the slight lowering of her head seemed born of a wariness that might accompany fame or privilege, even if fallen on hard times. With a slight tremor, she mumbled to herself, occasionally wiping her nose with a lace-edged handkerchief that looked as if it hadn’t been washed in some time.

She huddled over a mound of French fries piled high on an oval white plate, picking gingerly, pinky raised, and dabbing each one with a shiny dot of ketchup before each modest bite. Slowly and rhythmically, the woman ate until they were gone. The waiter scribbled something on his check pad, and placed the paper before her. She tucked it into the pocket of her overcoat, and stood. At full height, she only appeared more vulnerable.   

 

 

 

The lady walked out of the diner without leaving money on the counter. I was about to tell the waiter that I would pay her bill when he held up his hand. “She eats here every Monday, and is allowed to order whatever she wants.” I wanted to know more. He simply shook his head, turned and walked away.

 

 

 

 

 

Alan Gartenhaus retired from a thirty-year career in the museum profession: teaching, and publishing a professional journal for curatorial staff and volunteers. His fiction and non-fiction writings have been published in the Santa Fe Literary Review, Broad River Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Smithsonian Press, Running Press, and Euphony: the University of Chicago's Literary Magazine, among others.