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The Waiter


Harry Buschman

Some people are born to a life of service. The butler for instance, whose sole purpose in life is to see his master well-turned out. The doctor. The plumber. They stifle their own opinions, their needs and even their well being to make life less of a burden for the people they serve.

For the relatively short period of time it takes for a man and a woman to have breakfast in a modest cafe such as Lucille's, the waiter will tend to their every need. He will even accept the blame for the mistakes of the kitchen. If the guests come every day, sit at the same table and order the same things to eat, the waiter will accept them as family.

The waiter at Lucille's was like that ...

He waited on a middle aged, middle class couple every morning. They sat and ordered coffee and a brioche every day and never changed their menu. The man carried a newspaper, kept the first part for himself and gave the woman the second part. They argued firmly but quietly and steadily, never raising their voices enough for the waiter to hear.

They came every day, ordered the same thing and argued, quietly and constantly. When they finished, they left together. The waiter watched them as they stood on the sidewalk outside. After a final argument, and a brief kiss, they went their separate ways.

Months passed ...

One day the man came in alone. He wore a black armband. He ordered a coffee and a brioche. He opened a notebook and wrote in it laboriously. Seemingly lost in thought, he tore up most of what he wrote and stuffed the papers in his coat pocket. He did this without fail, day after day

One day, after he left, the waiter noticed one of the discarded wads of note paper lying under the table.

It said ...

“Carol, Carol, how beautiful you are when you’re sleeping.

Your lips slightly parted, your breathing as gentle as a baby’s. There’s a glow about you -- perhaps it’s the light, but more than likely it’s coming from you.

It’s a privilege to be here alone with you ... to be in your presence while you sleep, breathing the scent of you. I am the most fortunate of men and I only wish I could say the things I really mean.

But there will come a day, I promise you, when I find the words to fit your beauty.

Be patient with me Carol .... “

“How beautiful this is,” the waiter said to himself. “The gentleman certainly didn’t mean to throw this away. I will return it to him tomorrow ... but if I do he will know I’ve read it. It was not meant for my eyes, no -- for hers -- Carol's. It was a poem for her ... and in some strange, warped and wonderful way, the gentleman and I must share this poem forever.”

... and yet it troubled him. Apparently the waiter mourned the loss of 'Carol' as deeply as the writer did. He kept the discarded note in the pocket of his white coat and from time to time he would slip his hand in the pocket and renew the memory.

"Why?" he wondered, "why did the man return day after day now that she was gone. "It must be painful to sit at the same table without her."

Then there was the argument ... that was the strangest part of all.

They bickered constantly while she was alive and his love for her seemed irreconcilable with the note in the waiter's pocket. He was alert for other notes the writer might leave behind, he was sure they would explain how true love and contention could exist together.

He considered the possibility that the woman was not Carol, and from that moment infinite variations ran through his mind. Perhaps Carol was a woman other than his wife! But the waiter quickly dismissed that idea, reasoning that the armband was a public admission of a lost loved one and could certainly not be displayed for a mistress. But, who could tell for sure? The waiter pursed his lips and knitted his brows as the writer sat writing and absent-mindedly eating his breakfast. He would occasionally look up at the ceiling as though considering a turn of phrase. A metaphor perhaps. He would look back at his notebook, and finally, in desperation, he would tear out the sheet of paper he was writing on and put it in his pocket.

A month passed, maybe more - the writer writing and the waiter waiting. The waiter considered speaking to the writer, using as an excuse - the writer's armband. An expression of sympathy would certainly be appreciated ... and perhaps he might learn something more. He could not go on weighing and balancing the endless possibilities and liaisons. Was it a triangle, how could that be? Was he a devoted husband devastated with the loss of his wife? The waiter was too involved now. It was as if it were his life - not the writer's.

It was all settled then, tomorrow he would approach the gentleman after he was seated and before he opened his notebook and instead of asking him what he wanted for breakfast, he would offer his condolences. "I would like to express my deepest sympathy ..." Yes, that's how he would begin. "You have lost someone dear to you and I ..." but it began to get complicated then, and he hoped before he got that far the gentleman would break in and express his thanks. They might chat a bit then, man to man, and this matter would be put to rest at last.

The next day was a quiet one, a Thursday. For some reason Lucille's was always quiet on Thursday morning. The waiter thought it might be a good day to approach the gentleman on a matter as delicate as this, but as the morning wore on and the gentleman did not appear, the waiter grew nervous. He caught himself glancing up at the door whenever someone walked in -- he steered these diners from the gentleman's usual table. As the morning wore on it became apparent the gentleman would not be there that day, for the first time in many months - even before he began wearing the armband.

The waiter was left with all his questions unasked on that particular Thursday. He consoled himself with the thought that Friday was usually a busy day and the gentleman would be back - he would certainly get a chance to clear up the mystery tomorrow. Yes, his patience would be rewarded tomorrow.

But the gentleman didn't show up on Friday either! By the close of the breakfast hour the waiter was in a nervous sweat. It was a terrible morning, he made one mistake after the other. He mixed up orders, spilled coffee on a middle-aged woman who gave him a piece of her mind and didn't leave a tip. His anxiety reached a climax when he lost his temper and had words with an elderly man who demanded the same table the waiter reserved for the gentleman.

Yes, a terrible morning, and with the weekend ahead, Lucille's would only be open for dinner. The waiter worked the breakfast and brunch shift on week days - now he would spend the weekend in his room thinking of Carol and the gentleman with the black armband. Yes, Carol -- her lips slightly parted, her breathing gentle as a baby’s. A glow about her ... the waiter was sure he'd never make it through the weekend.

It should not be surprising, therefore, to learn the waiter did not make it through the weekend. One can only imagine the torment that racked him through most of Friday, all of Saturday and all day Sunday. He could neither eat nor sleep. The turbulent vision of the couple at the table tortured him constantly and the people in the apartment below him listened to his nervous pacing in the living room above. It was late Sunday afternoon when they heard a dull and heavy thud as though something heavy had fallen. There was no sound after that and and the couple relaxed in the welcome silence that.

The waiter's ordeal was over. He was a man born to service and the well-being of those he served had more meaning to him than his own. The thought of Carol was the last thought he had - to be in her presence as she slept, her breath as gentle as a baby's. He took the thought with him.

©Harry Buschman 2006

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