Watching and Waiting

The deck of the restaurant across the street was stained the color of orange rarely seen outside the tragic tribes of young women in Southern Florida. I continued to watch, sitting underneath a black and white awning sipping a mild Pinot, as clumps of khaki and corpulent figures hovered around the entrance waiting for their name to be called. While my date was in the restroom, I continued to watch their movements. They seemed to be the kind of people you stand in line with at the drug store. Most likely, we would make small talk about the weather or the cover of scandalous magazines. In front of the chintzy restaurant, a banner advertised a bargain deal on pitchers of margaritas. My date had just returned from the restroom as I looked away from the across the street and wondered what it was like to feel simple.  

He was wearing a white cotton shirt underneath his sandy brown blazer. There were worn leather patches, another ruggedly handsome color, on the elbows. I was curious about the life experience behind this blazer, how many other women it had tried to impress. He smiled when he sat down and winked with his right eye. The skin on my cheeks felt warm and childish. Our knees grazed underneath the black wrought iron table. When he asked me if we should order another bottle of wine I felt my lips part and begin to move. Of course.

It was a small outdoor patio and there was only one other couple there that night. They appeared bored with one another, enamored with the glow of their personal devices. The man was wearing the kind of faded, ripped blue jeans that warned you about his politics. His olive-green button-down was unbuttoned twice at the top, enough to accentuate a toxic masculinity and imploding arrogance. I admired her petite figure, almost apologetic looking in a black cotton summer dress. As if to say this was the best she could do. I wondered what they talked about when they actually spoke to one another. Why they even bother going out to eat. She appeared to have gotten some sun recently, her small tan highlighting the dirty blonde hair piled high in a messy, almost beachy hair do.

The food was simple and complimented the summer breeze. The sun was on its last gasp as if to say goodnight and good luck. We shared a simple Caprese salad, sometimes using the complimentary homemade sourdough bread to make small open-faced sandwiches. He asked me if I was happy.

“I am,” I said. “Are you?”
“Very. I just have a hard time reading you sometimes, that’s all.”
Most likely there was a correct way to respond to this statement. I wish it could have been softly whispered into my ear. My demeanor was mostly stoic yet undaunted.
“It’s difficult for me to express my feelings,” I said.
I knew that look. I had said something obvious, requiring little to no retort. His eyes were silent blue waves staring back at me. I felt as if I were treading water.
“You’re too hard on yourself,” he said.
“Is it obvious?”

The waiter who was wearing black pants with a neatly tucked in black button down shirt brought out the main course. I had gnocchi with some sort of simple white sauce. He ordered the fish, what kind I couldn’t say.

The restaurant was located on the corner of a busy street. Traffic had mostly slowed down by this hour, the reverb from car horns and public transportation stops operating as minor background noise. He asked for the bill, as we sat and finished our second bottle of wine. The sky was a dark shade of blue, illuminated by an atmosphere of lights hung with care, a soft glowing white surrounding the perimeter of the patio.

I leaned over and kissed him on his rugged cheek. There was a quick, loud crash that suddenly filled the air with sounds of tires screeching and screaming. There was a hint of vibration underneath our feet. I noticed we were the only ones left on the patio. The still of the night had been interrupted and suddenly we were witnesses.

“Stay here,” he said.

His movement was soft and masculine, somewhat demanding. He walked to the front of the restaurant and disappeared from my sight. I could hear people begin to gather. Traffic stopped. The neon orange hands glowing, still blinking and insistent. A minute or two later, his head popped around the corner, his arm motioning me to follow. I stood next to him and gripped my hand through this. The man in the olive-green shirt was behind the wheel of the vehicle that had been badly hit. The vehicle was one of those boxy cars that sat low to the ground. It was dark red, and shining underneath the streetlight glow. I could just make out the messy beach hair of his dining companion. They were silent and still. There were sprinkles, large and small, of blood across the cracked windshield.

It appeared they had been hit while attempting to take a left out of the parking lot behind the restaurant across the street. The other vehicle was a large gray truck, probably a Ford, the driver wearing a blue baseball cap. He seemed shaken but appeared to be all together. In the distance, I could hear the beating cries of ambulances and police sirens.

As the cries grew closer, our holding hands grew warmer. The whole street was watching, waiting as if the accident were a ripple within their own lives. The faces of the people at the restaurant across the street had changed, almost unrecognizable. They were no longer looking at one another but trying to make sense of what they had just seen. Their dinner most likely growing cold.

The ambulances and police cars were quick to the scene, and by the time they arrived I wondered if he had remembered to pay our bill at the restaurant. Nobody was moving. But we were there, standing together. Waiting for something to happen.


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