The couple sat at a small table near enough to me that if I turned my head slightly to the right, I could read their lips and just make out her expressions.
Infusions was a tiny little cafe on the main floor in a historic block of buildings now slated for demolition. The woman passed this place everyday on her way to work and had always wanted to go inside.
In the Summer, the wrought-iron tables and chairs spilled out onto the red brick sidewalk, much like the ones that dot the streets of old Paris.
Men dressed in suits worked feverishly on their laptops ahead of work, students shared coffee and debated world events; and an old man sat alone, taking slow sips, watching the people that passed him by.
There was always lively music and pretty, smiling waitresses moved quickly between tables. They were skillful and graceful, almost as though ballet was a prerequisite for being hired there.
News of its closure brought her here on this cold November night.
The woman wore her prettiest scarf and the earrings that her husband had given her on their 10th wedding anniversary. Their 25th was fast approaching, and this night was in its celebration.
She was excited to be able to have this time alone with her husband now that the last of their three kids was about to leave for university in the Fall.
She had had a hard time convincing him to stop here after dinner. He was stuffed, something he ate wasn’t sitting right, and if they hurried, they may be able to make it back to watch the end of the game.
The woman eagerly ordered a slice of warm pecan pie, a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and one of those fancy, chocolate-coffee infusions with whipped cream on top. The man, looked annoyed when the waitress listed off nearly a dozen types of beer on tap, not one of them was anything he had ever heard of.
The woman, visibly embarrassed, apologized to the waitress and glanced at her husband.
She was hoping he might want to try something nice like Grand Marnier in a snifter.
He ordered a water, no ice.
The woman looked up to see the ceiling painted as though they were sitting under a wide open blue sky. The walls were muralled to give the impression that you were looking through windows out onto a vineyard. There was a live jazz band playing across from the small bar.
Couples sat engaged with one another on couches in the corner. Coffee tables held empty wine glasses, purses and ashtrays. The constant buzz of conversation was interrupted only by laughter and glasses clinking.
The woman remarked to her husband about how lucky they were to get a seat and how lovely it was that they were able to sit so close to the fireplace.
At the sound of a dish dropping, the man grumbled that it was too loud.
The woman reached across the table to hold his hand and said that it was so nice to try something new. The man pulled his hand away, said the waitress was taking too long and got up to use the bathroom.
When her pecan pie came, her first thought was to wait until her husband returned before she started eating, but its sweet aroma enticed her to try just one tiny bite.
It was heavenly. I know. I had had it before too.
She put down her fork, restraining herself. Maybe her husband would like to share. She asked the waitress for another fork.
The woman took a sip of her drink and looked around.
Young lovers sat across from her with already-eaten entrees in front of them. They sipped from wine glasses, reaching for each other across the table. The young woman was talking a mile a minute, one hand flapping endlessly, while the young man stared back at her, with a warm smile, ravenously in love.
The side of the woman’s mouth curled up as though she remembered when her husband used to look at her like that, and then she looked down at her watch as though it could tell her how long it has been.
Directly in front of her, an elderly couple had just finished paying their bill. The old man pulled out his wife’s chair, waited patiently for her arms to find the holes while he helped her put her coat on, and offered his arm as they walked side by side out of the cafe.
The woman looked toward the bathroom, and breathed in deeply. It was the kind of deep breath that you take when you’re trying desperately to stop yourself from crying.
Maybe she knew that kind of tenderness didn’t exist in her future, I thought.
The woman again looked up at the ceiling. This time, she noticed the long thin crack running straight through the middle of the painted sky.
Just behind her, she overheard the always-smiling waitresses have an argument over tips.
The cafe had gotten louder. The woman closed her eyes, massaged the back of her neck, then her temples, and finally her forehead.
She looked into what was left of her fancy drink. The whipped cream had melted into the coffee. As she stirred it, I watched her get lost in the swirl and spin of the chocolate.
A moment later, she noticed me and looked directly into my eyes. Her faced had changed.
She was still too young to look that old.
She picked up her fork and ate the rest of her pecan pie.
When she was finished, she looked toward the bathroom door, and then at her purse. She looked behind her, again toward the bathroom door, then down at her wedding band.
She seemed to be judging the distance between herself and the exit.
It couldn’t have been any further apart than the distance between her and her husband.
A look of resolve came over her.
With one last glance toward the bathroom, she grabbed her purse and pushed back on her chair.
Her face reddened when it screeched across the floor and everyone looked her direction.
She sat back down, shoulders slumped, just as her husband walked toward their table.
He sat down across from her, and asked if she was ready to go yet.
You could fill both of the empty chairs at the table beside them with the weight she seemed to carry in that moment.
They got up, she put on her coat, and stifled a sob when she realized that he had never even taken his off.