the couple at dinner

I saw a couple at dinner a couple of nights ago. Old and wrinkled and sitting quietly together at the table. They both ordered a lobster dinner, using tools to crack open the red shells to find the soft stuff inside for eating and dipping in little pools of butter. The woman wore an expression that pinned her eyebrows up on her forehead, making her always look surprised or scared, or both. She wore a polka dotted dress and had her gray hair pulled back into a pony tail with a handkerchief. She sat next to her husband, quiet and content. He had a big nose and eyebrows that grew in all sorts of directions like untamed grass, wiry and grey. They ate their dinner in silence, occasionally exchanging a word or two that hardly rose above the noise of their utensils as they ate. The man and woman both wore museum passes around their wrists from their day in the city, and I couldn’t help but try to pencil in the holes in their story with my own imagination. Maybe they met when they were in grade school, and have been collecting memories together for sixty something years. Maybe they came to America when they were young from somewhere in Europe — they do look like they could be foreign, but they spoke too quietly to pick up on any accents. Maybe they have three kids who are grown and old now too, and have kids of their own who are thinking about having kids. They probably live in all different states and come sometimes to visit on the holidays. They probably drink tea every evening together while she reads and he flips through channels; they look like they like hot tea. I bet he likes wheel of fortune.

I never spoke a word to them or even heard a word come out of them, but I think I’d read a book about their first date if I could. I bet he wrote her letters and I bet she still has them stored away somewhere. I bet they reminisce on their youth while still feeling like it wasn’t all that long ago — the only traces of evidence they have of the passage of time are the lines that have spread across their foreheads and from the corners of their eyes like cracks in the sidewalk. And as I sat there at the table across the room from them, I couldn’t help but think about what an incredible mystery they are to me. A collection of stories I’ll never hear. But somehow, our paths intersected at a restaurant in a quiet village on a lobster-special Sunday night. And it got me thinking about how every stranger is such an intricate web of stories and intersections of their own and how I’m sure we’d have a lot in common if we ever stopped long enough to exchange words and histories. We all have people who love us and make us feel loved. We have running lists of fears and favorite foods and places and things that make us anxious and things that make us feel more alive. Things that make us feel more human.

People are worth knowing. 

I folded my napkin and placed it back on the table as my father signed the check and crumpled up the receipt. As I rose out of my seat and pushed my chair back into it’s place under the table, for a moment, the woman caught my gaze. I smiled at her before turning to walk away as she delicately dipped a bite of lobster again into the pool of butter.

Ivey Redding