Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In a Diner, Which is Every Diner

I look across the table at her, and she smiles at me. I smile back, and drop a too slow, overly suggestive wink. She cracks up, kicking my foot under the table. We finish our lunch in companionable silence and order dessert. A large sundae that practically swims in chocolate fudge is brought to the table, and we grin at each other like the children we are.

There is nothing between us for many minutes but the slow savoring of cheap ice cream in large quantities. Finally, I push back from the speckled Formica table with an appreciative belly pat. I close my eyes as the sugar races through my blood, enjoying the warmth of it. I feel her watching me. I enjoy that too.

When I open my eyes again, hers are on me. She looks around carefully and places one hand on the corner of her mouth. With a final circumspect glance, her pink tongue peeks out. I lean forward and cross my arms, bumping her elbow on purpose. Her spoon clinks against the now empty bowl of ice cream, the sound a tiny chime. She gives me mock disapproval under lowered eyebrows.

Our waitress appears then, and asks, “How was it all?”

My wife’s expression clears up like a sudden Florida rain. “A-mazing,” she says with a smile like a flashbulb, giving the first vowel a lingering hard pronunciation.

Yeah,” I concur. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I trail off into the silence. I feel another kick under the table, almost a nudge.

You two,” the waitress says with a smirk and a gentle shake of her head. She places the check on the table and points at the front counter. “When you’re ready.”

All of this is lost on the people around us at the little roadside diner; all of this is lost on us.

I will never learn that my wife picked up the surreptitious raspberry from a boyfriend she had in high school; I've long forgotten that the telegraphed wink came from a college girlfriend. Faux anger she learned from her mother; the amiable elbow bump I absorbed from my father.

As we get up to leave with the slight delirium that accompanies the feeling beyond satiety, I hold her coat. She shimmies into it, giving a delicate little hop to let me know she’s situated. When she was in third grade, she saw another little girl do this when her mother held a purple parka open for her. I grab the check from the table and head for the register.

When the credit card receipt prints out, I sign it with a flourish copied from a man I saw when I was seventeen. The door jingles as I hold it open for her with one hand and make a doorman's sweep with the other, like my father's business partner used to do for clients.

Once inside the car, I fail to realize our marks on one another are as indelible as they are subtle. The idea that we are pieces of one another slips by me like the miles of lonely desert highway outside.

Our someday children might poke their tongues out in restaurants, imitating a man they've never met that used to kiss their mother. The suggestion that discrete segments of our personalities enjoy a faceless immortality, even after the initial actor is removed, never occurs to me.

I go through the rest of my life blind to the fact that these cadences and gestures and pieces are like social DNA, easily propagated. I never even dream that I and we and us together are repeatedly transmuted by the incidental alchemy of casual human contact.

Instead, I am always too busy looking at my wife’s face to discern the provenance of the motions animating it. Even now, I steal glances away from the road to watch her laugh. It is music, and in my blessed ignorance, I am the only one it plays for.

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