A Scene from Eavesdropping
A crowded Starbucks; is this average for a Thursday evening? The place is filled with tables of women, whose chatter all seems to be work related. Boring. Work seems to be that way (unless the work is writing, then it’s more maddening fun than anything else). The couple sitting to the right of the gray couch seem interesting. They’re the only two people in here who aren’t talking. It’s obvious they’ve been here a while: only half an inch of his watery iced latte remains. I can’t see hers, as she’s ordered something hot on this sticky-hot evening in late August. Why would you want hot coffee in late August, especially if the room is – as this one is – not particularly cold?
The couples’ silence is more interesting than any of the chattering women who spread papers over their tables and interrupt each other as their drinks sweat through their cups. He is old, overweight, severely balding. She seems several years his junior, though still middle-aged, with a no-nonsense hairstyle and a finger’s width of dark roots. They both seem to be grading papers, but I don’t recognize them from our university. Perhaps ACC? She speaks, briefly, and I catch a small Southern inflection in her words. Probably the community college not far from here. Anyway…here’s a scene, related to their silence.
Marie stared at Carter from across the checkered tablecloth, wondering when he’d look up from thumbing through his cell phone. The clock, conveniently located on the wall of the diner bar behind their booth, had ticked away three minutes since their chit chat had dwindled into silence. Beyond the standard, how was your day? and nice weather we’ve been having,they seemed to have nothing to say to each other. Married three months and already running out of words, she thought. During their brief courtship, they’d played a game loosely named “the question game,” in which she would ask a question and he would answer it, then she would, and then he would choose a different question. They picked it up whenever conversation lagged at dinner, over miniature golf, even during the cake tasting two weeks before their wedding, when they decided on a strawberry-swirled angel food for their three-tiered, icing-ed masterpiece.
The questions ran out on the second-to-last day before their honeymoon in Wilmington ended. Of course, on a honeymoon there are plenty of other methods of conversation readily available. Brunching at Tater’s, a charmingly quaint home-style eatery, on the other hand…they could talk, or they could eat. As the tables were packed and their cheerful, grandmotherly waitress had informed them that the cook was at least fifteen minutes behind schedule, they had at least another ten minutes to wait before her chocolate croissant and his country ham arrived.
She glanced at the clock again. Two more minutes had passed. Marie knew the name of Carter’s favorite childhood pet, his shoe size, that he fancied the ocean over mountain streams, and that he drank his coffee with cream but no sugar, but she didn’t know what he was doing on that damn phone.
“Have we nothing left to say to each other?” As soon as the words left her mouth she clapped her hands over her lips, shocked by the sound of her voice.
“I suppose not, unless something interesting has happened in the last five minutes.” He seemed nonplussed by her query, hardly bothering to glance up from the Blackberry that held his attention.
“Something interesting?” she said. “Only this.” Marie stood up, refolded her paper napkin neatly on the table, and walked out the door.