PAIRS ( Part four )
Blog Posted:12/30/2011 10:19:00 PM
Strange place the café. All crowded and overly lit. Three tables where really only one would fit. The bar, backed by a large mirror, had high stools but not really room for anyone to sit there in comfort. A limited range of liquors, and a staff of one lady who was intermittently absent at the public telephone outside in the rain. The two locals sat at a table too close to the other tables for intimate chat to take place, and pretended to be unaware of the two strangers sitting near them now and unbuttoning outer coats slightly wet with the weather and exchanging polite but familiar laughing remarks about their respective journeys. Strangers in a strange little place. Under the glare of too much light it was uncomfortable for any close exchange of personal information. A handy topic for conversation was afforded when Bernie Boyle, the waitress, brought the cutlery and side plates and, with a cheery word about whether sauce or salt was needed, she disappeared again into the kitchen. The wine list they brushed aside without a glance. Sandwiches and one tea and one coffee were mentally selected, in anticipation of the waitress’s return.
“Ready to order…?” she called from the bar counter.
Almost without waiting for answers to the perfunctory question, she disappeared again into the darkening evening outside, rummaging in her apron pocket for small change to use the outside telephone.
“I wonder what her urgent call is about…?” Ian advanced the conversation along what he felt would be a useful, amusing and harmless road in an attempt to get closer to his tablemate
The Ford driver approved of him trying to get closer, as she approved of almost everything about him, almost as if by a decision she had made long since. His forty year old brown hair was thinning and cut short, and his slim businesslike appearance pleased her. But she could easily see through this disguise to the fun-loving, quick witted original thinker inside. He made joking witty remarks about each item read from the menu. He exuded self-confidence, and certainty seemed to imbue all that he had to say, whether it was an opinion on the table wine or the state of the national economy. His clothes matched hers in that they were fuctionally neat and lacked status as indicators of personality. Nevertheless he was attractive looking, and certainly not sloppy. The cleanshaven jaw carried no heavy after-shave lotion, only the understated scent of the one she herself had given him for christmas. As Stephanie showed him an item on the menu, he slipped on a pair of steel-rimmed glasses fished smoothly from his coat breast pocket and scanned the document with affected interest. Picking up an overlooked beer glass from their table and leaning over, Ian placed it on the polished bar, being careful not to remove his other hand from her firm hold. He liked the way she touched his palm and admired his long fingers, and she liked him stroking her soft inner wrist.
In the drizzle Bernie Boyle fumbled with the change to make her call, the third of the evening to the same number. Pressing home the two coins she listened anxiously for the ringing tone , let it repeat ten times, and then regretfully put down the receiver and collected her coins as they were returned by the machine. With a puzzled frown and a click of the tongue Miss Boyle slowly pushed open the glass door of the phone box and shielded her newly-done hair against the rain as she dashed for the door of the café once more.
Back in the narrow corridor Miss Boyle flicked away raindrops from her tightly-turned curls of hair and wiped her spectacles, stepping to one side to allow a smiling young man in formal wear to pass by in a hurry. The carnation in his lapel was a little crushed though she could still smell its fragrance after he disappeared around the corner towards the hotel dining room.
“Well, Malachy, I hope you’re not up to any mischief on this special day now…” she called softly after his disappearing form, hoping to inject a warning along with her respect for his privacy
“Oh, I’m in a terrible hurry now Bernie, I’ll catch you later…” he half turned his head, avoiding eye contact, as he went.
A brief wave of noisy laughter and the sound of a four piece band tuning up reached the old lady’s ears as he pushed open the dining room door. Forgetting Malachy for a moment, she smiled as if in anticipation of something of delight about to happen, not a surprise but a planned occurrence. The music and swirling excitement of the wedding party seemed to infuse her eyes with sparkle. The grey hair now sufficiently dried and placed in order Miss Boyle adjusted her spectacles and stepped from the corridor into the brightly lit café. The bell pinged lightly.
“Everything all right here for the moment?”she called, glancing in the bar-mirror to check her hair and smiling in the direction of the steel-rimmed glasses.
“We’ll have a toasted ham sandwich , a tea and a coffee please, when you have a moment,” he announced quietly with a smile.
Her greying hair still glistening here and there with the rain, she stood listening to their reply, eyes dancing with genuine interest in them now that her immediate task was done. She scribbled down the items quickly and efficiently. Her tortoiseshell-framed glasses were still slightly misted over with the air of the warm room on the cold lenses, which gave her eyes a touch of mystery and an attractive appearance, suggesting how pretty she must have been thirty years earlier. Small earrings of pearl and a hint of lipstick completed her attempt at disguising the effects of aging. She was a well-built woman, not at all plump, but the floral print pinafore over her pale blue dress made her look somewhat overweight. A woollen cardigan kept the night air from chilling her too much, but once inside the cafe it made her too hot and she murmured constantly to herself under her breath about the heat of the room. In between murmurs she kept up a steady, happy-go-lucky singing and humming to herself, as she kept working all the time, like a busy carefree bee, a serious plotter and builder capable of seeing a thing through over years to a successful end with optimistic good nature. Her movements were quick but well-timed so that she never faltered or spilled anything. As she headed for the kitchen with their order her trained hands silently replaced glasses on the shelf in front of the mirror, next to her framed Certificate of Merit from the Irish Countrywomen’s Association and Teacher’s Diploma. The couple recognised the Minute Waltz as she hummed out the melody in snatches. She was full of enthusiasm and perfectly content to be working in complete isolation without distraction. She almost seemed to be waltzing as she worked, and they smiled in shared happiness with her.