The Lonely Diner


Taylor Wood

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 124 in September, 2010.

“Goodness, these green beans are delicious. I love them! Don’t you love green beans, darling?” She asked from across the table. She looked lovely in the early evening light.
“No, I like green beans,” I responded, “but I don’t love them. I love you.”
I winked at her and took a bite of my own meal.
She smiled, but said critically, “you know I don’t mean it like that, you big dope.”
“I know how you mean it, but it bothers me when people use the word that way. It’s far too important a word to be taken so lightly, time and time again.”
“What word? Green beans?”
“First-of-all, green beans is two words, and second-of-all, no. I’m talking about love.” I put down my eating utensils and looked her stone in the eye. I wanted her to know how serious I was. “How can I say I love green beans now, but tell you later tonight after we’ve made love that I love you and expect it to still mean something? Now I’m just comparing you to green beans.”
She took the napkin up from her lap and wiped her mouth, perhaps to make the silence that had fallen between us less awkward. I felt a bit embarrassed that she had apparently taken the soliloquy I had intended to be meaningful and sweet, negatively. I had a bad habit of turning light-hearted moments into unnecessary, solemn lectures. Though my intentions were always pure, I could see how this might irritate her.
I looked around and noticed that we were the only couple occupying the outside dining area of the restaurant. The only other nearby soul, besides the waiter who had just refilled our wine glasses, was one, lone man. The only company the man had was a newspaper and a cup of coffee. In that moment, I considered how lucky I was to have her with me. We had spent several years together. I truly loved her with all my heart, and deep down inside, I know she felt the same. I felt a tinge of sorrow seeing this man sitting by himself. She also noticed him.
“What about him?” she questioned. “Do you think he loves green beans?”
This made me a bit angry.
“Now you’re just poking fun at me,” I said with a bit of an edge to my voice.
“No, I’m serious. Do you think he loves green beans? Do you think he loves anything or anyone? More importantly, do you think anyone loves him?”
How do I answer a question like that? This is a test, I thought. In my time on this earth, I’ve found that women periodically test their men. If he does not answer the question correctly, or give his woman the answer she wants to hear, she will hold it against him until the moment their relationship comes to an end.
“And how would I possibly know the answer to any of those questions?” I asked.
She did not answer. She simply looked at me for a moment with a purely dumbstruck expression on her beautiful face, shook her head, and took a large sip from her glass of wine. It seems that I had failed her test.
She took another glance at the lonely diner. I also looked in his direction again. Did he have anyone? From where we were sitting it was hard to see his face, but he seemed a bit older than us. The waiter approached his table and topped off his coffee. When he turned his head to thank the waiter, I could see that I need not feel any sorrow for this man, for his expression was happy. He had a freedom about him that I hadn’t felt in years; a freedom I sometimes longed for. As far as I could tell, he had nothing in the world to tie him down. This was of course a double-edged sword, for I’m sure he did in fact feel lonely from time to time, but it looked quite fine from where I was sitting. I turned my attention back to her.
“What?” I asked, trying to coax her back into conversation. I had always found that talking could right any wrong. Or perhaps it only made things worse.
“Nothing,” she responded.
“Are you angry? You seem angry.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Look, how am I supposed to know anything about this man?”
“Well, you gave me a long line of bullshit about green beans and love. You couldn’t make anything else up?”
I shook my head and smirked maliciously. Now she was really pushing my buttons.
I raised my voice, “You know, what is love, anyway? Huh? Is this love?” I motioned my hand back and forth between her and me, “Because if this is love, I’d rather be in that guy’s place.” I pointed at the lonely diner.
Her defiant air was now gone. It fell out of her with each tear that was now rolling down her cheeks. I knew I was in the wrong, and I felt like a real devil for what I had just said. She had lost her temper and said something unnecessary, but had I lost my temper and said something simply appalling.
I reached my hand across the table and placed it on top of hers.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She pulled her hand away and picked up her napkin to wipe away the tears.
I tried again, “Baby, I’m-”
“You want to know what love is?” she interrupted. “I’ll tell you. Love is comfort. In the beginning, there’s still mystery between two people. They aren’t fully comfortable with one another so everything is still exciting and fun. Then they fall into a pattern; a boring and desensitizing pattern. They end up doing the same thing, with the same person, in the same way, day after day after day. Because they’re comfortable. Because they’re in love. So do you still love me?”
She said it all very calmly and controlled. That is what made it hurt the most. If she had screamed it, I would have screamed back and would not have been thinking of what she had just confessed. I would only have to think of the next thing to scream. But with each carefully placed syllable came thousands of tiny pin needles that tore my heart to shreds. It appeared that she was no longer satisfied with our relationship. She had stopped crying, but now I felt like crying. What had we become? We had become comfortable.
I looked towards the lonely diner again. He too looked comfortable, but in a completely different way than we had apparently become. What made him so damn cheery? He was all alone. He should be miserable. Instead, I was with the woman I loved, and I was miserable. The lonely diner took another careless sip of coffee, and I hated him and his casual bliss. I hated myself.
Our waiter approached the table completely unaware of what had just taken place, “Is there anything else I can do for the two of you?”
“Get him the bill,” she said, rising boldly from her chair to leave me all alone. “Oh, and tell the cook that something wasn’t quite right with the green beans tonight.”