The day just kept on getting shittier. That morning I left my son’s place four hours earlier than planned because I thought it was easier than having to explain why I felt the need to beat my daughter-in-law, Angela, into a bloody pulp.
Only a short while ago we had enjoyed a wonderful relationship, but it had gone from shopping trips, lunch dates, chatting over a glass of wine, to missed appointments, forgotten birthdays, and icy silences during family gatherings. For reasons I can’t explain, and neither can my son, two weeks after my ex and I announced that we had decided to go our separate ways, Angela turned the ice maker on and began the slow process of freezing me out.
I don’t have a degree in psychiatry so I can’t tell you why once my son overcame the initial shock of the divorce he was okay with it, while his wife just wanted to hack up my body and hide all the parts in blocks of concrete. After all, it wasn’t as if she had a great relationship with my husband to begin with. So when my son was called into work I packed up my stuff and headed home leaving the Ice Maiden alive so she could stew in her make-believe juices.
So no breakfast, and worse, no coffee; there I was four hours later, hungry enough to eat road kill. My hands and stomach took things under their own control and I pulled into a roadside café three miles from my house. Normally the sagging roof, the cardboard taped over a broken window, and the peeling paint would have kept me far away from the place. But with my stomach growling out the tune to The Monster Mash I hurried to the door. It was packed to the rafters. Every table had so many bodies at it that the room looked to be a scene from some dystopian future like Soylent Green. I would have walked out then and there except for that aroma. Ambrosia.
I found myself following a waitress without so much as a howdy-do. She seated me at a tiny table of four, which should have been a table of two, or even a one, and then walked away without offering me a menu, or giving me a chance to ask what the daily special was. My stomach started crooning Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise. I wiggled down between two seated bodies, the smell of Old Spice and Ivory wafting up around my head almost blocking out the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen. Almost. I had yet to build up the courage to look around at the faces of my table mates. I preferred to keep people faceless and nameless. This was the type of situation where I missed my ex-husband. Given two minutes he would have learned everyone’s names, wheedled out their occupations, and would be perusing photos of chubby-faced toddlers, or frat house parties.
“Dora?” It was as if I had conjured him out of thin air with my wish. But one look at him and I was searching the table for sharp, pointy objects.
“Ken?” I said and looked up into those gold tinged, lying, brown eyes.
“What on earth are you doing here?” we both asked at the same time.
“I had to escape from Jay’s house before breakfast,” I mumbled.
“I started coming here every Thursday right after the divorce,” he said. A fork laden with creamy pasta, chunks of chicken, and the neon green of perfectly steamed broccoli rose to his mouth. I think a little drool dribbled down my chin. “Annie, Bob, Charlie, this is my wife. My ex-wife, Dora,” he said to our group after chewing the delectable morsel. Everyone nodded but kept right on eating.
“Hi,” I said. And now that I’d been introduced I took a quick peek at my dinner companions. Annie looked to be around a hundred, Bob, the Old Spice man, was closer to my age, and Charlie couldn’t have been more than fifteen years old. She sported two nose rings, a puce Mohawk, and a pink and yellow Bedazzled jean jacket.
By the time my meal showed up the others had decimated theirs. In fact it seemed as if the entire restaurant had been on the same schedule. The sound of chairs scraping and the cash register ringing heralded an exodus. But I didn’t care; I was too busy shoveling in the best pasta chicken broccoli that I have ever tasted. My stomach started to sing, Food, Glorious Food, by the cast of Oliver.
Ken sat across from me nursing a cup of coffee, the dark brown liquid swirling around the rim as he angled the cup back and forth. I could feel his eyes on me as I inhaled my lunch. “I’m still trying to come to grips with the fact that you’re sitting here,” he said.
With my stomach somewhat satisfied I could feel the old resentments begin to bubble up. “Why wouldn’t I be here?” I asked. My voice carried that snippy edge which we both hated.
His reply was just a raised eyebrow, but instead of jumping to my own defense I paused and thought about it. “You’re right,” I said. His eyebrow rose even higher but he stayed silent. “Being hungry isn’t enough of an excuse. I’ve been hungrier and held out for a nicer place to eat. I don’t know why I decided to stop. Normally a Dive Du Jour like this place, wouldn’t tempt me in the least.”
“Maybe its fate,” he said, and we both snorted. Then we laughed for real. For two antagonistic exes we seemed to be in sync.
After four cups of coffee, two arguments sandwiched between three civil conversations, and a not so subtle hint from the waitress, we reluctantly moved out to the parking lot where only our two vehicles waited. Then we hugged. Not the awkward, shake hands which turns into an uncomfortable hug, but a real hug.
“This was a nice accident,” I said.
“Fate,” he said, and then winked.
I watched him drive away before turning to my own car. I don’t know if it was the food or the surprising company but an aching wave washed over me. “Fate’s a real bitch,” I told the empty parking lot.
“Summit Diner” by slgckgc. Creative Commons Flickr. Some rights reserved.