Peter isn’t eating. He is over by the windows. He is sitting at a table. There are other tables by it. (None of the tables next to the table occupied by Peter are occupied themselves by any other diners. Peter is, to some extent, alone.)
The restaurant isn’t empty. A tableful of diners sits over near the kitchen. Over near the entrance, there sits a pair of men. Several others sit–alone and in groups–at different points throughout the room. (Peter is alone, in that no one here relates to him in any way directly. In another sense, however, in which he is a person in a place amidst people, he is something that is something that is other than alone.) The waiter hasn’t brought him anything to eat; hasn’t brought a menu from which such things would even have been ordered; hasn’t brought the glass of water found on all the other tables occupied by diners. With his back almost perfectly straight and his hands folded neatly before him, Peter watches the rest of the room. (No one else within the room is watching the room closely enough to notice how closely Peter is watching it.)
Outside, down the block, a man heading westward on 3rd takes the corner at 14th, and everything is turned, and now he’s heading northward. Walking briskly, he continues up the sidewalk–an arrow shot on a south-to-north string. String in the sense of a line. Line in the sense of a route. Route in the sense of trajectile path. Peter still sits in the chair, and the chair as a map-point is north of the man, and that fact alone makes all of the following theories viable (if not exactly probable): that Peter is a station on the pathway of the man; that Peter is one part of the destination whole; that Peter is the destination in and of itself. The man travels briskly, intent on a spot on the sidewalk before him–not on the storefronts to his right, nor on the streets to his left, and the streets to his left glisten with rainwash, and on the puddles, in the streets, images appear, images of sky: sullen, sulking sky–and the spot on the sidewalk moves as he moves, hovering always a stride or two ahead. From the restaurant, through the window, Peter watches all of this. The man grows closer, crossing 4th street, in a suit and a hat, and the suit and the hat, as they’re brought into focus, are more and more exposed for what they really are: shabby and/or cheap.
He walks up the sidewalk, the man in the suit, hands hidden deep in his pockets. Peter, rigid, still not eating, watches, and the tension grows, and a perspiration comes to him. At his temples. On his upper lip. He licks at it unconsciously: a strange and, no doubt, telling act. The man does not look down, no longer intent on the sidewalk before him. His gaze has moved upwards.
It’s moved slightly rightwards.
It’s moved as a beam of a searchlight would move, drawn to some hidden transgressor.
It lands on the restaurant wall, the gaze of the man in the suit.
It lands on the wall.
It stops on the window.
It zeroes in on Peter.
Peter tries to swallow…and, with difficulty, does. He starts to look up…but stops himself short. There’s something to his right. Something large and not without some element of menace. He starts to look up…and maybe sees and maybe doesn’t. The muscles tighten near his mouth. Again he tries to swallow, but partway down, the swallow tangles, and then it goes no further, and then he has abandoned it. Flash to the window. Flash to the presence. Flash to the eyes of the man in the suit.
Peter slips into a place.
One presumes that there is darkness; if not darkness, then just nothing. The muscles in his face, which have lost their equanimity, gradually are soothed. The machinery unchokes itself, and even though it’s stopped and even though, because of this, it’s now not operational, the fact that it’s no longer in an act of self-destruction hopefully will mitigate the harshness of it all.
Peter starts to breathe again.
There needn’t be weight where no weight is placed.
There needn’t be, but if there is, a hollow made beneath the weight allows the weight to sink. Make a hollow. Let it sink.
Peter breathes. Evenly, exactingly, he breathes. His eyes again have opened. Calmly, he looks to his right.
The man is there; he’s standing there; he’s just outside the window.
The man is just outside. He’s only a matter of inches away. Peter’s eyes dissociate. They dart down hard and stay there, holding to–as last resort–some detail in the tablecloth.
The man leans even closer to the glass.
(It feels as though the man leans even closer to the glass.)
In this world, the skies are red. (The skies in this world are not red.) And the seas rise into the skies. (The seas do rise but also fall, and all of the rising and all of the falling are part of the system of rising-and-falling that constitutes the every-day.) Peter lets the seas inside rise up before the skies inside but also lets them fall, and as long as they fall, then nothing is not where it must not remain.
The kitchen door swings open. The waiter enters through it; erupts in a sense from behind it. He weaves between unoccupieds, taking a path his body has traveled often enough to have memorized it (even if he hasn’t on the surface-side of things). Given time, the path will lead him logically to Peter.
(Peter’s body stiffens at the thought.) But here the waiter veers, turning sharply and abruptly. It’s as if he was walking without really thinking and only now has he remembered where it is he should be going. Arriving at a table maybe six away from Peter’s, the waiter promptly bows–a signal to his place within all subsequent relations. A man at the table responds to the bow by leaning a little away. The waiter speaks. The patron speaks–still chewing the last of a bite he has taken–and points to his plate with the fork in his hand. Impaled on the tines of the fork is the end of the piece of the sausage he chews. The waiter nods. The patron points, this time not down at the plate that’s before him but rather across…to the table’s other side…at the plate of his companion, home to the crust of a sandwich, to crumbs and an uneaten cluster of chips, to an oily residue, unidentifiable in nature.
The waiter transitions; he moves between tables; he bows once at each–at departure from the first, at arrival at the second. A man at the second, one of four there, taps on the menu before him, indicating items to be brought, and the man to the left of that man continues to speak, telling him, and the table’s other men, a long, in-growing story, and the other man, the tapping man, listens to the telling man, smiling as he does so, snickering sometimes, nodding, interjecting occasional words of his own, and neither of those men, nor the other two, pay the waiter any mind. The waiter nods, begins to write. The finger-tapper interrupts him, raising the very same finger with which he was doing the tapping. The waiter stops. He leans an ear; he nods his head; he licks the pencil’s tip; he writes upon the little pad. The group at the table explodes into laughter–at something the teller has said; some punchline of some joke. The waiter smiles tightly. He bows and backs away. He turns and hurries off, to and through the kitchen door. The little smile shivers on his face.
A man sips tea and stares ahead at nothing, really, and sips again, and tastes the sip, and sets the teacup down. The teacup makes a grinding sound, a grinding, ringing, seashell sound. It makes the sound…and also makes the echo of the sound, but both of them are lost within the tumult of the room.
At yet another table, there is yet another man, but this one, unlike that one, is not sitting by himself. This second man is with a third, and the third man talks, and talks, and talks, in the low and confidential tones most often reserved for confession. The second man says nothing back. He lifts a bone and tears from it a mess of meat and fat and skin. He chews the mess. He swallows it. He gnaws the largely-emptied bone. He works with his tongue to get at a thing that’s stuck between two of his teeth. The man with whom he sits drones on. The door to the kitchen opens again, and the waiter appears in the gap. He slides and turns and dips at once, to maneuver the tray he’s balancing now, to feed it through unjostled. The door swings closed, then through, then through, and things have happened as this happened, and the waiter has now moved, and if he ever was en route, he now no longer is.
Across the room, around the jut (that marks the shared wall between the two rooms), deep into the corner, deep into the recess that branches off from there, the waiter stands before a table, tray held high above the heads of men who sit before him, waiting, and down from the tray come the plates he
allots, handled deftly, one-by-one, with seamless, dextrous flourish.
The waiter sets the last plate down. The men before him eat, or set themselves to eat, orienting plates, situating napkins, and the waiter is of service then, and one of the men, having smelled of his food, turns to him and says to him or is it that he asks of him something obscured by the distance, something that’s lost to the room. The waiter considers (or acts out the role of one who considers). He glances up and through the room and over towards the window. (Peter doesn’t move.) The waiter replies to the man, choosing something short to say, something that’s submissive maybe. He glances up again. (Peter doesn’t move. He’s in the waiter’s line of sight.) The man to whom the waiter speaks says something to the waiter now, but the waiter doesn’t seem to hear. He’s looking up. His face has changed. There is now no trace of submissiveness there. He abandons them now, the men at the table (and, though maybe miffed, they return to their meals), and he crosses the room…and he grows as he does…and as he grows, the bedrock quivers. The very foundation begins to give way.
Andrew Dyer lives and works in Minneapolis.