By Haley Slovin © 2003
Ingrid was always ten minutes early. She was scheduled to meet him exactly at Noon. She waited in front of the diner until 12:15 before she took a deep breath and went inside. When she sat down at a booth, she asked the waitress to bring two menus. The busboy brought over two ice waters and she sat in silence with her eyes fixated on the diner’s entrance. Anxiety filled her body while she waited to see him and that was testing her patience. Every time the door opened, the butterflies bounced around her stomach and she’d squint her eyes in desperate hopes that it was him.
After waiting five more minutes Ingrid finally opened up her menu. She knew exactly what she wanted to eat. Her favorite meal at the diner was a grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes and avocadoes, potato salad, and a diet coke with two lemon slices. She ordered that three times a week, sometimes she substituted fries for the potato salad.
He was always late and never had the common courtesy to call her to explain himself. She didn’t mind because she knew he was busy. Any amount of time she could spend with him was more than she could ever hoped for. She silently sat and every few minutes would gesture to the waitress that she was still waiting for her guest to arrive. She glanced at the menu like it was a brand new book. She’d read it so many times before that she practically had it memorized. He was late a lot and Ingrid did that to pass the time. One day she memorized all the appetizers; Mozzarella Sticks, Cheese Fries, Garlic Toast, Chicken Fingers, Extreme Nachos, Onion Rings, and Buffalo Chicken Wings. That was simple. The next time she memorized the Sandwich and Soup section, then the Entrees, and eventually she learned all the Desserts. Ingrid spent a lot of time looking at the menu.
She sat for almost forty minutes before she reluctantly placed her usual lunch order. The waitress tried to pick up the menus but she refused to let her take his.
“He’ll want to look at it as soon as he gets here,” she said.
She continued to sit in silence as she leisurely ate her grilled cheese. She took four times longer than it normally would take for a twenty-two year old to eat a sandwich. She was trying to spread out her time and her sandwich got cold. When she finished all the food on her plate, she ordered a slice of lemon pie and a cup of tea. She stretched out her eating time once again. When she was ready to leave the diner, it was almost two o’clock and she’d been there for almost two hours. She walked over to the cashier to pay and leaned in to give him a message.
“If he shows up, can you tell him I waited for a while?”
Ingrid exited the diner and stood outside for ten more minutes before taking another deep breath. She walked to the corner and hailed a taxicab.
A man in a UPS uniform sat at the counter in the diner while Ingrid ate her pie. When he paid, he asked the cashier a question.
“Hey, I’ve been coming in here for a couple of years and I keep seeing that lady over there in the corner.”
He pointed to the empty booth where Ingrid spent the last two hours memorizing the menu, watching the front door, and slowly eating a cold grilled cheese sandwich.
“What’s her story?”
The cashier shrugged his shoulders and with a sorrowful look answered, “I don’t know. We think she’s a little crazy. At least four times a week for the last couple years she shows up by herself. She stands outside for a ten minutes before she sits down at the same booth. She always asks for two menus and two ice waters, but not once have I ever seen anyone come meet her. It’s very sad. I always wanted to say something, but it’s none of my business. She’d been waiting for someone to come by for a long time. I figured it’s better to let her have hope then to let her think that she’s really alone.”
Haley Slovin is a writer and actress living in New York City. She's originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico.