The Kindness of Strangers
He was already at the bookstore’s café, trying to imagine something to write about when he saw them walk in. She was holding his hand like any young girl might hold her father’s hand, though it was obvious that she was the mother and he the son, clearly in his forties or maybe early fifties. They chose a table adjacent to his own, and the son helped her off with her coat, pulled out her chair, and settled her in, rearranging the napkins and the sugar dispenser so that the table was clear before her.
“Oh, this is nice,” she said. “Have we been here before?”
“I come here sometimes, but I don’t think I ever brought you. I’ll get you some tea,” he said. “Would you like a muffin? Or how about a scone?”
“Yes, please,” she said, smiling up at him, not recognizing that a choice had been offered.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, adding in as playful a tone as he could muster, “Now don’t you wander off on me again.”
“I won’t,” she said. “I’ll be right here when you come back for me.”
She looked over at the adjacent table.
“Is that a television?” she asked.
“No. It’s a little laptop.” he said. He turned it around so she could see the keyboard. “Is it okay if I write about you?”
“Is it getting dark yet?”
“No, Ma’am. It’s Saturday morning”
“I’m waiting for my tea, I think.”
The son returned to the table with two small dishes and both a blueberry muffin and a scone on a single serving plate. She seemed baffled as to what should happen next. He started to sit down across from her, but had a second thought and pulled out the chair next to her. He broke both treats in half, placing them on her plate. She looked at him lovingly, looked down at the food, and sat still with her hands in her lap. Half a minute later the barista brought a pot of tea. He poured. She only stared.
“Go ahead, Ma,” he said.
She reached for the spoon and stirred the tea. He put some sugar in it and she stirred it again. He broke off a piece of the muffin with his fork and fed it to her. She smiled as if it were chocolate melting in her mouth.
“Don’t forget to chew,” he said, adding, “remember last time.”
She put her hand on the teacup, but did not raise it to her lips.
“It’s okay. It’s cool enough now.”
“I said it’s cool enough now. You can have a sip.”
“A sip?” she asked.
“The tea, Ma.” He lifted her cup and handed it to her. She sipped. She sighed and smiled, placing it down on the table beside its saucer.
She reached over and broke off a corner of the half-scone, looking at it quizzically.
“Is this the french fries?” she asked.
“No, Ma. It’s a scone. You love them. Taste it.”
She raised it, touched it to her lips, then lowered it and dropped it into her tea. He pulled the cup over in front of him, sliding his own to where hers had been.
“Is your wife coming to join us’” she asked.
No, Ma. I’m not married anymore. You remember?”
“Is she dead?”
“No, Ma. She’s just gone. She got married again.”
“So she’s still alive, then?”
“Yes, Ma. She’s just married to someone else.”
She looked toward her tea.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Have a sip.”
“The tea. Have a sip of tea.”
She looked at the muffin, then at the scone. She put her hands in her lap.
“I remember your wedding,” she said, smiling.
“Oh yes,” she said. The movie was clearly running somewhere deep inside her. “It was hotter than hell. There were lots of flowers. They were lovely. It was in Hartford. Everyone was there. She had one of those umbrella things she carried down the aisle with her. What do you call them, again?”
“Yeah. A parasol. She had a parasol, right?”
“No, Ma. That was your wedding.”
“Yes, Ma. That was your wedding. Remember?”
“It was a long time ago,” she said. “But I’m still in love with you, even after all these years.”
“I love you, too, Ma.”
“Do you think we should go now?” she asked.
“It’s up to you,” he said. “Whatever you want.”
“Oh, let’s stay a while. This is my favorite place. Everyone’s always so nice.”
Ron. Lavalette lives in Vermont, land of the fur-bearing laketrout, and has been widely published, both in print and online. A reasonable sample of his published work can be found at EGGS OVER TOKYO: http://eggsovertokyo.blogspot.com.
Ron. was also published in the very first issue of *82 Review.