Lily Kaplan

Shared Solitude

The soda jerk reaches under the polished wood countertop while staring at the empty street beyond the diner’s window. Without lowering his gaze, his hand comes to rest instinctively atop a stack of cold, clean dishes. The strong smell of dark coffee brewing brings him comfort but reminds him that he wants to be elsewhere, at home with his family. Despite so few people eating during his shift, he takes great pride in his work. He tries to make his customers feel at ease, providing an oasis from the barren landscape on the other side of the window. His uniform is bleached white to the point that it gleams under the harsh fluorescent lighting. The collars and cuffs of his jacket have been pressed stiff with starch, his cap placed meticulously atop his balding head. Within an arm’s reach of the people around him, he is isolated by the unbroken boundary of the counter.

Outside in the unforgiving darkness a sole street lamp casts a long shadow on the lonely sidewalk below. Though momentarily distracted by the desolate view, his attention quickly returns to the few customers inside. He hopes they linger, knowing their company is better than none at all.

***

The hot coffee provides welcome relief from the chill that overwhelms her body. I should have known this outfit was a mistake she thinks to herself, failing to remember why she wanted to get dressed up in the first place. The red satin dress which had earlier made her feel so glamorous now feels uncomfortable and somehow inappropriate. It wasn’t as if she was going out on the town or would find herself in a large crowd. She becomes suddenly aware that the seams of the fabric feel itchy and rough against her pale skin. The zipper that closed effortlessly now constricts her breathing, forcing her into a stiff, upright position.  Shifting self-consciously atop a swiveling stool at the counter, she finds her bare legs are beginning to stick to the red vinyl covers. It’s silly to worry about my appearance she realizes. People rarely see me in the light anymore.

Cheating on her husband weighs constantly on her mind. The excitement and pleasure she used to feel has since faded to a relentless kind of vertigo. Previously carefree and unashamed she now takes every measure possible to hide evidence of this relationship. Ironically, her attachment to two men has left her more detached than ever. Staring intently at the chipped polish on her fingernail while making small talk in vain, she remains alone with her thoughts.

 ***

He grasps her hand in an awkward embrace, a rare attempt to express his affection in public. His finger brushes gently across the hard, faceted stone of her wedding ring but he chooses to ignore it. He wishes she could forget about her marriage, if even only temporarily, and leave behind the neurosis and anxiety which consume her. Unless she did, the relationship would always remain purely physical and their separate lives would never merge. These late night meetings are wearing him down. The lies and deceit are exhausting. Maybe it’s time to give it up, he tells himself; the routine is getting old.

“You have fun tonight?” he asks as he slides the heavy cream across the counter.

***

A detective sits alone at the diner’s counter contemplating his troubled day. He wears his solemn demeanor on his sleeve, his quiet personality perfectly reflecting the private character within. He is aware of the time but cannot bring himself to return to the solitude that fills his vacant home. He finds it difficult to erase the day’s events from his mind, believing that maybe if he sits long enough, it will clear. Perhaps this is simply an excuse to mask the reality of having no one to go home to, a justification for being out so late. He avoids all eye contact and any conversation this would lead to by immersing himself in the menu he has been given. He knows that talking with strangers is no substitute for a friend or companion but he is used to being an outsider, distancing himself from the messy details of other people’s lives.
 
Feigning deep interest in the price of coffee and the overwhelming variety of omelets, he stares silently at the choices he has seen a hundred times before. Wishing to break through his seclusion, he finds himself increasingly interested in the hushed discussion of a well-dressed couple at the adjacent counter. As he sits, a detective’s observant nature takes over and he strains to listen through the clatter emanating from behind the kitchen door. He cannot ignore that they rarely make eye contact, that the man does not wear a wedding ring, and that although they sit together, they both appear utterly alone. Nobody seems to recognize that it has taken him too long to read the menu.





[TABLE OF CONTENTS, LHS CLASS OF 2009 EDITION]


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