Fumbling with keys in the parking lot

Photo by Abdel Rahman Abu Baker on Pexels.com

The restaurant had been in full swing for almost half a year. The family friendly environment and cuisine sophistication had ushered in a variety of parties. Families of six, two high chairs and plenty of spills kept the staff busy. Couples, whether on their first night out or seasoned lovers stopped by for a relaxing and romantic evening. The menu even suggested that just about anyone from the broke college student scarfing down the chicken fried steak lunch special to the classy businessman dining on the 12 ounce Rib-eye, kept company by only his evening alcohol and paperwork. The manager, knowing lunches might slow down during the week implemented a senior’s special lunch menu. Catering to the elderly proved to be profitable as a well-known clientele visited on a regular basis. Now a couple of blue haired ladies walked in through the door, greeted by the young hostess. She couldn’t have been more than 18, but she displayed confidence in her job and had the couple seated down in their preferred booth by the window.

Once seated, the aged gentleman got up from his seat and hobbled over to the bathroom. He smiled as he past the hostess and waved hello. As he rounded the corner, a waiter, buzzing with haste, nearly crashed into the light-framed great-grandfather of seven.

“Oh, excuse me,” blushed the man. “I’m in your way.” He really wasn’t in the spiky haired kid’s way, but moving one foot in front of the other in such a precarious way caused him to linger in one spot for a substantial amount of time. The kid grunted and rocketed past him.

“Dammit, move your slow ass!” mumbled the kid way out of earshot of the gentlemen, now tugging at the restroom door. The kid knew how to complain about his customers and still make decent tips. He just talked about them behind their backs and smiled at the tables. Various ages all walked through the door, but the elderly couple, now in their 80’s, were the only ones who asked if the restaurant could turn the air conditioner down.

“You want it colder?” barked the kid. Well, it was more like a yap, however still resembled the tone you use when you’re in a hurry and not in the mood to deal with this kind of treatment.

“Old people!” He began to mock the strained voice of the lady, “ Could you turn down the air please!’ I’ll turn down the air; I’ll turn off her oxygen. Damn, I hate old people!” Snarling, he prepared the ice water with “extra lemons please” and grabbed a handful of lemons, placing them in a bowl, he stormed off back to the table—smiling, he knew how to make tips. No sooner that he tossed down the drinks, the gentleman arrived back at the table, asking if he could order a hot soup for the two of them. It took the old man about a minute and a half to get the words out. It was long enough for the kid to nod his head over dramatically as if to say…

“I get it, you want one of our two choices of soup.” he began to walk away.

…and could you bring us some napkins, please, said the man behind wrinkling eyes and a smile revealing his missing teeth. As the kid stormed off, the couple began to stare across from each other. It had been 67 years since they met, right here in this restaurant. Before it was Big Louie’s, it was The Mexican Garden and she worked weekends as a waitress. He came out with his buddies after a day at the fair and they all sat in her section. He memorized her shift, but convinced himself that he wasn’t stalking her, he just wanted to meet her in an “evasive way. You know, girls are weirded-out by guys who confront them on the spot. You gotta be smooth and act like it was fate that brought you together.” His words were interrupted by howls of laughter. “Fate, sure!” his buddies roared, “You like her man, fate or no, you can’t keep your eyes away from her.” He smiled, showing all white teeth intact and present and leaned against the table, taking it all in. This table wobbled from time to time, the restaurant wasn’t one of the classiest, mostly just served good food to the community; they were famous for their fajita plates, sizzling and tempting everyone with the smell from the grill. These characters, however, were cheap. They ordered an appetizer and kept the waitress busy bringing out complimentary chips and salsa. She arrived with a hot bowl of chips and two bowls of thick, chunky salsa. All the guys made a big deal about her coming around to their table, but one just smiled with his arms folded, leaning on the table, seated himself opposite of her, all good. She encouraged him by continuously approaching the table opposite him and laughing at all the jokes until she looked at him and then she just smiled, looked down at the table, and looked up at him to see if his gaze was still fixed on her. Yep, he’s a keeper” she mused.

“Keep .the change, young fellow, you look like you’re working hard.” His hand shook as he handed the brisk young waiter a crisp dollar bill. After an hour and a half of staring at each other, the elderly couple sauntered over to the door, past the register and waved goodbye to the young hostess. She waved back and smiled thinking the lady reminded her of her gone but not forgotten aunt and how she used to make lemonade for the kids after school. Jeremy bolted to the register and woke Sherry up from her day-dreaming.

“Did they leave me anything else up here?” Before she could answer ‘no’, he went on with his tirade, “they sat there for two hours, wasting my time with their damn cups of  “fresh coffee please”, mocking the shrill voice of the lady, “all day long, I have to put up with old people.”

Sherry smiled nervously; seeing Jeremy whine about his customers was funny because he imitated them well. She’ll admit that old people were sometimes a little slow, but she wasn’t upset by them nearly as much as Jeremy was now. Now that she thought about it, Jeremy was always this upset.

            “Why do you hate old peop—um, the elderly?” she asked, correcting herself.

            His answer was brash and preceded with no thought, “Cause they’re slow. They take their time and they need to be in a nursing home.”

            She laughed indignantly, “You don’t deserve them!”

            “Yeah, well, I don’t have to, they leave me a dollar, what the hell am I supposed to do with this, pay my bills?”

            “Well,” she said slowly, “you can give it to me, then.”

            “Hell, no,” he said, and walked away.

 The couple had been outside for a while. The elderly gentleman looked around the parking lot, fumbling his keys in his hands. “I know I parked it here somewhere,” he mumbled quietly. She called from the curb, “Donald, do you think we parked out back?” She hollered loud enough, but his hearing had been gone for a while. She knew he didn’t have to listen anymore; she remained content to listen to him and have him stare and blink at her across the dinner table, but she called out anyway, mostly because she was afraid of the silence. She knew nothing was going on in his head, however, his memory had really gone downhill the last few years. It wasn’t the first time she waited by the curb, cold, tired of standing, looking on as her proud man stood baffled in the parking lot, pretending to fumble with his keys. Donald began to sweat. He had been forgetting more often and it bugged him not to know why, but he would just forget. No occasion, no correlation, just a plain old fashioned memory lapse-he hoped. He had heard plenty about Alzheimer’s, affecting mostly folks over 80, 4.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Warnings flooded his mind as he recalled the T.V. shows he watched in horror as the white-haired men slowly lost their minds and couldn’t even remember their own names, to the dismay of the heartbroken family. He remember hearing the warnings from magazines and talk shows about how to prevent memory loss, although no one is completely immune to losing memory, it just happens. He wiped his bald head with his handkerchief and began to mutter out loud, mixing curses and prayers together, frozen on the parking lot where no one could help him, he’s lost his memory, and his wife is standing on the curb.

“The curb!” He drove around back where the wheelchair ramp allowed for avoiding the curb step. Her walk was getting weaker, but they had managed to spend time on the town, especially here at this restaurant, because they had a nice wheelchair ramp which they could both walk up with ease. He turned around with a boyish grin and hollered, “Margie, I parked the car next to the wheelchair ramp, if that doesn’t beat all, I thought I was losing it there for a second.”

“Oh dear, I’m so silly, I should have thought of that,” she echoed in apology.

“No, it’s my fault” he replied, “for a second there, I forgot that I parked over there, yes, there it is right there,” he breathed those last words out a little slower as his heart rate dropped back down to normal. He didn’t know how he remembered, or how he forgot for that matter, but he made a promise to himself that for Margie’s sake, he would help himself to remember from now on, even if it meant tying strings around his finger looking like a crackpot professor, he wouldn’t forget again.

 As they drove home, she remembered how it was when they were dating. He continually stopped by her parent’s house. He always wanted to take care of her and reminded her of her father, and the way he cared for the family. They had five children together, although one of them died in a miscarriage. They heard plenty of ideas of why the child didn’t make it, but were never given a definite reason. One thing was for sure: she received every bit of emotional support that he could give. He cared for her during that hard time. He was always a sensitive man. His mother was ill most of her life, he grew up learning to care of folks. Maybe that’s why she married him. She looked over at his skinny frame, once built tough and hard: he worked a lot. His eyes were fixed on the road, “just like him”, she thought, “always focused, always keeping his eyes on the road.” She loved his curly black hair. He was mostly bald now except for the the hair around this temples. She had lost her hair too, but it grew back. On her sixty-second birthday, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The treatment had been rough on her body, but she had the support of her children. Most of the help, however, came from her husband. He seemed to thrive in crisis. He told her, “Baby, it’s okay to be emotional all you want, I’ll take care of you.” And he had, and remained her friend. She patted her soft, wool hair as they pulled in the driveway. She had a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. It seems all of their outings nowadays related to their declining health. They both walked up the dusty driveway and onto the front porch where their cat, stretched it’s lithe body along the welcome mat, looking up as if to say, “What took you so long?”

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