“Hey, Richter,” Tiffany shouted into the kitchen, “someone’s here to see you.”
“Oh?” Sara wiped her hands on her apron.
“Yeah, she’s at table three. No one ever sits at table three.” It was furthest from any natural light source. “She’s kind of snooty.”
Sara knew immediately it wasn’t Gina. Even if she deigned to enter a place like Kay’s, she’d never come across to a casual observer as snooty.
Either martyrdom or misfortune had drawn Pauline Goodman to the wobbliest table in the restaurant. Sara steadied it with a subtle but effective quarter turn before joining her.
“Cindy said you were here.” Pauline glanced around in astonishment. “I was going to send you a message, but I saw you’d gotten off Facebook.”
“I was never on.”
“Oh? I don’t blame you. It’s an ordeal. All your college friends are doing better than you and all your high school friends are doing worse. It hits you from both directions. I’d delete the stupid thing, but my mother would just call every day asking for photos of the kids. And then she’d lose them on her computer and I’d have to do tech support over the phone.” She sighed. “There’s no way out for me.”
Pauline tapped her finger against a faded menu, and Sara asked her if she wanted anything — although that would mean leaving the table to cook it.
“I’m fine… well, I’m not hungry,” she said, resisting the offer of hospitality, which was typical for the region (and a source of irritation for natural hostess Gina), but somewhat peculiar for the current setting.
“So… how are you?”
Pauline leaned across table. “How am I? Why, why, I’m…” The rest of her response was loud and profane, startling even the grizzled construction worker eating at the counter. “You can see…” She clutched at the air as if her condition was palpable before falling back in her seat. “You’re not on Facebook, so you might not know, but Walter left me.”
“Cindy mentioned it. I’m sorry.”
“He said I was dull.”
Cindy had also heard this from Margaret but hadn’t shared it with Sara. This meant she believed it, as Cindy avoided repeating unpleasant truths.
“He acted as if he was telling me something I didn’t know. Of course, I’m dull. We were both dull. We agreed to be dull. We made every dull choice together, willingly, until we were drowning in dullness. And now he wants to blissfully break the boredom pact.” Her tongue tripped over the accidental alliteration. “He wants to ‘find his happiness’. What makes him think he should be? Where did he get the idea it was possible?” She struck the table with the flat of her hand, causing it to wobble again. “I never thought he had such an imagination.”
“I don’t think you’re dull,” Sara said, “but I also never expected you to be entertaining.”
“Have you ever seen old photos of yourself and it felt like you were looking at another person?” Pauline asked. “This woman you vaguely remember, who you lost somewhere, like one of those bad parents we read about as kids who let their children wander off at the mall and get snatched by perverts. It’s supposed to be you, but you don’t know what happened to her. I was looking at one earlier today, and it just wrecked me. I felt this wave of guilt, like I’d come across the scene of a crime. Because I’d done this to her. Me. I’m the guilty one. And I don’t even remember when it happened. Was it after Molly was born? Or the twins? I know I was happy in my wedding photo.”
“That can be misleading,” Sara said. “They don’t really let you leave until you smile. I thought I looked fake and forced in mine but everyone said I was ‘glowing.’ But I suppose porch lights glow, and that’s artificial, right?” She placed a hand over Pauline’s. “I’m not as good at metaphor as you are, I think.”
— from The Wrong Questions