We order clam chowders, avocado halves filled with shrimp, sole with crab meat, and scallops sautéed with leeks and tomatoes. Another glass of white wine for me, a third local beer for Timber. Alcohol seems to have little effect no matter how much we drink. And I was never a drinker before.
Before. Back in the days when I was a faithful wife and knew where my kids were at all times. Back when the world was one I could recognize.
“Cheers.” My smile wobbles as we toast one another.
We’re diverted by laughter from the next table. An old woman leans over and kisses her husband’s cheek. She gives us a sunny smile. “I couldn’t help overhearing you order. You picked all our favorite dishes.”
“Oh, Grammy.” The tawny-haired young female who says this and rolls her eyes is improbably beautiful. She has the flawless skin and glossy sheen of someone with her whole life ahead of her. She’s nineteen, twenty maybe, tops, just a few years older than Theresa. She sits across the table from her grandparents next to a friend, who nudges her with a grin.
The young women slurp drinks in globe glasses through straws as they stare at us. I watch, amused beyond words, as they check us out. I can almost hear the category click into place: Our parents’ age group, probably parents themselves. The guy she’s with is cute though – for an old guy.
I’m grateful for the youth at the next table. That’s the thing with a catastrophe: you want your children to carry on, no matter what happens to you. I have a Crosby, Still, Nash and Young album, with a song called ‘Teach Your Children’. Its tender lyrics about how you on the road should teach your children well are suddenly, acutely visionary.
“…Keith James; this is my wife Sue. And this is Cass and her friend Joley. Cass always stays with us in August.”
I come back to the present as the strangers introduce themselves. “Joley and I are starting nursing school and Gram told us, if we want to specialize in geriatrics start with them. Grandpa got his other hip replaced so it’s good we’re here. But I’d come anyways. I love summer in Ocean Beaches.” Their granddaughter in the summer print dress and sandals speaks politely, but she and her friend keep staring.
“I’m Glen, and this is Nicole. Nice to meet you.” Timber’s eager to talk, seeking an antidote to the grim calculations we just heard in the bar. “We had the best afternoon!” he offers. “We went to the beach.”
The two girls burst into laughter and for some reason it sounds familiar. For the first time the granddaughter’s friend speaks. “We were like, jogging, and saw someone who was like, almost bare, fighting a dog for her clothes. And, you,” she turns and looks at Timber and her eyes go glassy in admiration. “You did this amazing series of back flips and took off most of your clothes too! When we saw you come in the restaurant I knew that for sure it had to be you!”
With relish Timber and the girls tell Keith and Sue about the incident. I’m too embarrassed to do anything except nod. At the end of the telling everyone laughs and I join in.
Timber gives the two young women a smile that makes their cheeks flush like a blush wine.
Cass’s grandfather offers, “We’re on a budget, but we go out to dinner once a week no matter what. Thursdays, you’ll find us right here. It’s not just, um, old people’s force of habit. Or maybe it is…”
“Are you from here?”
“We moved here decades ago. We love the coast,” Sue answers. “Our daughter talked us into it. Lynn (Cass’s mom), and her family live in Corvallis. We’re glad to have Cass and Joley with us.”
Keith says, “Lynn’s anxious, but we’re fine. We keep telling her, Ocean Beaches just might be the safest place in the country right now. And if not, then not. Life goes on, and Thursday means dinner at The Sea Shore.”
“How can you be so calm with the world exploding?” It blurts out before I can prevent it. I go red, embarrassed and sorry to have ruined the relaxed conversation. I can’t seem to stop asking my desperate question of everyone we meet today.
I’m saved by the arrival of a waiter. He sets down two plates each of sole and scallops and in spite of myself I laugh.
“Okay, so it is force of habit.…” Keith picks up his silverware and prepares to dig in.
“Truth in advertising!” I tease.
“The scallops? They’re the best,” Joley declares. She widens her eyes and gulps more of her drink.
“By the way,” Keith says. “Your question? This isn’t the first time we were afraid maybe the world was ending.”
© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell