Dennis shifted his feet under the table. From one side of the room to the other, rows of people in suits and dresses, all eating their meals in relative silence, surrounded him. He felt too warm in his blazer. But it was summer, and wasn’t this a winter blazer? Maybe. He was unsure, in that moment, if there were such things.
He thought back to the last time he’d seen her. The old attic apartment she used to have had been painted a dull gray-blue. It looked bright through the skylight, but oppressive and jail-like during the night. Then the skylights looked out to gray clouds touched at the edges by moonlight. He didn’t remember most of the words, exactly. He remembered the crink in his neck as they sat on the floor like kids. He remembered the checkered pajamas she had been wearing. Red flannel was forever the pattern of guilt after that.
Whatever came around the corner now, after all this time, would certainly not be wearing checkered pajamas. At 37, he marveled at the 15 years that had passed. When she arrived, would it seem like a gulf, an impossible chasm? Or a crack in a sidewalk, meaningless, to step right over. Of course, those could also break your mother’s back.
Checking his phone, it was 9:01—officially a minute late. Now time slowed, and each time the door to the outside opened, he tensed, watching for her to step in. But this time it looked like a man’s shoe. But was it? He watched until the rest of the man walked in just to be sure. Maybe that’s how she would arrive—in business battle gear, not the flowing dresses he remembered from hot summers walking around downtown, with the sun beating down oppressively, and their clammy hands not letting go.
He wished his own clothes fit better. After all this time, still not being able to dress himself hadn’t felt like a failure until right now. He couldn’t decide to shave or not—rugged or disheveled, clean shaven or prepubescent? And did the tie go with the outfit? He didn’t know. He never knew. All this time, and he still didn’t know.
The phone vibrated, and the time (9:05) was replaced by a new message. He opened it, and it simply read “got stuck at work. Raincheck?”
He put the phone down slowly, without answering. The door opened again, and this time a couple walked in, arm-in-arm. The waiter, who he’d already shoved off twice, passed the couple and was headed right for Dennis. Because of his tall, lean body, full head of hair, strutting with a form-fitting button down, Dennis felt intimidated by the waiter now. He tried to think of what he was going to say.
Looking down at his tie, he decided all this was for the best. The tie didn’t really match. He was glad to finally realize that. He reached for the phone to respond.