Miss Havisham eats out.
| I ran into Miss Havisham in the Windsor Queen Diner the other night. She was sitting in the second booth by the window. Cobwebs were draped from the post that held her coat to the menu that was flat on the table. More tendrils covered another menu on the other side of the table. I assumed that Pip was with her, but he was nowhere to be seen. Her face held a look of exasperation.
"Gosh, Miss Havisham, I haven't seen you in years, not since your wedding day."
I don't think she meant the term as it is thrown around today, as a way of saying "No way!" but I could be wrong. I wasn't trying to be mean; I was only putting our last meeting in perspective. Leave it to me to put my foot in my mouth.
"If you want to help me, Doofus, see if you can get that old man behind the cash register to send a waitress over here to take our order. He was doing menus when we came in, and he isn't finished yet. We've been sitting here since February. The snow was on the ground when we came in; the trees are now green."
I looked around to see what she meant. Seated behind a glass case that contained cheap five-packs of cigars and held a cash register on top, was a wiry, older man with short gray hair. He would take a menu from one pile, mark prices with a black felt pen, and place the revised document in a second pile. "Hate to bother him, he’s got a hard job, but here goes."
I strode to the register. "My friend in the second booth would like some service; she's getting a bit hungry."
"They wanted to be seated in the non-smoking area."
I looked around. A waitress was coming from the kitchen with a glass of ice tea in her hand. She headed for the other end of the restaurant, where I could see a crowd of twenty-somethings sitting in booths. A veil of smoke blurred their faces and bodies. I observed the prominent backside of the waitress disappear behind the veil. I turned back to the major-domo.
"You mean there’s no service in the non-smoking area?"
"I didn't say that. I said they wanted to be seated there."
"Oh, thank you."
I walked back to Miss Havisham and sat down in the unoccupied side of the booth. Some of the cobwebs were dislodged when I opened the menu. It was six pages; I thumbed through it and then asked my companion, "What are you going to have? Anything look good?"
"Are you kidding?"
"Where's Pip? Did he come with you?"
"He was here; I think he left about four weeks ago to use the bathroom, or maybe he was listening to the Commandante behind the register."
"When he seated us, he asked if we wanted menus. Wise-guy Pip responded, 'No, we had them last week. They needed seasoning; they’re too bland.' Old man said Pip should join his compatriots at the other end of the room. Maybe he's back there now; I am not about to turn my head around. To hell with him."
"So you are just going to sit here until someone waits on you?"
"No, I was waiting for the right man to come along. You'll do nicely, Maggwitch."
"Maggwitch is behind the counter. I'm Joe, a widower now, you know?"
"Didn't know that."
"That's right, how could you? How's life treating you, Miss Havisham? How's Estelle doing?"
"How should I know? She's off at college on the West Coast? Never calls. Wants me to sign up for the Internet so she can email me. She doesn't know I'm online already. If I give her my address, she'll email me pleas to send money."
"Kids! They grow up. Look, the smoke back there lifted a little. I think I see Pip now; he's telling another joke, I can tell. I can still remember that first time I brought him to that big old house of yours."
"It burned down."
"Don't tell me to shut up."
"Sorry, I meant it in the modern way of speaking. I can't reach you or I would hit your arm. They say I am supposed to do that to make it official."
She smiled at me. "That's okay; I get a bit touchy, living in a two bedroom place in a development for ‘we’ adults and looking at walls all day. Miss the old place."
"Pip live there? He never calls me anymore, so I don't know."
"He has his own place. I'm working for him part time to make ends meet. We were coming from work and were hungry, so we stopped here."
She looked me in the eye. "Joe, I'm starving. Let's get out of here. We'll pick up a cup of tea and a snack at the Quick Stop and go to my house. We've got a lot to talk over."
I stood and took her heavy coat off the hook. "I don't think you'll need this tonight; it's almost warm out." She put it over her arm and we walked to the door. I turned to her and said, "We should say good bye to Pip."
"Hell, no. I caught a glimpse of him. He's eating; he got served."
As we pushed the door open, we wished the man marking up the menus a pleasant evening. He bade us the same. At the bottom of the steps to the place, a young couple was entering. We could overhear them hoping the funny comedian was still on the premises.
I opened the passenger-side door of my car. She sat, struggled with the seat belt, but managed to buckle it. I drove a mile where I ran into the Quick Stop, fixed her tea with milk, picked up a bag of oatmeal cookies, paid the cashier and went back to the car. She put the tea in the cup holder, opened the cookies and took one out for each of us. I ate as I drove, negotiating the traffic circles with one hand on the wheel. With the Pine Barrens surrounding us, country music quietly playing from the radio, we sped along at sixty miles an hour toward our rendezvous with destiny.
Valatie May 5, 2003