Mid-thirties I’d say. First thought was married, only there’s no ring on his finger. His lips, pursed. Eyes scanning the menu. All an act of course, he knows the ins and outs of the thing. Probably too much. You know it’s mostly ready meals, but keep it quiet mate. He’s here every week yet he doesn’t want to look too much of a regular.
“Can I take your order, Sir?” I say. I approach him with the same tone as everyone else. Just because he’s our most regular customer, doesn’t mean we’re on a friendship level. Don’t want him getting too comfy, he’ll think he’s entitled to a discount.
“The usual will do, thank you.”
I only know you from the colour of your tie, mate, not if you’re bangers and mash or fish and chips.
Was today a fish and chips day or chicken Caesar salad? Third night this week at the place, they must recognise me by now. I haven’t had my five a day, so maybe a roast would be the best option. Watching the waist-line and all.
The waitress probably knows my back story, sometimes I fear people can mind-read, the amount they stare. It’s always the same sequence. My shirt and tie, followed by my lacking company, and then the absence of jewellery on my finger. Sat alone at the table. And I always said people judging didn’t bother me.
It’s always the same table, by the window. I like to think I’m hidden, out of eye view. Pint in arm’s reach. Furrowed brows, to add to the growing collection of creases across my forehead.
It’s the same waitress. She’s young enough to be my daughter I’d say, but I can admit she’s gorgeous if I don’t voice it, right? She’s trying to hide her evident discomfort, avoiding my eyes. If she’s going to be like that, I’ll address at her pencil skirt instead.
“Can I take your order, Sir?”
The way they looked at each other was like an awkward family reunion. Another day at the office, another evening at the pub. It was routine for Paul. All since Sal walked out the door nine months ago. He’d said he’d learn to cook, said he’d put the Jamie Oliver 10 Minute Meals to good use. Only it was gathering dust on the shelf. Just as their wedding photo was. Turned over on the mantelpiece.
Annie was on the late shift. Minimum wage, with maximum effort needed to force a smile at the drunken men disguising the looks up her skirt. Paul and Annie’s interactions were becoming a level of understanding with one another, without having to say a word. Separate routines, different reasons but same location. Loneliness.
“The usual will do, thank you.” Paul said, when asked for his order. What Paul didn’t recognise was he was one of many that came in on a regular basis. Just another office wanker, divorced and lacking any culinary skills.
Annie had to hide her confusion. She scribbled a child-like scrawl across the page, disguising her poor memory with professional waitress mannerism. Hoping the chef would recognise her description of the one of many ‘usual’ customers, she forced a smile and scurried to the back.
She’d said she’d give the job up for months now, but even she wasn’t convinced anymore. It’d been a long day. Maybe she’d be the next local in the corner. Maybe she needed a pint herself.