table for two


table and two chairs by richard artschwagerWhen I was totally underaged —

And lying like crazy about that to get and keep jobs I worked in this hotel restaurant. It was not upscale. It was not downscale. Kind of middle scale — not the breakfast place, not the tux place, just the in-between place. Which was good for me. People ask less questions in in-between places. But it had table cloths. And pretty china. And served wine. And every Thursday night this lady came in.

She was older. Much older. And delicate that way ladies who are very beautiful in their youth sometimes become when decades and decades pass. Like they are not aging exactly, just becoming more and more transparent.

She always wore a lovely dress, carried an elegant handbag, wore not too bright lipstick, and did her hair in perfect gray curls. She probably missed truly pretty shoes. She always asked for a table for two.

Nobody else liked to wait on her. She did not tip much. In her day, a dollar was probably big though. But also I think they thought she was a little creepy. Maybe because she was always alone. Maybe because she always asked for a table for two. Maybe because of the animated conversations she had every Thursday night with her dining companion across the table from her — the empty chair.

I did not mind that. I wondered about whether I was supposed to ask about that other person. I was not sure of the etiquette there. I never did. And she never minded. So we got along.

I think there are worse things in this world than having dinner once a week with someone no one else can see. Whoever it was made her smile. And sometimes laugh. I figure he turned a good compliment and told a good joke. I figure it was maybe better having dinner with him than it would have been having dinner without him.


where the art work comes from :
that is richard artschwager’s table and two chairs

41 Responses to table for two

  1. What a lovely story. Eccentrics and slightly mad people make the world a more interesting place. I’d have gladly served her.

    I hope he saw her home safely…

  2. There is value to dining and dancing with those the rest of the world simply cannot see.

  3. I think there is something hopeful about a table for two. . . . .

    Having company, no matter how factual or tangable, is better than dining alone. . . .

  4. petecrow

    Wow, Max, you are such a fine writer. Lyrical elegance in its purist form.

  5. On my first day as a Funeral Director I had to go to a retirement home- one of those big impersonal places where we store the elderly and as I was walking down the hall this woman walks out of her room and grabs my arm and says, ” I know what you are …don’t be afraid of me, talk to me ”

    What I realized was this- she wasn’t talking to me because the entire time she spoke she was looking over my shoulder .

    I wasn’t wearing black, I wasn’t pushing a gurney and I had only stopped by to drop off paperwork.

    Then this lady looks from over my shoulder into my face a few times and says, ” you’re very kind dear, very kind.”

    And then she goes back into her room.

    I’m not so sure I’d agree that madness makes the world more interesting- but I think the way we see and react to it DOES


  6. I almost wish you’d have asked her about the Phantom Companion for sake of curiosity. But I love that he’s still a mystery more than the need to satisfy curiosity.

    I wish there were a way to have my brain automatically transcribe itself. I’m constantly writing in my head but something about picking the pen up is stopping the flow lately. The words are great as they marquee through my brain but when they fall on to the paper, it’s like a retarded baboon took over the controls.

  7. max

    Thank you, Pete.

    Ms, if I had asked and it had snapped the illusion for her, she might have felt little and crazy and on display. It might not have. But it was her big night out. I did not want to risk spoiling it for her.

    I romanticize things, it might not have been a lover, but I always saw it that way. There was hand touching. Which I guess could have been with a dear relative or friend. But I always thought it was a lover.

  8. Sulya

    “She probably missed truly pretty shoes.” This line took me here:

    I was once at a bus stop in an oversized shirt and wide-leg pants with suede thick-soled Simples (in truth I looked like hell and heartbreak and the day was grey to make things worse) and this woman who was, I would wager, in her late seventies, came running across the street in three inch black patent spikes with matching black patent clutch, a black and white herring bone suit, her neck covered by a jaunty yellow scarf.

    Her hair was silver blonde and straight, curled neatly under at chin height all the way around. You could tell her make-up was the way she’d always made her face but it didn’t suit her face any more. The lip stick was too bright, the rouge too plentiful, the eye-shadow too blue. It lost itself in the cracks of her lips and eyes and betrayed her age but she ran with vigour in those heels. Clack clack clack through traffic – jay-walking to the bus stop.

    It turned out she had moved into an apartment right after I had left it, that she too found the landlord a creepy, mail-stealing, heavy-breather. She wound up asking me to have a coffee before she went to see a matinee play performance by herself and I said yes out of curiosity and friendliness and a sense of being a bit adrift that day, in need of an anchor, a new voice.

    She worked hard to get out as often as possible and to dance and to meet men still. She relished the fact that she didn’t need a walker or a cane like other women her age and while we sat she remarked in a playful but serious way about how she was secretly sure that all “you young women” would much rather be wearing heels, just totally sure that if it weren’t for a rebellion against a past we didn’t really understand we would all be wearing heels…

    I’m hopin’ she lived to see Sex and the City.

    Anyway, I’ve been on “holiday” with family and friends which basically means I’m sick of people, I haven’t been able to use a computer or have any time to write and that I really just want to go home but it was so nice to find a second and check in with this lovely max place and catch up… I love this story max – and the one about the river too…

  9. max

    It is good to see you Sulya welcome back.

  10. Sulya

    Thanks. Sorry the post is such a tome. I’ve been a bit word-starved and yours was the first place I went and good writing makes me want to write so… You know… whoosh…

    Lovin’ the prayer from a few days back and the Bukowski poem though he can sometimes be the fingernails on my blackboard – always stimulating but not always welcome if you know what I mean?

    Sorry you’ve been feeling like there’s no botom to the stack of work… Hope today is better.

  11. max

    It is going to get worse before it gets better, but it will ease up in about… four weeks.


    The only problem is when I try to do anything social. And whammo, the work gets surly and slams me around. If only I did not require those social moments to stay sane…and happy.

  12. Sulya

    If you did not REQUIRE those social moments to stay sane, and happy, then I suspect you would be neither sane nor happy. Mammals seem to need to touch base with other mammals.

    The balance thing is always hard, though. The restorative with the draining. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I know what you mean, too, about how things are always crazier right before they are finished. I have a theory about that involving the Periodic Table and the Halogen family…

    In any case, at present I have a surfeit of social moments and if I could send some of them to you at your desk in, you know, liquid or tablet form so that you could feel a bit more rested and work at the same time I would happily do so [smile].

  13. Eddie

    I once worked in a warehouse with a man named Fred. He had a touch of OCD, and talked to himself a lot, but he was kind and a very good worker. I found out later that he was actually talking to Slim, his imaginary(to me)friend.

    After a few confusing confrontations, I got it straight in MY head that Slim was always positioned to Fred’s left. Once I stopped trampling on Slim or disrepecting Slim’s personal space, Fred and I got along much better.

    I always liked Fred. And Slim, though he was kind of a quiet dude.

  14. max

    I love that story.

  15. Sulya

    When I’m writing (creatively) I rarely feel lonely or in need of people because my head is full of characters doing their thing. But when I surface and the characters fade I can feel quite needful of the real thing, real people.

    I’ve been thinking that the blessing (and curse if people are not as kind and open as max and Eddie) of the “dinner companion” and “Slim” is that you get to take them with you wherever you go, they are not contingent on a creative flow or inspiration, they are just there for you.

    Of course, I have thus far never had the experience of a friend only I can see and I suspect that the not nice people probably outweigh the nice in terms of reactions to the phenomenon so I guess it isn’t wise to romanticize too much.

    I guess it just feels like the idea of needing “social moments” mentioned earlier is linked to these “imaginary” companions – that human contact is a powerful enough part of the human condition that we will make people up if we have to.

    I guess I’ve also read enough sci-fi to never be sure that I’m the one whose seeing “true” but that’s a whole other thing.

  16. Now she can wear a Bluetooth in her ear and pretend she is talking to someone.

    Lovely story, by the way. I like the way you described her.

  17. Hey, maybe she was having dinner with Snufalufagus.

  18. max

    Really these days walking down the sidewalk it is hard to tell often whether someone coming towards you is yelling into some communication device or ranting to invisible people.

  19. This is one of the most interesting posts (and comment thread) I have seen in months.
    Magical writing, I love it when you do this.

    I would have fought over serving this lady.

  20. Max, you made me happy knowing that Dorothy Parker has someone to carry on. Check out A Telephone Call among many others.

  21. I’m with cinemagypsy.

    On all points.

  22. max

    Rain thank you that is high praise. I wish she had been more lucky in love.

  23. Sulya

    I just recently found this item online written by Dorothy Parker’s most devoted biographer (can’t remember the name) about how Dorothy Parker’s cremated remains wound up in her publisher’s filing cabinet and then on a shelf for many many years before they were finally buried.

    The biographer told the publisher that he was going to go visit Dorothy Parker’s remains and the publisher said something like, “Yeah, um, no. She’s kind of in my office.”

    I can’t help thinking that Dorothy Parker would have loved that moment.

    And, Raincoaster, I just love that you singled out A Telephone Call – it’s one of my favourite stories of hers and in my daily life so few people have even heard of it… Such a wonderful, familiar, painful monologue… I also see what you see in terms of the comparison to max. Tart, insightful, crisp, soft…

    Don’t worry max, you can take the kudos without assuming the bad romantic karma [smile]

  24. max

    One of my favorite Dorothy Parker stories is this piece she wrote about sitting on a chair at a party really needing to get up and cross the room but one of her garters has broken and she cannot stand up without her stocking falling down. It is in a book here somewhere. I love her so that is the greatest compliment for me.

  25. Sulya

    When I first found her I was into the poetry, came to the stories a bit later and don’t remember this one with the garter. Feel like I would remember it if I’d read it. Will check my “Dorothy Parker” book when I get home.

    Her poem entitled “Men” was long ago memorized and I draw it out fairly often, even if only to recite it to myself sometimes. I love that she was still using rhyme and metre when people were moving to free verse.

    I love that she excavated the painfully personal but in such a way that you don’t feel like a voyeur when you read it – like you’re prying. She was always watching herself a little so you can just kind of stand next to her and observe while she points things out and laughs with you, cries with you. Pretty amazing.

  26. max

    I have not read much of her poetry. Her essays I have read a lot of.

  27. Max, as soon as this other work has cleared out, you have to promise that you are writing that book. Because you are going to completely break my heart if you do not.

  28. max

    You and Elmer, always with write a book. [smile] I cannot promise it. I will think hard on it. Will that do?

  29. I will take what I can get.

  30. But don’t think I won’t keep asking. I am tenacious that way. (Okay, some people might call it annoying, but I’m going with ‘tenacious’.)

  31. max

    Aw, you. Maybe it is time. It is hard for me going into something that was so meticulously put together for the screen and shattering that after I worked so hard to create it. I was always going to turn My Back Yard into a stage play, but every time I started to do it, it freaking killed me breaking apart that design, and then I would put it aside and tell myself another day. Probably the same impulse would be there with Rose. Watching those pieces shatter to change it all again to something else.

  32. max

    Tenacious works for me, funny girl.

  33. max

    You know technically the original plan was to write books, before a boyfriend talked me into a screenwriting classroom and history shifted.

  34. It *is* hard to do just that, and I can empathize because Bobbie Faye was a script first. I found allowing myself the freedom to get into the interiority of the four POV characters really difficult, making them sound different internally, finding that… voice… for the book that worked better for the story than the voice for the script. It was damaging at first. If you had seen the first attempt, which I showed to a novelist friend of mine who loved me enough to say, “no, right now, this sucks and you’re not freeing yourself up enough.” And then pointed out where and why.

    And then it clicked, and it worked, and it was the best thing I did for myself, because the beauty of writing a novel is that editors tread very carefully when giving notes, and they are, for the most part, incredibly respectful of the writer’s voice. They wanted to change one word, once, because of how it fell on the front page and for various reasons, made that page look odd at the bottom and they were actually worried about asking me to change it.

    I didn’t know you’d gone almost the same path–prose then screenwriting. I did that–started with prose, switched to screenwriting because I was lured. My lure, though, was that at my college, they didn’t want to talk about doing anything commercial prose-wise (that meant I was selling out and was a hack)… unless I took screenwriting, where the professor actually encouraged us to think in commercial (i.e. story-telling) terms.

    Sorry, long post. I think, ultimately, you’d enjoy the freedom. You’ve got the advantage to already writing beautiful prose. ;)

  35. max

    All my short stories just about ever written [yeah, like all three of them, wry smile] are in first person narrative because it was such a release to take off the script straight jacket and just let a character talk. They were all escapes from “script.” What kills me is taking down the structure. You build this gossamer castle script all little glass cards stacked just right so they catch the light and all link up — and change mediums? Wham, you have to tear all that down and it kills me to do it. It is like hitting a model you spent all this time on with a sledge hammer. [wry smile]

    I am so looking forward to seeing Bobby Faye in action on the page again. Yay!

  36. Thank you, Max. Her big day is Tuesday and I am both scared and… relieved. I got the author’s copies yesterday and true to Bobbie Faye form (and I am not making this up, I have photos), the box fell off the Fed Ex truck when he was turning onto my street and he ran over it. Four of the books look like they’ve been chewed by a wood chipper. He was very apologetic. I told him he was packing around Bobbie Faye… he was probably lucky his truck didn’t explode. I cannot imagine why he hastened away from the door so quickly. [grin]

  37. max

    “True to Bobbie Faye form (and I am not making this up, I have photos), the box fell off the Fed Ex truck when he was turning onto my street and he ran over it”

    I so love Bobbie Faye.

  38. Pingback: a Sunday night of romance « raincoaster

  39. sometimes when you read you can see it…that happened here

  40. Pingback: questions with no answers « celluloid blonde

  41. This was beautiful. Simply beautiful.

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