The old man shuffled in the doorway of a Brooklyn luncheonette on a bright Autumn Saturday morning. The door was open. He breathed the air before going in. Fresh air mixed with restaurant smells. The waitress behind the soda counter, in a good mood, smiled and bid him “Sit anywhere you like, handsome!”
He walked slowly passed the counter and the chrome stools to the third booth on the left and took a seat. Nothing much had changed. Formica table tops, faded red upholstered seats, fifties neon outside.
It wasn’t busy between breakfast and lunch. This was not that kind of joint. No brunch served here. Smells of toasted cheese, bacon and eggs, coffee.
The waitress noticed there was no set-up at the table. The old man had passed the counter and the tables already set up to sit at a bare table. Pro that she was, she came from behind the counter and brought a place mat, a knife and fork, a napkin and the coffee pot to where the old man was sitting. It was too lovely a morning to get annoyed. Besides, he seemed like a nice old guy and she had told him to sit anywhere he wanted.
She stood with her pad and pencil even though she didn’t need either and in her best waitress speak asked “What’ll it be, hon?”
She poured a coffee, left him with the creamers and his thoughts.
There was still an old fashioned jukebox here, though it no longer spoke the language of the young. No one under fifty would listen to anything in it. Besides, who puts money in a jukebox anymore? The young carry their own music.
He wondered if kids still hung out here at night; ordered cherry cokes and lime rickeys, vanilla malts and egg creams. The high school was still here, but those days had long passed.
He placed his palms on the formica tabletop, stroked it with his fingertips and looked across the booth to the empty seat.
She was here.
Thick Italian brunette hair, pillow lips and blue green eyes. Her lips were not yet in vogue. Thin lips were de rigeur. Cybil Shepherd lips. She would always laugh about her lips. The old man loved her lips.
Time is relative Einstein said.
He sat in the booth with his girl again.
He was twenty and she was seventeen.
His daughter walked in after parking the car and sat opposite him in the empty seat.
“You okay? Did you order yet? Why did you want to come here anyway?”
She was sitting where she sat. Fifty years ago.
She looked just like her. Her face. His eyes.
“This is where I met your mother.”
As the old man and his daughter left the luncheonette he stopped briefly in the doorway, in the portal of his happiness. He knew he would not pass this way again.
She was here. She was smiling.
The old man smiled back at her before he turned and walked slowly to the car