An excerpt from the novel I’m writing set in Reno in 1975. It will be a while before I finish it because I don’t really know where it will end up. I’ll post occasional excerpts as I go. Hope you like it.
Lee saw the woman as the waitress seated her at the table just down the row from him. Curious, he wondered why she was wearing that rumbled fringed skirt and that big cowboy hat? It reminded him of the costume his daughter, Linda, had worn on Halloween the year she was seven. Why would a grown woman wear be wearing it out to lunch? The woman took off her hat and laid it on the table. She would be beautiful if she didn’t look so tired. Dark circles under her eyes. Were they green? He couldn’t quite make out the color from where he sat. He couldn’t miss the color of her hair though. It was the lightest platinum blond he’d ever seen. It hung, lanky, down to just below her shoulders, the ends looking crispy and dry. He wondered what her story was. Women like that must have a story.
The woman didn’t take long to go over to the buffet line and he watched her fill her plate. She filled it like a man would, nothing but meat and potatoes piled high. Could she eat all that? She wasn’t all that big. He watched her wolf down the fried chicken, stopping only to wipe the grease off her chin and fingers now and then. When she finished the chicken, she started in on the ham, then sat back, closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before finishing that plate and pushing it away. Dessert now?
She got up and went back to the buffet line and he noticed that he wasn’t the only one watching her. People stopped eating to stare at her when she walked by. At first, the woman didn’t seem to notice those rude looks, but when she did, she stood taller, like a queen who was going down with her realm. Instead of carrying a scepter, she was carrying another plate of food just as big as the first one. This time he smiled at her as she walked by. It seemed she could use at least one person who recognized her vulnerability and was on her side.
His wife had had that same sort of vulnerability after the cancer hit. She dealt with it the same way. Too proud to let anyone see her weakness. But the disease eventually overcame even that proud woman and now he had been alone for the last nineteen months. He’d gotten to the point where he didn’t think of her every minute but he was still stopped short when the grief hit. This pretty, sad, white woman had touched that grief point.
He studied the woman. She was nothing like his wife in any obvious way. The woman was tanned, but it was obvious that without the sun she would be pale. His wife was the color of dark chocolate. His wife was rounder, softer looking; the woman was slim. His wife never left the house without getting dressed for the occasion. This woman obviously didn’t know anything about that.
But there was something about the woman that reminded him of Mary. Maybe the way she attacked that fried chicken. Mary was so polite, almost dainty when she was out in public, but get her alone with a piece of fried chicken and it was a joy to watch her devour it. The woman had the same way of eating her chicken. What else? Their lips were the same. Not the same color obviously, Mary’s were the color of ripe purple grapes, this woman had lips just a little darker than her tanned face, but he could imagine that the inside of the woman’s lips would be a soft pink and they were the same fullness as Mary’s. Not that he’d really know, it was just his imagination.
He was surprised at the reaction he had from looking at her. Part of him wanted to retreat into the memories of what he’d lost, the other part wanting to go ahead, to rejoin the living. That part was new and he felt guilty for feeling it. He felt he’d been cheating on the memory of his wife but he smiled at the woman again as she went back for more food. She smiled back at him and Lee couldn’t eat another bite. He left the waitress a big tip and left as the woman sat back down with her big piece of apple pie.
He wandered through the casino for a while, not ready to go home. Everything there reminded him of Mary. He drifted from casino to casino watching people pulling handles and making bets at roulette tables. They were all after something, He didn’t gamble but he liked to be among people without being challenged with conversation. He missed the easiness of marriage, the ability to talk when he wanted and to be silent in her company but not feel alone. Would he ever have that again? That’s what he craved.