It was my birthday. When Kathy was alive, we would order a steak dinner in L’Incontro, a fancy restaurant two blocks down from our apartment. Kathy died three months ago so this year I went by myself.
The waitress served me a big slice of carrot cake with thick cream frosting and a tiny lit candle on top because I told her that it was my birthday and that was why I was there. It was on the house, she said. I didn’t know why I felt the need to tell her. Perhaps for her to take pity on me—an old man dining alone and on his birthday, too—and in a sense, make her share in my misery. I even told her about how my wife recently passed away, in response to when she asked as to why I was by myself. She was sorry for my loss, she replied. She waited until I blew out the candle and insisted I make a wish. It sounded corny for people my age to still be making wishes, I said. For what could people my age still wish for? A painless death?
I was touched by her thoughtfulness, though I knew that after she had served me she would move on to her next customer, maybe listen to another sob story, and when her shift was over, go home, think of her own problems, and totally forget me and all the others she served tonight. At least I got a free cake, I consoled myself.
But she was attractive, the waitress. I noticed her, a fact which surprised me. I had stopped paying special attention to attractive young girls for, I don’t remember how long a time now, except to think that they would have been as old as my daughter if I had kids (or granddaughter if I had married early). But that night, I was especially aware of how the waitress caught my attention. It was like the very moment when Kathy died and I felt, more than the grief, relief and an unburdening, a lightness I was not expecting. It surprised me, too. After Kathy exhaled her last breath—with me by her bedside and holding her hand—my first thought was that, at last, I could also move on from my own suffering of having had to witness her die a little each day since the first diagnosis of cancer. Meanwhile, this new surprise was the fact that at fifty-six, I felt the burning again. Just when last week I had declared to Randy and Greg, close friends from work, my opinion that sex is overrated. They reacted with laughter and protestations.
Her name tag said Lily. So when Lily the waitress bent over to serve my order of steak and salad, I glimpsed a little cleavage, a shadow of a hollow on freckled milky white skin, and from there my gaze moved downward, and then sideways to the curve of her back, the shape of a round ass, and further on, smooth legs peeking out from under the short red skirt and white apron of her uniform. She was nineteen, she answered when I asked her how old she was. A freshman in the nearby university and working part-time at the restaurant. I saw Lily not as the daughter or granddaughter that I could have had, but as a possible bedmate. Perhaps it was the real reason why, out of the blue, while she was smiling down at me, patiently waiting for me to complete my order, I blurted out to her that it was my birthday. So she would pay me special attention, even out of pity, but some attention for me, nonetheless. And if I had worked harder at her, I believed she might have given in to my advances.
When I was younger, I could turn on my charm and make women fall for me. The waitress falling for the customer is the stuff of cheap paperbacks and yet, if you must know, it did happen to me in real life. I hit on a waitress and married her. When I first met Kathy, she was serving tables at an Olive Garden restaurant. She wasn’t an ordinary waitress, of course. She was working shifts while pursuing a degree in microbiology (but I wouldn’t know this until much later).
It was lust at first sight. This is embarrassing to admit now but that was how it began.