The Man

I don’t know how it happened. So quickly, either. One minute we were standing off to the side of the restaurant in a sea of black, itching for people to come in and eat, and the next minute the sea had dispersed throughout the inside and outside dining rooms to create 14 individuals, dressed head to toe in black, running around frantically like chickens with our heads cut off. Weeded, one could say. Or as my fellow server friend likes to put it, “in the woods.” Though on Sunday, I didn’t think I’d see the clearing.

I knew the restaurant was busy when I ran plates of steaming hot tuna, crab cakes and salmon from the kitchen to the inside bar. I had red napkins draping my arms to shield them from burning. My right hand was shaking from the sea bass dish charring my fingers. Almost running, not walking now, I tried to make my way through the inside lobby to the end of the bar. No one moved. There was nowhere to go—no empty space left inside anywhere. Indeed, I was one of the sardines packed in ever so tightly. So what do I do?

“Hot plates coming through!”

I was in the kitchen sorting silverware when the hostess found me and told me I had another table.

“Nat, table 95.”

I made my way out to the dining room to spy on table 95 before having to go out and do introductions. It was a man sitting alone by the railing, looking down at the bay. I can handle that, I thought to myself. Weary of who, or what my next table would be, I cringed at the thought of having to wait on another fussy one, since the five tables I currently had running were not entirely the nicest people in the world.

I greeted the man with warm bread and a smile. I asked him how he was doing tonight. He replied with a question, asking me if I was having a good night myself. This was odd. I liked him already.

I checked on the man every ten minutes. He ordered the strawberry barbeque salmon and an iced tea. A fine choice. He’d look up and see me coming and stop writing in the little book he had to his right. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, with Teva sandals. His journal looked worn. When I cleared his plate, I stole a peak at the paper and noticed he was writing a letter to a woman. “Wish you were here,” it said. I wondered where she was instead of being there with him.

I brought the man the dessert menu, and he ordered the vanilla bean crème brulee. I’ll admit it took me a few minutes to bring the dessert out to him. I had just received a table of six who needed a half-hour of extra time to decide on what to order, but needed me at that opportune time because they were suddenly hungry, had been waiting too long, and were of course now ready to place their orders. My table of three was complaining about a steak their child had eaten after ordering it medium rare and eating the whole thing medium rare and suddenly feeling sick, and wanted to see the manager. My table of two needed a new round of drinks, which they insisted on having for free, for some obscure reason, and a table of four’s entrees where about to be dropped on the table, and that meant prepping the table—preparing silverware, offering pepper, offering cheese, etc.—and then of course returning to see how everyone was enjoying their meals.

I brought the crème brulee to the man, gave him his spoon and told him to enjoy, before spinning in the opposite direction towards the outside dining room.

“Wait, Miss,” the man said.

“Yes?” I came back to the table.

“What’s that building over there?” He pointed to across the bay.

“That’s the marina,” I said.

“Wow. Well it sure does look pretty with the sun setting behind it, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does,” I said.

“I mean, look at all the pretty colors.”

“They are pretty,” I said. But really all I could think about were my other tables—the dinners, the free drinks, the fiascos.

“This has to be the best sunset on the island,” he said. “I mean look at it.”

That is one of the many perks of working at Beach Creek—we have the best sunset on the island. It had been a while since I looked at it—really looked at it. So I stood there at the edge of the table, next to the man, and we talked as we watched the sun set and he finished his crème brulee.

The colors seemed brighter than they had the night before last. The pink was a neon tint, and it hid behind the orange that bent down and crept into the bay. The boats docked waded as if peacefully. I could hear silence among the bay, despite the fact that I was in the center of a crowded, combusted restaurant. I forgot about my other tables for a minute and was entranced by the sunset and the man. He thanked me for my service and for the genuine chat and for watching the sun go down with him, and I thanked him back. I needed it just as mush as he—pleasantness. I cleared his plate and brought him his check.

I didn’t see the man leave—I was back in the kitchen when he walked through the outside stage area, I assume. I wanted to wish him a good night, so I was a little upset when I walked out to the table to fetch the checkbook. When I got back to the kitchen I opened the checkbook to close out the credit card slip. At the bottom, he wrote in pen “have a good night.” He left me a 100-percent tip.

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