The Beauty by the Window

When Samuel walked into Veronica’s Diner that rainy December night, he felt something different about the atmosphere. Something that he’d never felt in the past fifteen years he’d been a regular at the diner, every weeknight after work let out. He felt that his life was about to be changed in a way that he had never expected, nor he would ever forget. As he stepped in through the door his shoes squeaked on the linoleum floor, dirty from the endless traffic of patrons coming in and out of the endless rain. Most of the leavers of muddy footprints sought shelter from the torrential downpours and were usually eager to move on about their business. But to Samuel, Veronica’s Diner was a haven from the monotony of his every day.

The diner was not incredibly large. There were about twelve tables, and the counter sat six. Samuel had his usual table that he always sat at, to the right of the door along the edge of the room, next to the window looking out at the busy street outside. When he looked over to his table by the window, the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and he felt a huge crevice open up within his chest. No, it can’t be, he thought to himself as his heartrate doubled and breath eluded his body. Oh my God, it can’t be. She was here. He had waited twenty-five years to see her, and finally, here in Veronica’s Diner, she came into his life once again.

His body barely responding to the signals sent to it by his brain, Samuel forced himself to a table left of the door, against the wall with Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shallott hanging on it. It was an odd decoration for a diner, but due to Samuel’s undying loyalty to dining there, Judy put it up so he could look at it from across the room while he ate. Judy was a waitress who had worked at Veronica’s Diner longer than Samuel had been going there. The mother of seven, she looked after Samuel like her own. She made sure he ate right, and twelve years ago she made him stop smoking. Every time Samuel needed someone to talk to or to work out his problems with, she was there. It was a busy night, and she didn’t even notice that he had entered. Business was always brisk when the weather was poor. She could never really figure that one out. And Samuel had come in later than usual. It was already half past eight. She eventually saw that he wasn’t sitting at his table, but on the other side of the room. She walked over to him with a smile and stopped in front of the table, between him and the rest of the diner.

“Hey Sammy. You’re here late, dear.” She set a glass of ice water on the table.

He didn’t look up. His eyes remained stuck on something behind her. “Hi Judy. It was a damn nightmare at work. Twelve-hour today. Idiots don’t know what they’re doing down there. I had to clean up their messes.” She’d heard that line hundreds of times before, but nonetheless remained sympathetic to her adopted son. But something about the way he said it tonight was different. He seemed more distant than he usually and often was; more distant than a twelve hour workday or the gloomy winter skies that showered the city with teardrops from a heart that carried the weight of the world.

“I’m sorry to hear it. I’ll go get you your dinner.” She turned to go, but he piped up:

“Jude, tonight I want something different. How about one of Mack’s third-pound burgers? With cheese? Please?” He said all of this without moving his eyes from the gentle woman sitting at his usual table.

Condescendingly, she replied: “Anything you want, dear.” She noted his ragged demeanor and added, “You sure everything’s alright?”

He looked up at her and said, “Yeah, I’m fine.” In his wide green eyes, she saw a fire that she thought had died out a long time ago.

Samuel’s gaze returned to the beauty sitting at his usual table by the window. He returned to the trance that the sight of her had put him in. He was older now; older than the last time he’d seen her back at Portsmouth College. Samuel was balding, working in a dead-end job as a city accountant for the past twenty years, and living alone in an apartment that was haunted by ghosts that had forgotten his name. He wore the same dull blue suits to work everyday. He was putting on weight from being in the office for most of his waking hours. His complexion, although paler than usual at the moment, was that of one who had rarely seen the sun for a quarter of a decade. There seemed to be nothing for him in this life except a job that slowly drained his soul away and Veronica’s Diner. It’d been ten years since Jenny had left him. God knows he tried his hardest to make her happy, but he just didn’t have it in him. So she got on a train and rode the tracks out of his life for good.

But her -- the years had aged her gracefully. She still had those big, beautiful brown eyes and the long, slender nose. Her delicate mouth sipped a cup of coffee, turned caramel color by the cream. Her wavy dark brown hair ran past her shoulders. A few grey streaks were embedded in her soft mane, which accentuated her timeless elegance. The subtle lines in her face only accentuated her beauty. She was just as beautiful as he remembered her, in those carefree college days.

Lost in his thoughts, Samuel was suddenly aware that his senses had turned off: he couldn’t hear the idle chatter of the other faceless patrons in the diner, nor could he feel his body, except for a mild tingling that ran up his arms and down his legs. His eyes were glued to her stunning face. But his body sprung back into life when she unexpectedly turned her gaze indoors from the window and made eye-to-eye contact with Samuel. His mind flashed like a lightning bolt and he hurriedly looked down at the table and fumbled with his makeshift umbrella for the day: the late edition of the Ledger. Oh my God, did she see me looking at her? I hope not. It wasn’t the first time he’d thought this.

Her name was Anabelle. She was his friend Donna’s roommate in the dorms his first year at Portsmouth. He thought then, as he still did, that she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever come across in all of his days. In his eyes, her beauty outshined all the other girls at that school. Every time he saw her, his body went into overtime. His heart started pounding, his stomach began digesting itself, and a chill poured down his back like a waterfall. All the sounds in his ears disappeared, and his mind focused only on the vision of her. In a way, seeing her renewed his will to live. She gave him reason to keep moving on, day to day. Such was the strength of her beauty.

Samuel found himself becoming more and more infatuated with Anabelle as that first year dragged on. He was constantly scanning his surroundings, no matter where he was, with the hope that he might catch a glimpse of her. During meals, he sat near the entrance to the dining commons hoping she would walk in. He sat long hours in the quad in between classes waiting for her to stroll past, and he would admire her from the distance as she moved to her next lecture.

But Samuel was incredibly shy, and came to fear going to Donna’s room because when he found himself in a face-to-face situation with Anabelle, his mouth dried up and he could barely form intelligible sentences. If he saw her walking towards him on campus, or if their eyes met, his eyes would dart to the ground and he’d walk past her, pretending not to see her. All the while thinking, Oh my God, did she see me looking at her? I hope not. He feared this action would give her the wrong impression; he wanted so bad to get to know her, and for her to like him. But her beauty sent his self into such a state of inner chaos that when he was anywhere near her he became a nervous and wordless wreck. At the same time, being near Anabelle revitalized his fading aura.

Judy interrupted Samuel’s daydream when she brought over a large Caesar salad and set it down in front of Samuel. He wasn’t even surprised by her apparent error. “Sorry, Sammy. You know I’m not about to let you put one of Mack’s fleshburgers into your system.”

“Thanks, Judy,” he replied with honest sincerity. He gave her a smile, and she went on about her duties. He looked back over to Anabelle; she was looking out the window once again. His thoughts were going strong: Did she recognize me? I doubt it. C’’s been thirty years now...I’m balding, I’m fat, I’m nothing. There’s no way she remembers me.

That first year ended, and they all moved out of the dormitory. Donna moved into an apartment with some friends, and much to Samuel’s dismay, Anabelle wasn’t one of them. No longer would she be where he could see her expectedly. If he was feeling down, he couldn’t just go over to her room and fall victim to her stunning beauty. From then on, it was up to chance whether or not her countenance would pass through his field of vision.

For the next few years, he did see her once in awhile, and every one of those times her presence had the same effect on him. Eventually, however, the years moved on and she became another face that passed through his life, never to be seen again.

It had been close to three decades since he graduated, and started a life for himself. So many things had happened to him since then, that if he saw the young, foolish kid he once was today, he would hardly recognize him. Samuel was now a fragile, tired old man, spiritually broke and barely escaping his daily ruin. But on a cold rainy December night in Veronica’s Diner, thirty years of heartbreak and sadness were being slowly washed away.

Samuel ate his salad slowly, feigning interest in the events of the massive city he inhabited that were written in the newsprint spread out on the table before him. His gaze remained on the grey-haired angel sipping coffee at the table across the diner from him. It reminded him of the days in the dining commons, when we would stare at her eating, while she had no idea that somewhere in the same room, a soul was immersed in joy at the sight of her.

Samuel became aware that eating was becoming a futile exercise, for his nervousness was getting the best of him. He put his fork down after only finishing off a fraction of the croutons and lettuce. He wanted, more than anything in the world, to get up from his chair, walk over to the beauty by the window, and profess his earth-shaking admiration for her. But the same little tinge that always kept him from doing this in the past took over that night as well. He pulled ten dollars out of his wallet and put it on the table. He folded up the soggy newspaper, stood up, and put on his long grey overcoat. Samuel made sure he hadn’t left anything behind, and with his legs trembling he made his way to the door. With his eyes never leaving his feet out of extreme shyness and nervousness, he walked out of Veronica’s Diner back into the world that fought so hard to crush him.

And from behind the diner window, a pair of big brown eyes watched Samuel lumber down the street at a snail’s pace, through the biting chill and pounding rain. With a familiar feeling of disappointment, Anabelle watched him walk away, out of her life once again.

( FIN. )