The Next Page – By James Cotter
The woman, whose name is Dorothea, or maybe just Dorothy, knows this is the day he will stay with them. She holds her daughter’s hand as they enter the restaurant. The entranceway has wood paneling, a large fountain gurgles and splashes, and a large vase of flowers sits to one side on a formal table. The hostess stands behind a mahogany podium.
“Mom, this is a fancy place.”
Dorothy, or Dot, laughs and says, “It is, isn’t it.”
The little girl looks all around. The young hostess – why are all the hostesses so young these days? – greets them. “Table for two?”
“Three, I’m expecting someone,” the mother says. The hostess reached for three menus. “Oh, excuse me,” the mother says, “I forgot to mention that he says to sit by the window.”
The hostess nods and they follow her to a window front table. The windows line the whole wall of the restaurant and reveal a lovely view of the river. It is early in the day and there are only a few other people in the restaurant.
“Can I get you like something while you’re waiting?”
“Do you have Mr. Pibb?” the daughter says. “It’s my favorite.”
“Oh, that’s all right.”
“And I’ll have tea,” Dot says.
Out the window, they watch the boats go by on the river. The river flows wide and full. “Where does the river start, Mommy?”
“A long way away, dear, way up in the mountains in tiny streams which come down the mountains.”
“Why does it come here, I mean, this way, and end up here?”
The mother, Dot, laughs. “I’m sure I don’t know. I never even thought of that question. It’s just the way it comes over the land.” She points out different sights to the little girl. She talks about the boats and, when she has pretty much exhausted what she has to say about the river, she pulls out crayons and paper from her large, black purse and hands them to the little girl.
“Is he coming soon?”
“Very soon, dear.”
What came were their drinks. “Hi there,” the waitress says. “You’re a cutie. I love that curly red hair. I’m Carol and I’ll be your waitress. A Dr. Pepper for the little girl and here’s your tea.” She sets the drinks down. “Do you want anything while you’re waiting? an appetizer?”
Dot had not even looked at the menu. “Do you have chicken strips or something like that as an appetizer?”
The waitress nods and takes out her order book. “One order of the Captain’s chicken fingers. That it for now?”
“Yes, that’s all.” Dot puts her tea bag into the water. She hopes Harold will come soon. She likes him very much. She feels better since he has come into her life. He is good for her and he is good with Lily. She knows that from the last time when he first met Lily and liked her. She is a bit of a standoff child, especially with men. Understandable with all those women around her all the time – Aunt Selma, Mother, Natalie and the rest of Dot’s friends. Lily has spent most of her time so far with them. Dot thinks of herself as a bit awkward with men too. It isn’t like she had spent a lot of time around men, other than the occasional short-term relationship. Not since Lily was born and that was getting to be a while ago in her story.
She places the cloth napkin on her lap. She wore her olive pants, her best ones, the ones that showed off her butt so well. And her little lime-green chemise that she felt so good wearing and over it all the light sweater Aunt Selma had given her. It was so old that some of the sequins on the shoulders are coming off but she loves the way it looks and the fact that it was Aunt Selma’s. All in all, she feels she looks quite lovely. Robert had cut her hair last week and it hung down her back in layered waves of auburn.
She will stand up when he arrives she decides. She will stand up and embrace him when he comes in. She looks so lovely and so expectant that he will stay with her.
The river sparkled, or perhaps twinkled, in the late morning sun. Dot sips her tea, and when she looks out the window again, he is there. She has not noticed the dock before, but there it is and there he is. He steps off a small cabin cruiser, walks to the end of the dock and looks up toward the windows. He waves. She is unsure how he can see her, but she waves back. He walks quickly down the dock toward the restaurant. At the end he pauses and waves again like a figure in some old home movie.
He is handsome. His eyes are always his best feature. She likes blue eyes best. He wears a boater and a loose fitting blue shirt and tan linen pants, pleated and cuffed. They hang just right on him. He is a fit man with a spring to his walk. She likes that too. She wants a man with energy, good energy, to enliven her. And she needs a lover. Harold could become that for her. She looks at Lily. Her child needs a father or at least a male figure in her life. It’s important.
Yes, she will rise and greet him when he comes in. She wants to embrace him and hold her to him, not let him go. She knows he will feel the same. He will be so glad to see her and to be here.
Dot takes another sip of tea and puts the napkin on the table, a blue napkin on a white tablecloth. Her daughter concentrates on drawing. She is filling the page with her coloring. Dot turns in the chair, ready to rise.
She sees him come in and the young hostess – why are they all so young? – greets the man – Harold was his name last time – and points to Dot and the little girl. He nods, turns to them, waves again and comes across the floor. Dot is so excited that she will be with him again.
As she begins to rise from the chair, he stops midway across the restaurant. She sinks back down and holds a hope but knows he is not coming over. He just stands there frozen, one leg stretched for a step, smiling. She can not see his eyes well but they look brown. She sits back down in her chair and puts her napkin on her lap again.
“Why isn’t he coming over, mommy?”
“I guess he isn’t right yet, dear.” She looks out the window. The dock is gone and when she looks back, the man is gone too.
“What happened to him?”
“Our author decided to discard the man and start again. I think he’s torn the page out of his notebook and is starting on the man again or maybe he’s given up for the day.”
“Will he throw us away too?”
“I don’t think so. I think he likes us, what he’s done with us so I think he’ll only throw away Harold and he’s on the next page,” the mother says.
“Don’t be sad, mommy.”
“Oh, I’m really not, darling. There will be another Harold. There always is. He’ll get it right, he always does.”
The little girl nods. “Do you think he’d let me have the page he throws away? I can turn the sheet of paper over and color on it.”
“I’m sure that will be fine, honey. It’s our story after all.”