She is slightly overdressed for this place. They walk into the cheap Mexican restaurant and stick out.
She’s wearing a blue blouse, blue flats. He’s wearing khakis. They have matching white hair.
He has a nasty cough.
This place is busy, the hostess leads them to the bar while they wait for a table.
The walk is a short one. They make it arm in arm. She orders wine. Him: beer.
They don’t say much. They’re both watching the television above bar. Soccer is on.
“I don’t understand this sport,” he tells me, and he talks like a jar of Karo syrup.
I say something to him. He courtesy-laughs, which leads to a coughing fit. He holds a hanky over his mouth.
“We ONLY watch football,” his wife says, leaning forward while he coughs.
The conversational ice is broken. We talk.
Well—rather, she talks. I listen and say things like: “hmm,” and, “oh, how wonderful,” and “yes ma’am, I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”
She’s a flower. In our brief time together, I learn they have three kids, they are Presbyterians, he is an Auburn fan, she is not. She is as friendly as a politician.
“You live here?” she asks.
“No ma’am, just here for the night.”
“Us too, we’re on our way to Birmingham.”
He’s still coughing. Hard. He stands and leaves for the restroom.
When he’s gone, she tells me, “He’s having surgery in two days.” She points to her chest when she says it.
“It’s his second one,” she goes on. “Say a prayer for him. We’re taking all the prayers we can get.”
I yes-ma’am her.
She’s a cheery little thing.
The hostess calls them, I tell her it was lovely meeting her.
The old man offers her an elbow, they hook arms like it’s nineteen fifty-one. He slides out her chair for her. She sits erect, then places a napkin in her lap.
Emily Post, eat your heart out.
They talk. They laugh. They order food. Lots of smiling. They look outstanding together.
The waiter brings steaming skillets of Tex-Mex fare. They eat slow. They smile some more. She gets a refill on her wine.
He is overcome. It hits him out of nowhere. He coughs so hard he draws the attention of the restaurant.
There is no dignified way to cough.
He apologizes. She tells him not to. He does anyway. Then, he starts hacking so hard his face turns purple.
She wipes his chin with her napkin. He can’t stop. He’s almost gagging. Everyone stares.
He stands and shuffles toward the door, yakking into a handkerchief.
She asks for the bill. She pays with a card. She smiles at everyone who is watching her. She smiles at me. God love her.
She exits with the grace of a woman thirty years her junior. Her wine is left untouched. Her plate, half-eaten. I can’t help but think it’s going to be a very long night, and an even longer year.
And I just thought you should know about her.