Charlie made a low noise while waiting for his brown noodles in the restaurant. A man across the room looked up and smiled; he and I exchanged glances, and a mutual smile.
This was the same man who Charlie had bumped into a few minutes earlier. We were standing in line to order his brown noodles; the group in front of us—-two women with short-cut hair and sweatshirts—was going over their order carefully with the cashier. Jim waited while Charlie and I went to get a table. A tall man in a loose white sweater was standing just enough in the center of the aisle that Charlie was not able to squeeze through on either side without touching him.
“Say ‘scuse me,'” I prompted Charlie after the man, whom Charlie had just brushed against, turned around. Charlie’s “‘scuse” was swallowed up in the music playing over the sound system; I smiled up at the man. “Sorry about that,” I said.
The man looked down at me and Charlie, not unkindly.
Charlie went to sit on the booth against the wall and, as has been his habit when getting brown noodles in this restaurant, took off his socks and stuffed them into his shoes. As I piled his navy blue coat atop my coat, I saw that the round table that is his favorite seat was occupied by an Asian family; I remembered the mother stealing a glance at us as we walked in (I stole one too, I must say). And, directly in my line of sight past a table with an Asian couple in stylish sweats, a smallish woman, hair in short curls around her face with its wide eyes, was walking to sit down at a table for four. She sat just a bit hunched over, body at an angle. The man who Charlie had bumped into sat down beside her; two women, who moved a bit stiffly and deliberately, sat across from them.
I sat back and realized I recognized the music—-what was so familiar?
“Need fork!” Jim sat down and Charlie reached for the napkin-wrapped packets of silverware, unwrapped each, and sorted them into knives, forks, and spoons as I said, “It’s the Cranberries—-‘Just My Imagination.'” “Brown noodles,” said Charlie. “It’s coming, pal,” said Jim, turning around to glance up at the TV sets on the wall and then around. “Dan needs boots, he gets out of the car so much more,” a woman said loud and clear.
The manager of the restaurant used to be the manager of another branch (now closed) and soon we each had a plate of steaming noodles to eat. “Mahm.” Charlie tapped my sleeve and I put one finger of my right hand on his plate and (pretending I was ambidextrous, like my grandfather) picked up the fork with my left. The man at the table with the three woman and I exchanged a few more glances, and smiles. “Move, Mom,” said Charlie halfway through the meal and pushed my hand away. He placed his left hand firmly on a napkin and ate like the gentleman he is.
We walked out into a snowy night, Charlie clutching a plastic bag with a container of brown noodles he had saved to eat at home (another of his habits—-I suppose he likes to extend the pleasure of one of his favorite foods).