The restaurant was abuzz with dinner-hour activity, as the maitre d' led Sam and Doris to their favorite table by the picture window with its panoramic view of the river where it met the bay,
Night was falling. Out on the water a fishing boat, its running lights on, was gliding slowly back to port.
Their waiter took the drinks order and lit the candles. After he left, Sam looked around the busy dining room. He found the drone of voices at other tables, the monotone punctuated by occasional laughter, a comforting addition to the understated decor of the room.
Simply-framed nautical prints graced the pale blue walls, and the oaken tables,surrounded by captain chairs, were dressed with royal blue place mats and white linen napkins; shining goblets and sparkling cutlery completed the ensemble.
He smiled as he looked at Doris. For the thousandth time, he noticed how she pursed her lips while she studied the menu.
"What are you having tonight?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'm debating whether to have the pan-seared tuna, or the salmon. Do you think I should get some clams?"
"I think you should order some clams, and the salmon, slightly under-done," he said, "and I'll have some Manhattan clam chowder, and the broiled sole."
It was a little game they played. No matter what was on the menu, whenever they dined here, they always ordered the same things, but they had to dance through the pretension of making a choice.
When their drinks arrived, he ordered their meal.
"How was work today? Busy?"
She took a tiny sip of her Burgundy, before replying.
"Customers were lined up outside the store when we opened this morning. I didn't leave the cash register until the lunch break. My feet are still killing me.
"But I have to say, I'm really enjoying myself. I meet so many
different kinds of people."
Doris had retired six months ago, after thirty years of spoon-feeding American history to bored high school seniors. She'd been looking forward eagerly to retirement, but the reality of not having an imposed routine to follow every day bored her immediately; within three weeks she was looking for a job.
Now she was selling jewelry at a department store in a nearby mall. The pay was embarrassing, but the job got her out of the house, and gave her something to do five days a week.
"You probably would have preferred a job like that in the first place, instead of teaching," he said.
Sam had also retired recently from a career as an administrator for a national charity, but he was busier than ever. He'd always dreamed of becoming a writer, and hr was four-fifths of the way through finishing his first novel.
"And how was your day"? Doris asked, buttering a morsel of bread.
"Great! I'm almost finished with the first draft of the novel," he said.
"Very nice," she replied.
"Very nice! Is that all you have to say? You make it sound like I just told you that I washed the car!"
"What would you like me to say?"she asked. "I know you've been working on it for quite a while. I simply said that it's nice you're almost finished."
Sam patted his lips with his napkin, and took a deep breath.
Why was he annoyed? Nothing ever changed. No matter what he did of a positive nature, her reactions were always the same; lukewarm at best.
As usual, he was angry with himself, for expecting a different response.