The waitress from Santa Cruz served me seafood on the boardwalk, in a restaurant so situated, and I sat by the window and looked down into the tides. She seemed to like me and I spotted a sea lion or two and that seemed like a big deal. The sea was more blue than green that day and the sun was sinking and I wondered why I didn’t live there, scratching idly at a small indentation in the edge of the little green table with pine-colored trim and hoping she didn’t notice my fidgets.
The floor was tiled white and I had fish and chips because that’s what I always get under such circumstances, always have. I ate and looked and watched and imagined and wondered and the waitress from Santa Cruz came by and checked on me like the guest I was, warm and hospitable and easy. We chatted passingly of life things, small things, each of us asking small safe easy questions, and I listened to her replies and responded with my own and noticed her shoes.
Somehow we got onto philosophy on one of her passes—not into it, only onto it—and she did not write her number on the bill but after I paid I walked away into the late afternoon silently wishing she had, walking out the door and onto the boardwalk and out over the more blue than green water with the sea lions in it, feeling like a tetherball on a string connected to she the pole with those shoes gliding over that white tile through the rows of small green tables with pine-colored trim and into the kitchen full of cooks and bussers who I was sure must like her and weren’t afraid to tell her so.
I walked, thinking, not thinking, out and back inland again, back past the restaurant, and when I looked in through the windows and the open kitchen door where all the cooks and bussers who surely liked her were, I did not catch that last glimpse. I remembered her name, though, and was glad it wasn’t Cinnamon or Candy or something sugary and absurd like that, and I also remembered where she said she went to school because the mother of the other university-aged boy at the table next had asked while I tried to sit in my seat and eat my food like a normal solitary person and emit the allowable amount of self as if I might be fined by the EPA if too much of the noxious stuff got through my filters, nodding and smiling in acknowledgement of good service when it was my turn to receive and also at the smoothness of our exchanges, wishing the scene would continue but also hoping for a curtain call before someone was put on the spot and the smoothness shriveled and lost its lustre like the skin of a rotting orange, a moment expired, drawn out and moldy.
She did not write her number on the bill but she did write, in the space beneath the restaurant’s name and address, the only immediacy is the moment of creation, with quotes and a double underline for “only” penned lightly in a fast and practiced hand like it just came to her and those were the kinds of things she didn’t bother to stop—that’s what gusts through my mind right now and for a moment catches me like a filthy seabird suspended mid-flight and propped up in place by springly rumbustious breezes while the world turns with its customary imperceptibility so I put down the quill and look at what I’ve scrawled in my defense.
A letter, not to her, likely to no one. It lacks both feeling and idea, you’d say, has a bland aftertaste and smells like wet cardboard, if words can be said to aromate. Words, that’s all they are, and perhaps that’s why. There are hundreds of them, it seems, swirling in no apparent order, looking shriveled and wrinkly in the light of recollection, and beside me on the desk are stacks of papers with thousands more, thousands and thousands more, a lifetime timeline string of words strung together by virtue of nothing more than placement and position and passage, nothing more.
I’m an old man now, I think, and nothing more, looking at the papers, the unsent letters, the words on the page before me, the string tethering me from then that time all those many years ago with the waitress from Santa Cruz to now, alone and scrawling in my quiet room, and no matter how many words I use I can never get back to that moment of creation when she wasn’t real and neither was I.