She eats alone, folding the napkin in her lap.
Despite the shoulder pads framing her
Sunday best in stiff poise, her quiet posture sags
as she arranges the silverware beside her plate,
smoothing wrinkles in the white tablecloth.
Her sloppy, wet kiss marks the glass’ cheek
instead of branding red lipstick on the forehead
of a squirming grandchild or the lips of a lover.

The waiter stops by her table more than mine.
He gives her free refills, an apple pie slice – no charge.
He listens to her talk about the preacher’s sermon,
the neighbor’s dog that digs up her garden,
replacing tulips bulbs with ham bones.
She’s a retired lunch lady from an elementary school
where she used to drive bus 304. Her grandson
just got his learners permit, maybe she’ll get to teach
him how to make wide turns and not cut corners.

I watch her rip the sweet-n-low packets one by one,
careful not to spill a grain. She taps the side
and pours the white sand in her coffee cup,
wipes the steam off her thick glasses
after peering into the swirl of creamer and caffeine.
As her wrist rotates in mindless stirring motion,
her eyes drift to the empty seats in a way
that urges me to pull out one for myself
and become her granddaughter for one meal,
filling her silence for the times I didn’t fill yours.

— Karen Bourne

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