I decided on the bleu cheese burger and put down the menu. She was still staring at me. She was very old, wearing bright red lipstick, sitting at a table several yards away. With her was a man who might have been her son. Between them was some kind of medical equipment mounted to a trolley - maybe an oxygen tank? She had been staring at me, and then my boyfriend, and now again at me, since we had arrived.
We were a ridiculous couple, completely obsessed with each other. If he was near me, he was holding my hand. If his hands were busy, I was touching his arm. Just the smell of him made me feel calm, relaxed and happy. On our second date, as we walked along the Venice Beach boardwalk, I couldn’t sort out how to puzzle my arm around his back while his arm searched for a comfortable place across my shoulders. “We don’t quite fit,” I mumbled after my third attempt. “Yes we do,” he answered, and that was all there was to it.
He had his back to the old woman. I whispered to him, “There’s an old lady staring at us.” He casually looked around the restaurant, spotted the woman and looked back to me. “That’s some serious lipstick,” he commented. “She might have been a movie star in the 30s,” I whispered.
This was completely possible. I saw the occasional article in the paper whenever one of these aging stars expired. It was incomprehensible to me at first, stars getting old, living in assisted living homes like mere mortals.
I glanced over at her, looking for clues as to who she might be. Had she been in a movie with Clark Gable? Danced with Fred Astaire? I returned her smile. She didn’t even blink, just continued to stare, smiling at me. She was somewhere else, long ago, on a date with someone she was completely obsessed with. Did they go out for burgers and fries? Did he drape his arm around her shoulders, as she pressed her face into his neck and breathed him in? Did he hold her hand and go home with that bright red lipstick on his collar?
But there had been a war. Perhaps he’d had to leave her to go fight. Maybe he had been a pilot. Had he had her picture painted on the side of a plane? Did women across the globe bat their eyes at him, until they caught sight of that plane and that lipstick and said, “Oh, forget it.”
Did he come back?