An Unusual Proposal
The scents of sizzling bacon fat and buttery pancakes and perfectly crisped hashed browns wafted through the air. It filled the couple at the door like an aphrodisiac, gently lulling them into a drunken state. They could barely hear above the sounds of the people chattering all over the diner: old men in plaid shirts and ugly caps sitting at the counter grunting, a mother and her squealing children and baby in high chair, two suited business men jabbering away into their cell phones while picking away at scrambled eggs and potato bites.
The waitresses wore white smocks and aprons, covered in grease stains and smears from the kitchen. Their pads and pens were attached to their belts, some opting to secure them to the hip, others just sticking the damn thing wherever it would stay put while they rushed off to serve a cup of coffee. Some were plump, some were fat, others you could tell had once been skinny (maybe when they were younger they worked at the roller-skate burger joint in miniskirts), but they were all middle-aged, so the lines in their faces were drawn and most were sagging just a little under the arms and around the hips. Despite their frizzled hair and the sweat on their brows, though, most were laughing, smiling, and making lewd jokes that caused the dishwasher boys in the back to blush.
One of the thinner waitresses with high cheek bones and a bird's nest of graying blonde hair seated the couple. Almost immediately, she whipped out two brown ceramic mugs and poured them each a cup of coffee. A puff of steam gently rose out of the mugs, the fresh smell of cooked cacao beans once again making them drift off sleepily into a daytime dream. The menus the waitress handed them were worn, the clear vinyl cracked and the padded edges frayed. They all featured, in huge fonts with curly cures at the end of every letter, super breakfast specials of colossal proportions and variety, only five dollars per order. Sides of hashed browns, sausage, bacon, toast. Beverages included orange juice, decaf tea, hot chocolate, whole milk, coffee.
Blushing, the couple peeked over the tops of their menus to steal looks at one another, giggling as their eyes met. He was thin, red-haired, and wearing a plaid shirt; his freckled cheeks glowed when he grinned. She was round and dark, with skin that gleamed like Hershey's chocolate. Her white smile was so bright it outshined the waitresses' dirty aprons. Both were young, fresh, feeling ready for breakfast.
Soon a plate of sunny side up eggs and salty ham was under their noses. The couple smiled as their eyes glazed over the slick whites and swelling yellow mounds, glistening under the sunlight pouring in through the window over the booth. The nice thing about the Waffle House was the cook never went to any trouble to making fancy arrangement of food on the plate. The eggs clearly had been cooked in the frying pan, slid onto a spatula, dropped onto a plate, salted, peppered, delivered. Emphasis on presentation was frivolous when the heart of the meal was clearly the food itself.
Slowly, the couple dug in, dipping their forks into the pool of egg yolk, cutting their knives into the tender pink pork, and cautiously sipping from time to time from their still steaming brown coffee mugs. That seemed to be the perfect time for him to ask then, over the laminate wood of the table, over the salt and pepper shakers, half-eaten plates of food, two seniors celebrating their fiftieth anniversary a table away, a birthday breakfast in another booth, the manager yelling at the waitresses to leave their bachelorette jokes at home. It was the perfect time to propose.
And so, he presented the little black velvet box, placed it in between their plates, a diamond ring among coffee mugs, used napkins, and silverware. There was no stink of expensive perfume or thick cigar smoke; there were no slim waiters dressed in black suits and ties, no granite tabletops, no crystal wine glasses, no obscure jazz bands playing in the shadows. There were no red carpets or fancy glowing lights or strings of pearls around the women's necks. There were only two people, in a booth with ripped leather seats, and the promise of a lifetime ahead of them.
Copyright Miss Dolly
February 5th, 2008