One of the things that makes me a writer is my curiosity about other people. Or, to put it more plainly, I’m nosy. The phrase, “What’s his story?” could be my motto. The what-ifs of the world are always on my mind. If I am caught in traffic, and glance to the right, I can get completely absorbed by the question of where the guy in the next car, who is hammering his fist in frustration on the steering wheel, has to be and what will happen to him if he doesn’t make it in time. Or, I might pass an angry-faced woman on the street and think, “What has she just done?” Interesting stories can be found in the most ordinary circumstances and unexpected places, and everyone has a story worth knowing. And even though I don’t write all the stories I imagine or wonder about, it is a way of looking at the world which keeps me thinking and feeling. I’m never bored. But I admit, sometimes it can be a distraction.
For example: I was out to dinner one night, and halfway through the meal, the maitre’d and the waiter started setting up a table for a crowd. The length of the table aroused my interest. “What’s the occasion?” I wondered. Before long, people started gathering. An engagement? A co-worker’s night out? The age range, from very young to young to old, suggested it was a family. Someone’s birthday, then? The last to arrive, obviously the guest of honor from the way people welcomed him, was a man in army fatigues, the full uniform, hat and boots. Was he coming home from somewhere, or leaving? If he was coming home, was it for good or just on R & R? Was that woman with the big earrings his wife? Had she met him at the train? Did she cry? Did he? Did they kiss? And where had he been? His tan suggested he had been somewhere in the sun, maybe in a warm climate. Afghanistan? Syria? I got teary. “Thank goodness you are safe,” I thought. Someone leaned over and said something to someone else and the guest of honor smiled. He did not laugh. He seemed subdued. In fact, wasn’t the mood at the table kind of subdued? Where were the homecoming balloons, streamers, signs? So maybe this was goodbye and he was leaving tomorrow. Was he packed? Were the duffel and trunk sitting on some porch, ready to be slung into the outback of his SUV at 5:00 a.m. in the dark autumn morning? Would he leave the woman with the big earrings sleeping? Would they sit up all night, after they came home from this goodbye party, talking about trivial things, like getting the roof done when he came home in the spring, and what time they would FaceTime one another while he was away? Would he tell her to keep her spirits up and she tell him to stay safe, or would they not talk about it? Maybe they had a child with problems, and they distracted themselves by talking about him.
The cheese on my eggplant parmesan had congealed. I hadn’t even touched my wine. Just then, a young woman came rushing in, her hair flying, her cheeks red, a gift-wrapped box in her arms, and she hurried over to the soldier and threw her arms around him, and said, loudly enough for me to hear, “Welcome home!”
“Thank goodness!” I thought, and ordered dessert.