AN OPEN LETTER TO THE LADY WHO ALWAYS REQUESTS TWO NAPKINS AT MY RESTAURANT
by Melanie Sevcenko
Dear Miss or Mrs.,
First off, although my hostess shift covers only the lunch crowd on a Monday through Friday basis, I am well aware that every day when you leave us at 1:30pm—after you request two cloth napkins, and after you swallow three bites of Today’s Special—that you will be back in five hours for dinner. And sometimes, forty-five minutes later, when you remember the dessert you ordered while you sit in the parking lot and reapply your lipstick to your muttering lips in the rearview mirror, until they come together to blurt “Dessert!” and you will come back inside to join us. And because I never see you when evening falls, and because I’d rather not discuss your potential thievery with my co-workers, I am left only to wonder if you request two napkins for the latter meal as well.
You see, I notice things. Every day you ask for two napkins at lunch—either from me or a waiter—and after you’ve left—when I come to pick up your poked meal, I am only able to find one napkin. The second has vanished. I’m growing suspicious, I admit, as I think you might be jacking the second napkin, thereby expanding your collection by twos daily—one from lunch and one from dinner. I imagine a cupboard at your home that is latched shut to keep from busting open and cascading down upon you a wash of white cloths, each and every one of similar dimension, folded with the elegance of a paper swan or the precision of an airplane. Then I remember that you probably don’t know how to refold these perfect squares of dense fabric in quite the same fashion as you receive them from us at the café. Then I figure as a symptom of your obsession with our establishment you might be sewing a giant quilt out of these starched materials to wrap yourself up like a mummy. Because, lets face it, you do look the part. And I do hope this napkin-stitched mummy-wrap would keep out the cold, because you always have a frigid demeanor about you, like a rogue straw that got detached from a nearby bird’s nest and blew in with a gust of icy wind, straight through the restaurant doors.
But then I remember that it hasn’t been icy for a fucking day since I moved to Texas. In fact, it’s been a steady 93 degrees. And yet I still imagine your closet stocked with only heavy wool shrouds, because that’s all you ever wear when you come in everyday and request to be seated at the same table in the center of the restaurant—with two napkins. But when I think of you at your closet I think of you naked, or semi-naked, and I wonder how that is possible. Some people don’t ever seem to be naked under their clothing… just another layer of wool.
If you are in fact darning this patchwork blanket of white dinner napkins, I suggest you wear it to the restaurant one of these days; it might serve as the perfect layer of insulation when our air-conditioning proves to shatter you. I promise we won’t haul you off to the cops on account of your theft and your blatant tendency to pill pop at our place of business. See, we’ve caught onto your daily ritual: a table for one, two napkins, Today’s Special, a glass of complementary wine that you have implemented into our menu (because it’s so hard to say no to people who only speak in broken whispers) and a trip to the bathroom with a fist full of meds. I think that’s also where the napkin stealing goes down. I notice how you take one to the bathroom, where you stuff it inside your pleather tote bag to swill around the dark depths with God’s knows what else — pills, lipstick-blotted Kleenex, a steak knife, Isotoner gloves. A few moments later I spy you re-seating yourself, no napkin in your crinkled hand.
A waiter at our restaurant told me that you once requested a table for two, for you and your dog. They made you sit on the patio. I wonder if your dog looks like you. I have no doubt that he/she is as fashion savvy as you, seeing as how all your accessories come together so nicely—the knee high leather boots, the wooly tights, the woven skirts, the cashmere sweaters, the wool scarf. I’m inclined to tell you now that, although I never get to say this to you at the café because I am usually too busy wishing nervously that you would stop winking at me through your Anne Bancroft makeup—I think your sense of fashion is pretty impressive for someone your age. And I think that time you dropped your overcoat to the ground in front of a waiter and whipped off your sweater and threw it over the balcony and then reached for your spit-through white undershirt before he ran back inside, horrified, was really unnecessary. Your outfit truly belonged on you, as a sausage casing keeps the delicate flesh intact, rather than strewn across the parking lot pavement.
Just so you know, we still have your sweater at the café, with a paper sign that says, ‘That Lady’ Scotch-taped to it. So whenever you want it back, just ask. In exchange we’d like our napkins back. Thank you.
Melanie Sevcenko is a journalist and poet. She has reported for BBC, Al Jazeera, CBC, Toronto Star, Monocle, Pacific Standard and Global Post, amongst others. Her poetry and short fiction has been published in several literary publications, including: apt, newleaf, The Fourth River, Sojourn, BlazeVOX, and Nexus. Her new poetry chapbook, We Slept in Body Bags, Just in Case, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014.
Image credit: Stewart Leiwakabessy on Flickr