By Candlelight

by Sarah Nixon

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She balanced her fork on one finger. The candle had burned so low that it now cast a shadow up at her. She had unfolded her napkin and refolded it a dozen times in the past hour, and it lay smoothly in front of her. Across the table, a bundle of silverware neatly wrapped in clean white linen hadn’t been touched.

 

 The busboys carrying stacks of plates and unwanted food skirted around her gingerly, eyeing her half-empty table for two but not coming near it. She noted their gazes but did not react. Instead, she put her fork down, retrieved her purse from the floor, unzipped it, and rifled through it, taking care not to disturb the order inside. She eventually fished out a small silver mirror, unclasped it, and gave her face a cursory glance. It hadn’t changed since the last time she had looked at it; her lipstick was still unsmudged, her face was still lightly powdered, and not one hair was out of place in her neatly coiffed hairdo. She snapped the mirror shut sharply as a waiter in a crisp white jacket arrived at her side.

 

 “Can I get you anything while you wait, ma’am?” he asked, sounding absently apologetic.

 

 “He’s got a few more minutes,” she replied shortly.

 

 The waiter nodded curtly and disappeared. She watched him go to have something to watch, but he slipped through a kitchen door and was gone. Her eyes slid toward her watch and then away again.

 

 Three minutes later, precisely on the hour, the woman folded her napkin, laid her unused fork neatly on top of it next to her unused spoon and knife, gathered her purse, stood, and left the restaurant. A busboy came by her empty table and blew out the flickering candle before it died.

Copyright © 2017 Sarah Hemmi.  All rights reserved.