Table 14 at Archie's Cafe
by Helen Curtis
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It was a cold morning for March. Evelyn pulled her shrug in tighter with her kid-gloved hands; it made little difference, for her tremor was more to do with her mental state than the frigid air. Across the street she could see the soft glow of the pink and blue neon, "A ch es afe - we' e ope ." Her heart ached as she gazed upon the once-iconic Archies Cafe sign. How special it had been all those years ago. How sad and run-down it looked now in comparison.
A sudden thrust from behind propelled Evelyn across Main Street. Slowly she walked up to Archie's and placed her hand on the solid wooden door. It seemed much heavier to open than Evelyn recalled, then she was forty years younger the last time she was here. The little bell jingled above her head as she stepped inside, announcing the arrival of a new customer. Evelyn resisted the tears straining at her eyes as thoughts of yesteryear forced their way to the front of her mind. The art-deco ceiling tiles and parquetry floor; the black and pink booths along the walls, themselves adorned with photographs of celebrities who had frequented the premises. The irony of the moment was overwhelming.
A girl, young yet self-assured, approached. "Good morning, Ma'am. Table for one this morning?" The waif-like waitress was nothing like the girls who served in the old days. "Amy" was clearly there under sufference; pleasant enough, but nonchalant and impersonal.
"Yes, thank you. Table 14, if that's available." There was no need to ask, given she was one of few customers present, but that had always been "their table;" no other booth would suffice. Amy led Evelyn towards the small booth positioned along the front window. She sat on the cool vinyl seat; the colours from the flickering neon sign caught her eye as they danced on the table in rhythmic cadence.
"Evie! My darling, you look beautiful as always." Freddy Jones took the No.14 table marker from young Evelyn's petite hand and placed a gentlemanly kiss upon her slender fingers.
"Now, Freddy, you know that you must behave yourself; what if we were to be seen by a reporter from "The Gazette" or something?" Evelyn's words were playful, but he sensed that she was serious.
"Would that be so bad? I mean, we've been courting now for several months and I thought. . . "
"Freddy, please don't . . . "
"Evie, you know how I feel about you, and I know you feel the same way about me. Please, Evie, please say yes." Freddy's eyes implored her to follow her senses, to marry the man who loved her so much he ached, and settle into a comfortable reality as a wife and mother. Evelyn desperately wanted to want this, but the dream just would not die. With mascara streaking her porceline features, she looked into Freddy's face and, for the last time, refused him. He had every sign of someone who had just been slapped hard across the face. He grimaced as he let her words sink into his soul. Then, with great strength of character, he reached out his hand and shook hers, wishing her every success in life.
That was the last time Evelyn laid eyes on Freddy Jones. He'd recovered and found love with Sheila Keller, a plain but devoted girl with no aspirations in life other than becoming a housewife. Evelyn scoffed at Sheila's small-mindedness among friends, an attempt to silence the regret that so often washed over her. No, she would succeed; she would be someone, something more than just a housewife. Whatever it took, the name of Evelyn Wiltshire would be remembered.
Waitress Amy interrupted Evelyn's reverie with the cappucino she didn't recall ordering. "I hope you don't mind me asking but, aren't you Evelyn Wiltshire, the lady in that picture?" Evelyn felt time stand still as she stared at the portrait of her 25-year-old self hanging in pride of place on the wall. She'd found the fame she'd longed for; why then did it now feel so empty? So lonely? She longed to return to the foolish teen-aged girl of so many years ago, to tell her to cherish what really matters; to choose the path of anonymity, the path that would be built of memories and love, by people who really knew her, the real her, not just recognise her face. The tears now flowed freely.
"No, Amy, I'm definitely not the same person as the lady in the picture."
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Thanks so much for the feedback everyone! I love the comments, both the encouragement and the 'red ink' which I will use to hopefully, (maybe one day), use to improve and expand on this story. Blessings, Helen
Oh I love this story. I was captivated right away. The sadness and loneliness oozed from the screen. The only sentence I stumbled over was this one : It seemed much heavier to open than Evelyn recalled, then she was forty years younger the last time she was here. Maybe if you showed her having a hard time something like She gripped the handle and tugged as the veins in her face bulged at the effort. Sure forty years had passed since she last entered these doors but still... or perhaps just changing the then in your sentence to a but might have made it easier for me to read. The MC was a delightful character because I couldn't help but want to root for her, wanted her to know fame isn't everything before it was too late. This is a delightful story that nails the topic. It's well-written and the message echos in my heart.
Oh, if we could only go back and do it over, with what we know today. Excellent writing. If I'd Jesus in my life like this how glorious my life could have been. God Bless and wonderful writing!!
I enjoyed the change of time frame in the middle and it helped me to identify with Evelyn and her regret. I was uncomfortable with what seemed to change between an onlooker or the memories from a personal side; for me it made the story stumble. I could be totally wrong in this, but here is an example of what I see; '"Yes, thank you. Table 14, if that's available." There was no need to ask, given she was one of few customers present, but that had always been "their table;" no other booth would suffice. Amy led Evelyn towards the small booth positioned along the front window. She sat on the cool vinyl seat; the colours from the flickering neon sign caught her eye as they danced on the table in rhythmic cadence. ' One minute it is Evelyn's memory, then we are watching her being led to the table, and then we are back to her experiencing the vinyl and neon light. I have no experience in critique, but I am just sharing what I feel. Hope it helps. I'm glad you threw the brick and i didn't miss out on this. I enjoyed it; particularly the ending statement which spoke volumes. Thank you.
Oh, this is good. Wish I knew the rest of her story. One point of view shift I noticed... "Now, Freddy, you know that you must behave yourself; what if we were to be seen by a reporter from "The Gazette" or something?" Evelyn's words were playful, but he sensed that she was serious. If it's from Evelyn's POV, she doesn't know that he sensed she was serious. Great job. I'd love to see an expanded version of this.
This is a great piece of writing. I didn't feel so much as though I was reading it as much as experiencing and remembering it. Such an easy read is always the mark of a great work of writing to me. Congratulations on a job very well done!
Hmmmm. This was a very good read. I felt like I was right there, walking alongside your MC. It's a really great piece on the regrets of our lives...hmmmmm, I just felt the story was so "homey"...loved it!
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