The Waiting Game: a short story

BY MATTHEW CHONG
Staff Writer

      “Pardon me,” the man said to the waiter, “would you mind bringing us another chair? We’re expecting someone else.”
      It was clear to both the waiter and to Eldridge’s son, William, who sat across from his father, that the old man was anticipating something. His eyes had a particular glimmer in them, a glimmer which William saw in only the rarest of moments.
      The waiter replied, “Of course, Mr. Eldridge. Would you like anything else while you wait? A good wine, perhaps?”
      “I’m afraid that we can’t,” William said hurriedly, “at least not until Mary arrives.”
      “Quite right, quite right,” said Mr. Eldridge as he nodded his head in agreement. Having sent the waiter away with an order for water, William had the opportunity to examine his father, who was staring out the window, hoping to see a familiar face in the crowd passing by.
      “We agreed on 7:00 at Scalari’s and it’s already 7:05. It’s not like Mary to be late.”
      William replied, “You can relax, Dad. I’m sure she’ll be here soon.”
      “Did I ever tell you how I met her, Will? She walked into this restaurant, not even two days ago. She sat right here, at this very table, and…”
      In another life, Dr. David Eldridge had been the foremost psychologist of his time, credited with furthering human understanding of the brain’s memory centers. At parties, he liked to brag that he had seen all that there was to see in the world. He even carried his passport, loaded with dozens of foreign stamps as proof. But that all changed when-
      “Here you are,” the waiter said as he brought the glasses of water to the table.
      “Thank you,” William said in reply. His father was still looking out the window, his spectacles making contact with the antique glass. The weather was colder than usual, even by New York standards. No matter how many layers he put on, the cold always seemed to be biting at William’s body. Even inside the restaurant, where the electric heaters were working around the clock, the atmosphere was more akin to the Arctic than the American Northeast.
      To the younger Eldridge’s relief, the place was more crowded than usual. Dozens of New Yorkers (as well as the occasional tourist), looking for warmth and a stiff drink, had found themselves congregating at Scalari’s Bar. Like William’s father, Scalari’s had its fair share of historic moments. For example, when it first opened in the Prohibition era, Scalari’s was an underground speakeasy, serving up the best Canadian whiskey to New York’s high society. In the years that followed, the speakeasy became an Italian eatery and olive oil dispensary before becoming the bar that contemporary New Yorkers knew and loved. To this day, it seemed to William that the place hadn’t lost any of its glamour.
      Nearly an hour and four glasses later, William finally convinced his father to leave. He was relieved, given that the elder Eldridge didn’t make a loud fuss as he had on other occasions. “Dad, maybe Mary had something to do tonight. She’ll probably explain what happened when she sees you.”
      “But-”
      “Dad, it’s okay. Come on, here’s your coat.” The frail old man put the coat on slowly, as if it took every ounce of his being to put the jacket on. He smiled as William pulled down the sleeves.
       “Why,” said Eldridge, “thank you, young man. What’s your name?” He held out his hand in greeting.
       “William, sir. William Eldridge,” his son replied.
       “William…That’s a fine name.”
       “Yes, sir. Yes, it is.”
      Holding his father’s hand, William stepped out into the frigid New York evening. Judging from the clouds overhead, he expected that a blizzard would be coming in soon. Quickening their paces, the two men finally arrived at William’s brownstone overlooking Central Park.
      After dressing his father and putting him to bed, the younger Eldridge sat at his computer. As a senior majoring in psychology at Columbia University, he was under enormous pressure with regards to his dissertation. This pressure had only worsened with his father’s diagnosis six months earlier.
     Unable to write or sleep, he opened the photo album on his computer. William smiled at his father’s accomplishments: a professorship at Oxford, the Nobel Prize. But what never failed to catch William’s eye was the scan of an old Polaroid, frayed and yellowed by the passage of time. Still, time failed to blur the photo’s subjects. Beneath the picture, written in his father’s handwriting, were the words “My dearest wife Mary and son William (age 10), Miami, FL (1986).”
      That was one of the best days of my life, William thought. The weather was just right: not too hot, not too cold. Mom and I tried to bury Dad in the sand. Remember, Dad? Do you remember any of that? William could feel his rising body temperature, and the warm tears beginning to well up in his eyes. God, I miss Mom. What did you feel when she died? Did you even feel anything?
      “Mary,” David Eldridge said fearfully, “Mary, are you there? Mary?” Wiping the tears from his eyes, the son went in to try and comfort his father.

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