Table for One

By Linda DeMers Hummel

Table for One

“Table for one.”

I make sure I say it quickly before the hostess sneaks a glance behind me, looking for a dining companion. I follow her to the far corner of the restaurant. “How’s this?” she asks. It’s a half-booth with one bench instead of two. As I slide in, it feels a little cramped, like a study carrel in a library. I can hear people chatting and laughing all around me, but the sides of the vinyl booths are too high to see anyone.

It’s perfect.

It’s perfect because I’ve never done this before in my hometown, and the forced anonymity of the booth is a comfort. Eating alone was something I used to do regularly on business trips, but that ended a few years ago. In work mode, I would still be wearing a good suit and expensive shoes, always toting my phone and laptop and wasting no time in setting them out on the table. Eating was secondary. My first message to anyone in the restaurant who cared (which was no one): I am working, not really eating alone.

This was an ordinary Saturday, and I was in jeans and a sweater. I’d finished a shopping trip in my old neighborhood, just in time to discover a fierce thunderstorm rolling in. It seemed a little dangerous to drive even the short distance home, and I knew this restaurant – a famous local ribs joint – well. I’d been here with my husband when I was married. I’d been here lots of times with my kids when they were in high school. Never alone.

The hostess hadn’t seemed surprised when I asked for a table for one. Did I look like the type of older woman who eats by herself? What kind of woman is that, I wondered. Was she a woman who didn’t care at all if couples passed by, feeling just a little sorry for her as she sat alone? Was she hoping her waiter would be around soon so she’d have something to do with her hands? Was she thinking that being part of a duo in a restaurant was a much better way to be? Was I one of those women? All of those women? After glancing at the menu, which I already knew by heart, I just barely controlled my desire to whip out my phone and pretend I was sending important texts to important people.

“Waiting out the storm?” my waitress casually asks as she takes my drink order.

“Oh, yes!” I answer. (Translation: “I would never eat alone without a good reason. I have millions of adoring friends and family who dine with me often.”) Every time she comes back to check on me, I talk about the storm as if Katrina is howling outside. The ribs are better than I even remember them. I’m pretty sure I’ll want them again, maybe soon. All I’ll need will be a raging storm as an excuse and the corner booth available where no one can see me.

Three weeks later, on a clear Friday evening, I picked up my car from the mechanic. As I took a breath and pulled out my credit card, the receptionist uttered the best news I could have heard: “Everything’s covered under your warranty.” A celebration was in order.

“Table for one!”

This time the place was packed with couples and families, probably – though I didn’t look too hard – people I knew in my past married life. I wasn’t sure what I’d do if someone from my old neighborhood found me in the corner booth and said, “Linda, is that you?” Would I make up an excuse, or would I just talk about how much I loved the ribs? That didn’t happen, and I ordered a full rack. I realized I didn’t know if they were pork or beef and – news flash – I didn’t care.

This afternoon, I found I was hungry after gardening. Very hungry. I had been working hard all morning, planting and pruning, and whipping my tiny backyard into a shape I’d be proud of. No storm this afternoon. No celebration necessary. No excuse, no cover story. Just an ordinary Saturday.

“Table for one,” I say. Instead of heading for the corner booth, the hostess seats me at a table in the middle of the restaurant, which is noisy and crowded as usual. The extra room feels luxurious. When my beer is served, I savor the first smooth gulp, take a long look around, and consider which side dishes to order. Perfect.

About this writer

  • Linda DeMers HummelLinda DeMers Hummel is a Baltimore-based writer who has recently completed a memoir, “I Haven’t Got All Day.” She spends a lot of time lately hoping to get good news from her agent.

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One Response to “Table for One”

  1. Linda, it is amazing how we grow once find our “release.” Table for one, indeed. I enjoyed your story.

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