Dinner Time

by Jim Harrington


Margaret toddled down the hall on her way to dinner. She didn’t normally wear pajamas when she went out, but there wasn’t enough time to change.

She stopped to look at a painting she didn’t recognize. The sign on one building had the words Cafe Bourgeois. Aliz’s Pub was on another. The streets were narrow and cobblestoned, the buildings small and old, like her. She moved on. A wheel on her walker wobbled with each step.

Margaret reached the dining hall and noticed the man sitting at a table in the corner. His gray hair was cut short − military style. His eyes were closed. He wore slippers. She frowned and looked away.

It bothered her that no one else was seated. People needed to be on time. It was a rule.

Leaving her walker along the wall, the one with a large calendar listing activities for July, she shuffled to her chair. The menu perched in the middle of the table had two pages − one for lunch and one for dinner. She read the dinner side, crinkled her nose when she got to broiled fish, and nodded at the chicken pot pie.

“Hello, Margaret.”

“Hello,” Margaret parroted and added a wave, like she saw the Queen do on TV.

“What are you doing here?” the woman, dressed in an orange blouse and pants set with Karen on her nametag, said. “You should be in bed.”

“I’m hungry. I came down for dinner.”

“It’s 2:00 in the morning.”

“But I’m hungry.” Frustration spread across Margaret’s face. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I’m sorry, Margaret.” Karen smiled and put a hand on the older woman’s shoulder. “It’s been a long night. How about a package of cookies and some juice? Will that hold you until breakfast?”

“I guess it’ll have to,” Margaret mumbled.

“Well, I can always sneak you another package of cookies if one isn’t enough.” Karen bent down so her lips were near Margaret’s ear. “Our little secret. Okay?”

“How about him?” Margaret nodded toward the man in the corner. “Will he tell on us?”

“Nah,” Karen said with a wave, like she was shooing a fly. “He’s probably asleep.”

Margaret went back to reading the menu. When Karen returned with a glass of apple juice and a package of peanut butter cookies, Margaret looked up and, pointing at the menu, said, “I’ll have the chicken pot pie and fruit cup.”


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