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"I have been thinking about the patience of ordinary things."

On March 12th, 2020, the bar was empty. A state of emergency had been announced the night before but I was still working the dinner shift. The atmosphere was tense and confusing, unsure if we should be scared or if nothing had really happened at all.

But I stocked the wine and cut the garnishes, the busser folded napkins and took their time setting the silverware that no one would use tonight.

No one came in. So we sat in the back, passing the time snacking on bread and olive oil and making ourselves lattes in paper cups, sitting on the counter and talking shit.

The hostess peaks into the server station, grimaces, and says, “Beatrice is here.”

To which we all groan and collectively roll our eyes. I hop off the counter, wipe the crumbs from my mouth, and rummage up the energy to perform what is known as “hospitality.”

Beatrice is a regular. A rail-thin woman in her 70s with a cropped blonde bob, a black turtleneck, and delicate pearl necklace. She comes in alone, sometimes with a friend who seems to know her distantly, but usually alone.

She says hello as I methodically reach for the Margot, a heavy pour that she never asks for but always insists on with the way her eyes follow the liquid just past the line between average and indecent.

I know she wants the tomato salad, but she leans in and asks anyway with a cheeky smile, that I return with a wink. A routine that tonight feels undercut with a power dynamic, of -

We shouldn’t be here.
Something isn’t right.
You are asking too much of me.

Beatrice is…particular. She is calm but picky, complains seldom but pointedly, and likes to talk.

Never forcefully, but the need emanates from her. The kind of regular that every bartender recognizes. Though she doesn’t know me, I make up a significant portion of her social life.

I don’t want to talk tonight. It doesn’t feel good and we don’t feel safe. And so beyond the “Hi, how are you?” and “What’s happening?” and “Isn’t this crazy?” I busy myself with polishing bottles, and other duties that clearly don’t need completing.

She takes out her notebook, the one that’s hard-covered and pocket-sized like a deck of cards. The one she usually reaches for on busy nights when I’m in the weeds and don’t have attention to spare.

She memorizes poems in this tiny notebook. Sitting at the bar, she copies words in the smallest handwriting, and mouths them inaudibly. We don’t usually chat about the poems. It seems an activity she genuinely enjoys in solitude, but prefers it with her wine and tomato salad. She doesn’t need me to ask and we go about our routine with a quiet togetherness.  

The empty restaurant, the lone patron, and me with my rag slung over my shoulder ringing clear like an Edward Hopper painting. I bite. The singularity of the evening overcoming me, the moment begging to be acknowledged.

“What poem are you working on?” I ask.
She looks up, delighted.
“Oh, it’s beautiful. Would you like me to read it to you?”
“Yes,” I confess, not without hesitation.

She proceeds to read it aloud. Her voice is loud in the empty room, despite its gentleness. Each word affects her, but she remains composed and steady.

It’s the story of a couple no longer in love but asleep in the same bed.
Pondering their distance. Their life together.
And at the end, reaching for each other.  

It is a beautiful.
She finishes and smiles like she has just shared a secret.
The confident vulnerability that a woman in her 70s has earned. No more need to worry about what other people think.
I feel moved to offer something in return, searching for something of equal value.  

Scrambling for a moment until I remembered, “There is one poem I have memorized.” And for whatever reason, perhaps the persistent intuition that I may not see Beatrice for a long time, I began to recite it.

“I have been thinking about the patience of ordinary things.
How the soap sits quietly in the dish.
How clothes wait respectfully in closets.
The lovely repetition of stairs.
And what
Is more generous
than a window?”

She sighs. “That is wonderful.”

I learned a lot about Beatrice that night. We talked for hours.
She told me about her lovers and marrying too young.
How she got caught up with this nomadic caravan in the 70s and things got bad and she had to escape with her son in the middle of the night.

Her years as a nurse through her 30s and 40s.
Putting herself through law school in her 50s.
Men who were terrible to her.
Women who were good to her.

“I’m what people would call bisexual I guess,” she chuckled. “I never thought about it, I just had relationships with women. Sometimes we would make love and sometimes we were just very dear friends.”

There was one particularly saucy story involving a French woman and a bar of soap imprinted with a Fleur de Lis.

“It’s so hard to meet women at my age, though,” she said. “I don’t know how to approach them and they don’t know how to approach me.”

I laughed in commiseration and said, “You know where a great place to meet gay women is, Beatrice? At a poetry reading.”

Reacting with genuine surprise, “Really?”

“Yes, I think that would be a great place to start.”

“Well, I just might do that.”

She packed up her things and we said our goodbyes. She thanked me for a lovely evening and I waved as she said that she would report back with her luck on the poetry reading.

The next day, the restaurant closed and I was laid off indefinitely, the news reporting confirmed cases of something called “The Corona Virus” on a frantic loop. I haven’t seen Beatrice since, but I do think that instead of asking people where they’re from or what they do for a living we should all commit something to memory.

So at drab parties and dinner with friends of friends, we can simply ask,

“Will you read me your poem?”