A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I went to a restaurant with my parents and my brother. The wait was really long (about an hour) and it was really cold in the waiting area. So cold, in fact, that only my brother and I, and a gentleman and his son were waiting. Everyone else decided that it was better to be warm and standing, then cold and sitting. I was intrigued by the relationships that occur between strangers in those types of situations and because, at that time, I was writing stories all the time, I wrote a story about it that night. It's still one my favorite stories that I've written and I try to read it every Christmas Eve. So, today, I'm going to share it with you. It's fairly short but if you don't read it I won't be offended. Otherwise, have a merry Christmas.
The two men huddled inside the humid room. People lined the walls as if they were waiting to buy Beatles concert tickets. Some were playing with their fingers and pretending that they were two great warriors about to do battle at the ends of their knees. Others blankly stared into nothing as their brains did hula-hoops in their heads. Still, others tried to strike up conversations that sadly ended after they asked the universal question: “how are you?” and received the universal answer: “fine”.
The two men idly strolled towards the host and met glances of pity, menace and even scorn. Slowly, they asked the forbidden question: “How long is the wait?” Lights flickered. Motion around the room slowed. The two men’s eyes locked onto the host’s lips and in a deep, demonic voice they heard the terrible answer, “Two hours”. Gasps of air shook the room. A pregnant woman fainted. Then, after gaining his composure, Carlos put his name on the list. The host pointed and laughed at the two men in his demonic voice.
Carlos looked for a place to sit down but there were no seats left. Mark found a nice standing spot and Carlos joined him. And what a standing spot! It was a nice smooth wall that you could lean against. It didn’t have anything that poked you in the back and the wall was sturdy so it didn’t feel like it would cave in if you so much as touched it. Carlos and Mark smiled as they realized their great treasure find.
“Don’t touch me!” an ancient old man cried out. “I didn’t buy this house for you to pee in!” The old man then went into a beautiful chorus of Silent Night.
“Don’t worry about him,” a middle-aged woman explained, “That’s Jude. He’s been here the longest they say. I hear he has been here upwards of an hour and 15 minutes. He’s probably just getting delirious. Restaurant Delirium is what they call it in these parts. Either that, or he is just really bored.”
Mark looked around. The people who had already been admitted into the restaurant were eating slowly. Very slowly. Mark finally met eyes with one of them and they smiled as they took the slowest bite of lasagna the world has ever known.
“Those bastards are eating slow on purpose!” Mark announced. The people in the lobby said nothing. “I guess you already knew that…” Mark trailed off. The people actually managed to look more sullen than they already were.
“Okay, gather round young’uns and let your ol’ pappy Jude tell ye a story…” the old man started off. “Once there was a man. And he was a good man! This man liked food. Oh, how he liked that food! Well, one day, the man decides to come to this here restaurant. And you know what happened? He got in. He didn’t have to wait a single minute!” Claps and whistles rung throughout the little lobby as the multitude of people cheered for their hero who defeated the evil system of having to wait to be seated in the restaurant.
“Will I ever live in a world like that pappy Jude?” a small boy asked.
“You sure will, son. You sure will.” Jude replied though it hurt him to lie to the boy. The people in the lobby smiled at the thought of such a world.
An intercom intervened on their thoughts as it announced: “Jude. Party of One. Your table is ready.” Cheers rose up among the ranks as they clapped for their oldest remaining member. Jude danced his way to the host and when he reached him, he turned back and yelled, “Keep the faith my friends, and someday you will join me in there and we will dine as Kings!” He raised his fist and parted from the sight of the group.
While the party reflected on the memories of their departed friend, two people came out of the dining area, obviously stuffed full.
“Oh geez, I couldn’t eat another bite if I tried to,” the man said. “I am just so FULL!” It then became obvious to the group that he was purposely saying this to make the people in the lobby envious and angry.
“Hey, screw you buddy!” an upset, middle-aged man yelled but his wife held him back whispering, “Don’t fight him. He is full of energy and you, in your weakened and starving condition might pass out before you got a good punch in…” The middle-aged man stepped back and hung his head while the other man laughed and fled into the darkness.
A silence fell over the group and there it stayed until finally Carlos and Mark were the only one’s left in the lobby. The last of the group bid them a fond farewell as they parted into the warm, welcoming restaurant. Though they were close friends, Carlos and Mark hardly talked while they waited alone. Sullen grew their day, and dark grew their night. Then, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds, they were called to take their place among the restaurant folk. Jumps of joy and laughter possessed their bodies and they hurriedly followed the host.
They were showed to their table and they picked up their menus and were surprised to see a yellow adhesive note covering the dishes. The note read, “Because of lack of resources, this restaurant is now only serving black licorice. Thank you for your cooperation.”
“When the hell did I say I was going to cooperate?” Carlos asked himself.
The waiter brought them two plates strewn with three long strands of black licorice each. Carlos and Mark sat in silence, not knowing exactly what they should do. Why did they wait two hours for black licorice? They looked at it. It was uninteresting, looking no different than one would expect a piece of black licorice to look. Carlos picked up a piece and took a small bite.
“Hmm…” he started, “It tastes like…” and he never finished the thought.
Mark picked up his and began to eat as well. They finished quickly and paid the absolutely absurd bill to ask for when they were only served six strands of black licorice. Mark and Carlos departed into the cool of the night, each one replaying the events of the night back to themselves in their heads.
On the way to their car, they saw their waiter hanging out at the back of the restaurant. He saw them and called out, “How was it?”
Carlos and Mark looked at each other and tried to think of how to answer the question.