This story is by Jay McCarthy and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
This scene is happening all across the region. If you really think about it, it could be happening at similar institutions across the world. It is lunch time. And everyone is headed to the cafeteria. Now maybe you still call it the lunchroom, or you have dressed it up with a fancy name like the “Café”. Regardless, it is all the same. It is institutional food – fair at best – being served to us, primarily to get us through the second half of our day. Unfortunately for some in the room, it is the only hot meal they may get that day. But for most it is not the food for which they come. Rather it is purely the social aspect of seeing and being seen.
My name is Michael Lawson, and I am a senior here at Springfield. While I am many things here, the most important task I have is that of an observer. It is a great skill set to have since I am the editor of the paper The Voice of Springfield. Four years here and I have gone from writing small tidbits on the daily happenings, to the person in charge of the entire publication. Being the man in charge of any publication is a position with many headaches. Nonetheless, there are some very good perks that come with this job. No, the ladies are not falling over me. But the people in charge sure do. When I need to get an audience with anyone in the administration here, a simple request is all I need to make and they are willing to see me. If I have a complaint about the locker rooms by the pool, or the water fountain in the main hall, they will not only see me, but usually make the fixes quickly. Better to get it done than see it in the next edition.
But I digress. I was starting to talk about the scene that is playing out before me today. As I mentioned, it is one that plays out every day. It is 11:55 and the hungry masses are walking down the hallway to the cafeteria. While no one has arrived yet, I would say that the tables are already set. Not set in the traditional sense, but set because the same groups sit at the same tables day after day. I am sure you would recognize them as well.
First, there is the mean girls table. The clique. The second table is loaded with the cool guys. The big mouths. I’m sure you get the picture. Geographically, these two tables are positioned right next to each other, or at the very least within earshot of each other, since most of the talk is directed at each other. That is because members of each table would love nothing better than to be seated with each other at the third table.
The third table is for “the couple”. She is the one that every other male wishes they were with and he, of course, is the one that every female wishes they were with. The rest of the lunchroom does not even exist to them. They sit together closely and no one else dare sit at the same table.
The rest of the tables are for the people who wished they were at any one of the three tables I just mentioned. For me, I usually move from table to table using my “press credentials” as a way to break the ice.
Attention, screech-screech, attention. We have one sporting event today. Our men will be facing Glen Mills today in an inter-league golf match. The bus will leave the front circle at 3:00 sharp. All team members are asked to be there on time with their clubs. Good luck today!
There are two things that make these 45 minutes intolerable, and neither was the food. The first was waiting in line. No one moved fast. Neither the people in the line, nor the workers slinging the food. The second problem was the incessant announcements from the office, which were always preceded by the screeching over the speakers.
Attention, screech-screech, attention. Tickets for this year’s Senior Prom are available at the main office. Remember, like last year, we are doing the prom jointly with Lamberton High from Philadelphia. Also, Representatives from Tuxedo Junction will be here tomorrow at 3:30 to measure anyone interested.
The mean girls table was fueled by this announcement. They almost all talked at once.
“I can’t believe we are doing the prom with that school from the city, why can’t we just have our own”
“C’mon, be nice, you know they can’t have a prom without us.”
“But they dress so differently than us”
“Not to mention the way they dance, makes me feel like I am standing still”
“We need to get 2 DJ’s, one for our music and one for theirs”
“Did you get a dress yet?”
“Dress, I don’t even have a date!”
Laughter filled the table, finally. In the end we all know exactly what will happen. The girls from that table will connect with the boys from the other table, and the weeks of angst will seem like a lot of wasted time.
Attention, screech-screech, attention, tickets for this year’s play are still available at the main office. Come see Joan Farrell as Annie and John Farrell as Daddy Warbucks. Don’t’ wait till “Tomorrow” for tickets, they might be gone – and it will be a “Hard Knock Life” for those without tickets.
Now the boys table is abuzz with comments.
“Who wants to go see a play?”
“Ask Daddy Warbucks over there what he thinks.”
“♫ NYC, NYC ♫”
“Johnny, taking Ms. Hanigan to the prom?”
“Maybe, I know we will get liquored up before hand”
And the table explodes in laughter – finally. Tomorrow the same banter will start up again, only the topic might change.
With that comment, all heads turned to the table where Sophie and Michael sat. They acted like they were the only two people in the entire room. Unfortunately for them, the entire cafeteria knew they thought they were the only two people. Whether they felt the stares was unknown, but they undoubtedly heard the comments.
“I really don’t know what he sees in her”
“You know what he sees in her, all the things you don’t have”
“He saw all the things I have”
“Yes, and so did half the male population in this room”
The girls broke into laughter again, leaving the boys to start to chime in.
“I can’t watch the two of them anymore”
“Yeah, talk about being whipped!”
“Think she’ll let him go to his golf match today?”
“Maybe she’ll caddy for him, you know, I’m sure she is an expert in cleaning his…”
“Shoes, I was going to say shoes. What did you think I was going to say?”
And the boys table broke out in laughter, turning the discussion back to the girls.
“You know she has a daughter”
“We all know about her daughter, old news there.”
“No, she is really sick. I hear she has been in the hospital for over a week. They think it might be cancer”
“I hear he takes her every afternoon to the hospital and sits with her till visiting hours are over”
“You know he’s not the father”
“We all know he’s not the father”
“But I am sick of him acting like he is”
“You are sick of what, that he cares about her and helps her through a difficult time, even though her baby is sick?”
“We should all wish we could find a boyfriend like that.”
Silence fell over the table; they all realized there was nothing to laugh about, or snooty to say. And as if the director had cued the lovers, they rose from their table. Their path would take them by both tables, like an exit gauntlet. They slowly rose from the table, with Michael stopping for a moment to throw his trash away. Then coming back to hold her hand to leave. I was wondering whether the hand was for physical support, or support from the masses. Sophie kept her head down the length of the walk, while Michael acknowledged the two tables with a slight nod. Just as they walked through the double doors, a comment came from the boy’s table:
“Oh my god, this is like a bad Viagra commercial”
Laughter erupted from both tables. Sophie stopped and turned around and the laughter abruptly stopped. She smiled and said:
“Funny, with me he doesn’t need that little blue pill”
And with that, Michael helped her into her Revo Electric Scooter and they headed down the hall away from the cafeteria. She is going to a macramé class, and he to get ready for the putting contest against Glen Mills.
You just witnessed another lunch hour at Springfield Estates, – the finest senior care facility in Delaware County.
Lots of sparky dialogue here. The tense jumped around a bit, I noticed. Which two worlds are colliding here?