Lillian, a woman in her 50s
Counter Man, in his 30s or 40s
(New York City. A coffee shop counter, with stools. Lillian sits, sets a Sunday paper on the next stool.)
I’ll have my usual, Jimmy. You can set the clock by me, I bet. And the calendar besides.
How many Sundays I’ve been coming in?
Oh, God—who’d’ve known? What’s the date—today’s an anniversary, if you can imagine—an occasion! Oh my God . . . .
(Flashing a smile to acknowledge her chatter, he sets silverware and a glass of water.)
Thanks . . . Bring the o.j. with the bagel.—My gastroenterologist says I need to relax, but what a week. The manufacturers won’t deliver, the customers won’t pay, my boss if I take two minutes at my desk to check my lipstick, you’d think I’m embezzling funds from the till. Then my toilet stops working. I call the super, I pour water from the sink, I use my neighbor’s. So she gives me a look to kill every time I ring her bell. What am I supposed—to hold it in till I get to the office?
How many years I’ve been coming here . . . ?
(With rueful bitterness)
So it’s an anniversary. Can you believe it? Wowee!
(He has taken a bagel from the toaster and buttered it. He brings it to her with an orange juice and the check. She will take a few bites of the bagel and a few sips of the juice.)
Thanks, Jimmy. You know how I like it.—That’s what I gave him every Sunday morning: a toasted bagel and an o.j. . . . In 12 years, that’s 12 times 52, maybe 600 toasted bagels, subtracting the weeks he had to travel on business. Business! I bet.
I always was good in arithmetic, maybe I should take a course in computers. I should also move out west, make a change. Change is good for a person, isn’t it? Did you know that Reno, Nevada, is actually west of Los Angeles, California? It is! You can look it up.
Yeah, 12 years. That’s where the habit comes from. Tears, music, laughter . . . toasted bagels every Sunday morning.
(Wipes her eye.)
I’m sorry. I’ve always been emotional. Did I mind how long it took to squeeze fresh juice? We didn’t have one of those electric gizmos, which I don’t feature anyway—they strain out too much of the pulp. . . . Sometimes I would go out early to get bagels that were still warm from the store when I sliced them.
(Closes her eyes, remembering)
Mmm . . . .
(Shaking her head sadly)
Who knows where love goes? Gone with the wind? Down the drain? Why do fools fall in love? Huh? Tell me . . . The things I did for him. You know what I actually did? I actually went to this old Gypsy, and I asked her for the secret of keeping a man. Yuh, I did that. Want to know the secret? Not that I’m implying you’re that type, are you? I didn’t think so.
I cared so much about Larry that I went to this terrible street, and I swallowed my pride like a hard-boiled egg, and I asked the Gypsy. She told me, for 40 dollars. You say: “It’s so big tonight!” That’s all—five—no, four little words, and he’s eating out of your hand. “It’s so big tonight!”
It works, all right, like a charm—but only so long. After a while, he starts asking questions: “What was wrong with it last month?” . . . “Whom or what is your basis of comparison?” . . . and it’s all over. All the good effects. Meanwhile the Gypsy and your 40 smackers are in some other godforsaken neighborhood, God knows where.
You think about the past, and you remember, and you recall what you did for him . . . How could he give it up like that—so blithely, so without regret—12 years of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears? Twelve years of toasted bagels? . . . I worked my fingers to the bone, I pushed my nerves to the utmost, I entertained him, I gave him pleasure, I fed him, I flattered him. And he left me. Left me flat. Oh, God, Jimmy, can you believe it?
And he said it was because I talk too much. Can you believe that? That bum!
(She is quiet for a moment but then takes a breath and continues.)
I could forgive anything, but you know what hurt? As he was leaving, his bags all packed, his stereo out in the hallway, a box of records holding open the elevator—as he was leaving, he said to me: “And those bagels! Those goddam toasted bagels! Couldn’t you tell I was sick of them! Couldn’t you make me a pancake or a waffle—or a bowl of Wheatena!”
That was the thanks I got, Jimmy. And this very day today is the anniversary of the day he left. Twenty-two years ago. . . . Yeah, 22 years . . . .
Well, thanks for listening. Some people happen to be good listeners. Larry never was. No-sir-ee.
(She gets up, takes check, leaves tip, picks up Sunday paper.)
See you next week. I wouldn’t miss my Sunday mornings for the world. Bye, Jimmy. Bye.
(calling after her—he doesn’t expect her to hear)
And it’s Joe! Lady—the name is Joe!