I sighed. The lone customer waited in silence for his grilled cheese which, gauging by the still-limp bread, would take at least another three minutes to brown. Five months of buttering bread and deftly peeling wax paper from individual slices of cheddar cheese. Five months of waiting for bread to brown.
I regarded him from the corner of my eye. He was a regular customer, and yet I knew nothing about him. He was one of the quiet patrons; one of the disaffected. Neither of us had ever attempted to engage each other in conversation. I turned my gaze back to the obstinate sandwich. Still pale.
“Do you have plans for Thanksgiving?”
He looked back at me, wide-eyed, startled by the abruptly broken silence.
“Oh. Uh. I’m just going home. To Long Island.” He smiled ruefully.
Interesting. He hadn’t struck me as the Long Island type.
“That sounds nice. So, you’re from New York, then?”
“Well, yeah. But I went to school for a while in the Midwest.”
Now I was invested.
“University of Michigan?”
The conversation progressed.
“What do you do in New York?”
“Well. I’m, um, unemployed. I was an attorney.”
“What kind of law did you practice?”
“I was an employment attorney.”
“Oh, god. How ironic.”
He smiled in response; I noted that he had nice teeth. I’d never seen him smile before.
His grilled cheese was suddenly done, and we soon bid each other a mutual “Happy Thanksgiving.” He ambled back out into the grey, pre-Thanksgiving afternoon; I poured myself a quarter mug of coffee and cooled my forehead against the exposed brick wall behind the bar.
Another customer; another coffee. Another early afternoon on Avenue B. Another holiday season.
And soon, another year.