By Julia Wysokinska
A woman dining alone at a restaurant realizes memory doesn’t serve her justice.
I hear utensils clanking against one another, the sound originating from the table near me. A waiter carrying a silver platter almost walks into an unattended chair in his hurry.
How odd it is that I could be sitting alone at a table in a coffee shop and no one would bat an eye, yet here, I feel as though I’m on display. Look at me, restaurant diners! I couldn’t find a buddy, so I bare my lonely soul for all to see, for your enjoyment.
Maybe the brunette and the older gentleman across the room are talking about me, exchanging witty, slightly cruel remarks at my expense. Maybe the waiters think I’m being stood up by a blind date, and maybe they’ll offer me a free dessert out of pity. Maybe the mysterious figure at the bar is prepared to send a consolation drink my way. But maybe none of them notice me at all.
I still feel their eyes on me. It’s almost as though I’m in high school again, reciting a poem in the auditorium as the entire student body stares past me, definitely not paying any attention, my voice threatening to break and shatter if I look away from the text in my hands.
I can’t take it anymore. My phone makes its way from my purse to the table. I quickly glance out at the other diners, then look back at the table before me. I knew coming here alone would be a challenge, but this is somehow even more brutal than the worst-case scenario my brain could conjure up. If I pretend I’m busy on my phone, will others think the sight of me is less sad?
Instinct takes over and I click on the light blue link that autofills when I type in the beginning of my email address. I check my work email inbox, then my personal. No new messages have sifted in within the last hour. A crazy idea forms in my head: I’ll check my high school email. I discover they’ve upgraded to online versions of the newspaper and I’m subscribed to their email blasts.
Investigating my former school’s website, I realize they’ve posted many older issues of the school newspaper. My finger hovering over the student work, I click on the collection of sports articles from my senior year. I recognize my own article about the soccer team, complete with pictures documenting the afternoons spent watching games and practices at a nearby park, cheering her on.
She’s wearing her soccer jersey, sticking her tongue out at the camera. This was the championship game, and she must have known the hired photographer was taking photos to be published. She was usually so serious around adults, ever the professional. It was only when we were goofing around after school or during free periods that she showed her playful side.
The photo is grainy. It doesn’t do her freckles justice. The background washes her out, but the other team’s players wearing bright blue jerseys adds some contrast. To the untrained eye, the jerseys are the interesting part of the photo. To me, she’s the focus.
I’m surprised to see this photo here. I’d expect to see it taken at a birthday party or weekend trip away, any private affair. She usually would have taken a more appropriate, universal stance. She would have known it would go in the school newspaper for all to see.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
A waiter walks over to my table and I set the menu down. He looks at me. I look at him. He smiles and begins spouting off, probably about the specials of the day. I’m his only audience member and yet I can’t decipher anything he’s saying. His words are like steamed carrots: mushy, unappetizing, and, frankly, confusing. His muffled chatter ceases and he tilts his head. I assume he must have just asked me a question, but I don’t know what it was.
“Uh, I… I’m going to need more time,” I offer hesitantly.
He swivels around and goes to the foyer to send another couple to a table. The string band roars and the conversations around me become unbearably loud. I grab my purse and fumble around looking for my wallet. After an embarrassingly long attempt, I come across my sage green pocketbook, made out of vegan leather and engraved with my initials. I pry it open, then throw two crumpled twenty dollar bills beside my empty bread plate. The waiter definitely lost out on tips because of me so I might as well try to make it up to him.
I grab my coat in my hands, opting to put it on as I rush out of the restaurant instead of taking my time and keeping a semblance of composure. The warm lighting of the eatery recedes into my blindspot, and the honks of taxi cabs and cooing pigeons mark my arrival. I find myself on the snowy streets of New York once more.
During a pair session with my mentor, Jamie, she planned a writing exercise in which we would respond to short prompts to get our creativity flowing. After our meeting, I looked back at my writing and realized I wanted to continue working on the stories, and so I combined ideas to create this work. I previously focused mainly on writing essays, but now that I’ve worked on this submission, I’ve decided that I’d like to work on more fictional stories moving forward as well.
Julia Wysokinska is a high school junior. Born in Poland, she now lives in Queens. She was first published in second grade, co-writing a book called "Cool Facts You Never Knew About Sharks," and she can’t wait to be published again.