Short Stories on Tall And True

A window table in an empty restaurant

A Window Table

  12+  The sign at the front desk of the restaurant was emphatic: "WAIT TO BE SEATED." No "Please" or "Thank you". Bernie and his date, Sally, glanced at each other in awkward silence.

"YES," a gruff voice boomed from a speaker on the desk, "DO YOU HAVE A BOOKING?" Bernie stared into the webcam taped to the speaker.

"Um, table for two in the name of Bernie," he responded.

"OKAY, GRAB A TABLE. I'LL BE THERE SHORTLY."

Bernie and Sally exchanged nervous smiles, struck motionless with indecision. But they didn't need to negotiate a labyrinth to find a table. There were no other diners seated in the restaurant. 

"Erm, shall we sit near a window?" Bernie asked. 

Sally nodded, and they chose a table beside the only window, looking out to a dimly lit lane and the dark silhouette of a neighbouring building.

A door at the rear of the restaurant swung open, and a sweaty waiter wearing a food-stained apron appeared. "HERE'S THE MENU," he boomed as if through the speaker, tossing a menu on the table. "I'LL BE BACK FOR YOUR ORDER."

"Um, drinks?" Bernie quizzed hesitantly.

"IT'S BYO," the waiter called back, slamming shut the door and muffling the kitchen clatter of pots crashing and plates smashing.

Sally raised an eyebrow. "I don't understand," Bernie said, bewildered, "this place has good reviews." 

Ignoring the menu on the table, Sally unfolded a napkin and polished her spoon. "Have we been here before?" she asked, eyeing Bernie suspiciously.

He sighed. The dating app simulation was playing out disastrously. "Stop," Bernie commanded the app, "and reset with a five-star restaurant." 

The scene phased out momentarily before Bernie and Sally, whom he'd selected from the app's singles database, rematerialised at the front desk. The sign now requested, "Please wait to be seated. Thank you." That's friendlier, thought Bernie, commanding the app to "Play".

"Bernie and Sally, it's so nice to see you," greeted the transformed, smartly dressed and open-armed waiter. "I've saved your table for you," he said, escorting them to a window table with views of a bright, busy nightlife district. 

"Better than the gloomy lane, huh?" Bernie commented, and Sally gave him a puzzled look. "Sorry, I'm thinking of another time and place," he reassured her.

The waiter's sudden return saved Bernie from further explanation. "I've opened your favourite wine," he said, beaming and pouring a taster for Bernie before filling his and Sally's glasses and handing them the menus.

The waiter retreated, and Bernie clinked Sally's glass. "This is more like it," he said, smiling and sipping his wine. 

But Sally set down her glass and asked, "Have we been here before?" And Bernie groaned and commanded the app to "Stop".

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Too gruff, too friendly, too curious. Bernie had never been able to recapture the simplicity and euphoria of his first dating app simulations. 

He removed the virtual reality headset. It would be microwaved frozen dinner for one again tonight. And Bernie's "home restaurant" had no window table.

© 2024 Robert Fairhead

Thanks to JamesDeMers for sharing the window table image on Pixabay.

I wrote A Window Table in August 2023 for the Australian Writers' Centre's monthly Furious Fiction writing challenge. The brief was:

  • The story had to take place in a RESTAURANT.
  • Include a character who smashes something.
  • And the words EUPHORIA, LABYRINTH and SILHOUETTE.

There are always stories behind my short stories, but the one for A Window Table is the most mysterious because I "lost" the story for six months. In early March 2024, I was working on a blog post to mark my fourth anniversary of Furious Fictions when I realised that August 2023's story was missing. 

I eventually found a copy of the short story, but as I wrote in The Lost and Found Story blog post, I didn't recognise the plot or characters when I read it.

Reading a story I knew must be mine but felt like someone else had written it was weird. But the "DNA" proof that I'd written A Window Table was the restaurant in the first part of the story. I based it on a restaurant I booked for a date in my early twenties (forty years ago!) that also didn't live up to its "good reviews"!

N.B. You can listen to a double-feature episode with A Window Table and The Lost and Found Story blog post on the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. You might like to read the August 2020 story from my first year of Furious Fiction, Splendid Views.

Grammarly

Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.

Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.

Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.

He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. ~ Maya Angelou

Tall And True showcases the writing — fiction, nonfiction and reviews — of a dad and dog owner, writer and podcaster, Robert Fairhead. Guest Writers are also invited to share and showcase their writing on the website.

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