What were their names? I knew them

once. They arrived at the mall diner 

every afternoon at 4, and I’d greet them 

with silverware already in hand, follow

 

them back to their booth—always

the same one across from the kitchen.

Why can’t I picture her face? I see 

his thick black-rimmed glasses, the lines

 

of his forehead, but her features slipped

my mind, or maybe I never looked her

straight in the eyes. Once, she snapped

at a server who wouldn’t pick the beans 

 

out of her minestrone. Another day,

she showed up in wrinkled pajama pants

and a wool winter coat and a scowl.

We’d whisper as we wiped counters:

 

Was it dementia? Did they have anyone

to look after them? Who was she before

she yelled at waitresses over unwanted

beans? Did anyone grab that decaf coffee

 

for table 5? No? I’ll get it. Spring came,

and the piles of parking lot snow melted

into the asphalt cracks. The mall walkers

stopped pacing the halls. I moved west, 

 

started college. Still, all these years later

the smell of onions frying takes me back

there before I can resist. Still, I wonder

if the regulars come in for supper. What

 

were their names? Memory will fail us all 

in the end; still, someone may shrug off 

your unkindness, someone may place

a cup of warm soup in your hands.

 

By Claire Buck

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