Harry’s Roadhouse out on the Old Las Vegas Highway is a local hangout. The customers are an intriguing mix of artsy types, musicians, actors, cowpersons, politicos, and normal people.
They’re open seven days a week and they happen to be about two minutes and thirty-five seconds from our house, so we end up there often enough to know a lot of the servers at least by sight if not by name, and some of them even remember that I like the house margarita on the rocks with salt while Geoff prefers a black-and-tan.
We usually eat at the bar, especially on Sunday mornings when most everyone else wants a table. We are there this Sunday at 9:00AM, which is usually when they open the bar for breakfast seating. I go for my favorite seat at the far end, so I have the wall on my left and Geoff on my right to buffer any unwanted conversation. I’ll say right here, I’m not a morning person. It’s one of my problems with the bed-and-breakfast experience. I have absolutely no desire to converse with strangers before a quad espresso and the Sunday NY Times.
So there I am, cradling my warm cup and perusing all the interesting films that will never show in Santa Fe and all the books I’d like to read, but probably never will. Geoff is engrossed in the sports section and the rest of the bar is empty. Until a woman comes in. The bartender greets her by name. Pat. And she sits down, not at the other end, as I would have, but right next to Geoff.
She has her own newspaper which she lays on the bar. She hangs her jacket on the back of the chair, then turns to us.
She says it twice, smiling and making eye contact with each of us individually. Then she studies the specials menu while I study her discreetly. She’s what the French call a woman of a certain age. Beautifully styled white hair, set off by a robin’s egg blue sweater. Her scarf catches my attention right away because I love scarves. It seems fashioned from multicolored confetti held together by loose stitches, and one of the colors perfectly matches the sweater.
After she orders, she opens her paper. There’s a warmth about her, and something else…maybe intelligence…that draws your attention. I keep watching as she reads and eats her leisurely breakfast. Every time someone comes through the bar, she looks up with an expression not simply interested, but hopeful. As if she wishes someone will sit down next to her and she can say good morning. I feel a strange tug of melancholy. Here is this lovely woman, eating breakfast alone on Sunday morning. Where is her family? Her friends? As writers do, I start to spin tales about her in my mind.
She is lonely, her husband recently deceased. Children estranged. Her best friend has just moved back east to be near the grandchildren. She’s a retired teacher and she misses the bustle of students spilling into her classroom. She used to have a horse, but because of back problems she can no longer ride, so instead she put him out to pasture. She goes to visit him every Sunday after breakfast at Harry’s, just to hear his gentle nickering, feel the dry tickle of his whiskers as he takes pieces of apple from her hand. When she first put him out to pasture, he’d come running to the fence as soon as he spotted her, but as the weeks have passed, he seems to have forgotten that she was the one who’d fed him and brushed him, saddled him. He’d carried her on his back through the pinon and juniper studded hills. All the crisp fall mornings and windy spring afternoons. He’s becoming wilder again. He prefers the company of other horses to her. The trainer had warned her about this.
“Someday you’ll stand at the fence and he won’t come at all,” he’d said.
“Ready to go?” Geoff says, suddenly, and I give him a blank look.
“Um…sure.” I slide off the bar stool and pull on my jacket, leaving my story sitting there by the wall.
As I walk out, I pause by her side. “I love your scarf.”
A smile of pure pleasure lights her face. “Thank you,” she says. “My daughter-in-law gave it to me.”
“The colors are wonderful.”
She touches the scarf lightly at her throat and crosses one leg over the other. The movement makes me look down and I notice her feet in their soft blue leather ballet flats.
Not exactly the shoes you’d wear to stand in the dirt by a fence waiting for your horse.