Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Couple and the Newspaper

It’s Saturday morning and I’m at my traditional early-morning spot: Panera Bread. The line is nearly out the door, the coffee is brewing, the bagel slicer is slicing, and the latte/cappuchino maker is swooshing. I’ve got my chocolate-chip bagel with raspberry cream cheese and my café mocha – all is right in the world again.

It’s time to indulge in a little people watching. For those new to the blog, Panera is where I not only get a little writing done, but the people watching always succeeds in giving me some ideas for characters.

Today, there’s a couple sitting a booth. They look like a relatively young married couple – in their late twenties to their early thirties at the oldest. Upon the wife bringing the order of a single cup of coffee and two pastries, they both settled in behind a newspaper. Not a word has been spoken.

At first, I thought the set up struck me as incredibly distant. Any time I’ve gone out to a public place for food with someone, conversation was also expected. You’re sharing this time with another person and a part of that sharing of company also meant a sharing of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. For a moment I wonder, how long could these two have been married that they can share a table, a meal without sharing a bit of conversation as well? Have they been married so long that they have run out of conversation?

And then I thought about the single cup of coffee.

Sure, they could be trying to save money, but if you were saving money, it has to be immensely cheaper just to eat a bowl of cereal and have a cup of coffee at home.

That single cup of coffee speaks of comfort and intimacy. The same intimacy that comes with a comfortable silence shared between two people who know each other well enough that they don’t feel the need to fill a moment with inane chatter. In a restaurant filled with buzzing conversation on all sides between groups of people; friends, family, and married couples, they seemed to be lost in a world of their own – they are separate and perfectly content to go their own way together.

A couple comes to a restaurant for a cup of coffee and a newspaper. Are they floating in together in a sea of noise, or are they separated by a chasm of empty space? What do you think?


Chris said...

Whenever I've seen that, I've thought "separated by a chasm of empty space." But that's because I could never imagine doing that to someone, and I'd probably think it was rude if someone did it to me. I've never cared for idle chatter to fill silence, but there's still something to be said for being in relationship to the person you're with, even if it's in silence.

I wonder how they got to the point of reading newspapers with each other in public? Did one of them just start doing it? How did they other one react? Were they upset? Were they relieved?

Of course the truth is I have no idea how their relationship is. They could have an amazingly intimate relationship, and reading newspapers over pastries is just something they enjoy doing together.

But the writer in me imagines a gulf between them, and wonders how they got that way. Where did it go wrong? Let's throw some heavy conflict into their lives and see if they can wake up and realize what they've lost.

Emily H said...

aw i hope they're 'floating together in a sea of noise'. i think it would be easier to imagine an elderly couple doing this becuase they've spent their whole lives together and must know each other inside and out. but if a young couple could find that kind of lasting love, one that doesn't need talk and noise to fill the space or time, then good for them!