Table for One - by Cary Umhau



I drove a carefully considered route, a progressive meal with a table for one.

I steered the family car to the mall, parked and entered the food court. I bought an almond croissant, which I ate deliberately and slowly. Peeling back one buttery layer at a time until I landed at the soft almond payoff, I watched the twittering teenagers around me, their easy banter and flirtatious slaps both enigmatic and compelling to me. I watched the elderly couples in their thunderous, too-white running shoes, slowly heaving from side to side as they strolled hand in hand in pursuit of a cheap meal that wouldn’t bust their retirement budget.

And then I wandered back to the car and drove on again, contemplating my next stop. I crossed town on the endless Atlanta freeways and went to my favorite greasy spoon spot, where I felt safe in the anonymity of the crowds, unlikely to be found out as one with an appetite, as a girl who was on the prowl for food and fullness. I ate a chili dog and some onion rings. I may have even had fries too. It’s been a long time, and although I can still feel the taste in my mouth of self-loathing and the fear of being caught, I can’t remember all the details of the food.

Then I went to the grocery store, and I bought a banana cream pie. I began eating it in the car, alone, without a fork. Somehow asking for a plastic fork at the checkout counter would have been humiliating, standing as I was – obviously alone and with a whole, frozen, Mrs. Smith’s banana cream pie. Ravenously attacking my box of shame, I shoveled the unctuous, artificial banana-flavored glop into my mouth, my body angled and wedged against the steering wheel, a small girl in a nondescript car in the midst of acres of parking spaces in a no-man’s land between suburbs in a place that wasn’t home. Not really.

That wasn’t the only time. I often sought a table for one. Or pretended I wasn’t hungry.

I admitted later that I was hungry.

And I found out that I don’t need to eat alone.

And that there will be manna again tomorrow.