Jack bent over the small sink and splashed cold water onto his face. He could hear the murmurs and laughter of the other patrons as he stared at himself in the mirror, his breaths coming in rapid succession, the bright red walls seeming to close in as he tried to pace in the closet-size bathroom.
Moments before he and Teresa had been sitting at a table in the middle of the room. He’d just poured the last of the wine into their glasses, when she told him. He’d nearly dropped the wine bottle and had pushed back from the table with such force the legs had screeched across the floor. Everyone in the small restaurant turned to look, their eyes following him as he rose and hastily threaded his way through the tables.
Jack’s knuckles were white as he gripped the sides of the sink trying to control his breathing. He felt like the bathroom was turning on its side, preparing to throw him against the wall, like some demented carnival ride. Slowly he let go of the sink and twisted his body, placing a hand on the back of the toilet. Then he took an awkward shuffling step and sat down with a bang that echoed off the large black drain pipe that ran up the wall. Doubling over, he stuck his head between his knees.
He’d been waiting for this night for three years. It was the one thing that had allowed him to keep going through the long days and crushingly lonely nights. They’d written letters and talked about the future. This was supposed to be a great night out, seeing each other for the first time in so long, and yet here he was with his head between his knees in a claustrophobic bathroom. His mind raced as it replayed what had just happened. Her face had been emotionless when she had told him. Only now, staring at the worn floor, did he realize how much she had changed. I wish someone had told me, people must know, but people don’t do that here, they just keep to themselves and mind their own business. I’ll talk to her. Maybe we can work this out. Maybe at least I can get some answers. I deserve answers.
There was a soft knock on the door. “Be right out,” Jack said without lifting his head.
He took a few more breaths and stood up slowly, his legs feeling weak. He looked at himself in the mirror and splashed some more water on his face and dried it with a coarse ineffective paper towel. The elderly man on the other side of the door gave him a look of pity before averting his eyes and turning sideways to allow Jack to pass.
Their table in the middle of the room was empty.
This story was the 1st place winner of The Charlotte News 2015 fiction contest