Saturday was a long day. I drove three hours to Fort Myers to research my May Dead-End Job mystery, "Catnapped!" Then I spent six hours at a cat show in this charming town on Florida’s west coast.
After talking to cat judges, breeders, and animal rescue people, my head felt like it had been batted around by a giant tabby.
I needed food. A healthy meal.
I virtuously drove by the Perkins pancake house down the road and pulled into a local restaurant that seemed a shrine to smart eating. I’ll call it the Brussels Sprout, since that’s not its real name.
In the Sprout’s parking lot, a thin old man with fluffy white hair was helping his wife out of their sedan. He patiently held her door while she struggled to balance on her walker.
Love really does last forever, I thought.
A sturdy senior woman held the door for another old man with a metal cane.
I was the youngest person in the restaurant, including the wait staff. That doesn’t happen often now that I’m eligible for Social Security. Floridians say your parents retire to Boca and their parents retire to Fort Myers.
Some day I’d be as old as everyone in the Sprout. But only if I’m lucky.
"What would you like?" she asked.
"The pork chops and fried eggs," I said. The words just popped out.
I’d flunked the healthy eating quiz. But the server didn’t ask, "What should you eat?" Besides, I needed the protein.
I opened my novel and eavesdropped on the couple behind me – a white-haired eighty-something man and his wife with the pretty gray hair.
Listening to real conversations is good practice for developing dialogue. Besides, I’m nosy.
Mr. White complained about the government. His patient, pretty wife agreed "they were all crooks."
No new dialogue there. I’d heard this before. Many times. I went back to reading while I waited for dinner.
Suddenly Mr. White upped the volume to a shout, "Oh, no. Oh, god. Would you look at that?"
"What?" Mrs. White asked.
"A bug. Crawling out of my lettuce," he said. "Right there." I couldn’t turn around, but he must have pointed at it with his fork.
"What kind of bug?" Mrs. White asked.
"A crawling bug. Where’s the waitress? Waitress! Come here."
A worried waitress appeared. "Look at that," he said. "A bug. Crawled right out of my lettuce while I was eating it. I squirted it with ketchup, but it’s still moving."
Right, I thought. Ketchup. Works better than DDT. And it’s organic.
"Take it away," Mr. White screamed. The waitress said something I couldn’t hear.
My pork chops and eggs arrived as the Whites marched out, but my appetite left with them.
I managed to eat the eggs, but after a bite of the chops, I couldn’t eat anything else. I kept seeing crawly critters scampering across them.
"Can I get you anything?" the waitress asked.
"The check," I said.
"Are you sure? Would you like to take your chops?"
The dinner had left a bad taste. On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at a Publix supermarket and soothed myself with my favorite seasonal luxury – a pound and a half of Bing cherries.
I wanted dessert, but was afraid in my current mood I'd wolf down a whole cake.
"Those are free to children under twelve," she said.
"Oh. Can I buy one?"
"I’ll give you one," she said. "You’re still young at heart."
Fort Myers seemed much sweeter.