Norman sat alone, at a table for two, in what many patrons considered to be the most undesirable corner of the restaurant.
The table was right next to the kitchen, which smelled like fish and sounded like clanking dishes and angry Spanish cursing.
The door connecting the kitchen to the dining room was one of those double-sided jobs that swung in each direction, allowing for a steady stream of agitated waiters, belligerent busboys and panic-stricken hostesses to rush back and forth.
This steady woosh of motion created a mild breeze that swirled the few thin hairs on Norman’s head, and made him feel like it was only a matter of time before someone carrying a tray full of dishes collided with him.
Norman did not look like the type of man who could survive a head-on collision with a throw pillow, let alone a waiter carrying a tray full of dishes.
He was short, meek, 38 years old, balding, and in possession of a noticeable paunch at his midsection that jiggled when he moved like a bowl full of jellyfish. It might have jiggled when he laughed, too, but Norman didn’t laugh so much.
His eyes were gray and weary and ringed with circles. His clothes were nice-ish, but they showed the effects of too many washings and they didn’t fit just quite right, especially when it came to covering that jiggly paunch at his midsection.
This was not the first time Norman had come alone to this restaurant. He spent a lot of time in restaurants alone.
In fact, it was safe to say that Norman was alone most of the time. Holed up at his cubicle at work. Eating lunch at his desk. Riding the train to and from work, wrapped up in the cocoon of his headphones and books.
Back at his apartment, he spent more time home alone than McCauley Caulkin did in the 1990s. Watching TV alone. Cooking meals alone. Surfing the web alone. Listening to his records alone. Waiting for the sweet embrace of death alone.
In fact, it was on this Thursday night, at this lonely table in this far corner of the restaurant, that Norman had finally decided that he could no longer wait for death to come. He would have to meet it halfway.
Taking a few crumpled papers out of his workbag, he smoothed them out on the table and began to write.
“Dear Cruel World…” he started, then frowned and crossed it out.
“Goodbye cruel world…” he started again, then stopped. He crumpled up that piece of paper and tossed it in his bag.
“Too cliche…” he mumbled.
Taking a second piece of paper, he started writing again.
“To Whom It May Concern;
If you are reading this I am already gone. Do not worry. I did not take my life out of anger, or despair, or of unbearable melancholy. I have simply decided that I don’t fit in.”
Norman was interrupted by a shout from a waiter behind him. “Hey Raoul! I need a re-fire on the sirloin for table four.”
He crinkled his brow and continued writing.
“I am one of the dreamers, the artists, the intellectuals. I am a giver. This world is for the takers. It is a world of raw physical aggression, of biceps and cologne, of button-down shirts and football games and high fives and internet hookup sites.”
“Dangers lurk everywhere. Terrorists on the subways. Muggers on the streets. Reality TV shows about suburban housewives on every channel.”
“How am I supposed to live in a world where country music outsells jazz? Where fast food restaurants can replace bread with chicken patties and no one blinks an eye? Where Lena Dunham has a TV show and a book deal?
“I can’t run fast. I can’t throw hard. I’m pretty sure I’ve never given a woman an authentic orgasm. I’ve had the same job for 15 years and I’ve never gotten a raise.”
Another shout thundered out from the kitchen: “Jose! Get your fucking ass back here and bring this shrimp to table two!”
Norman’s shoulders tensed and he glared back at the kitchen door. Could they not see that he was trying to write?
“Do not weep for me, dear friends. Weep for yourselves. For I have seen what this world has to offer, and I know it is not for me. I am going on to a better place.”
Norman signed his name with a flourish and read the letter over approvingly. This was his best work yet, he thought.
He had no intention of actually harming himself, of course. He had thought through all of the various options and couldn’t see anything that wouldn’t hurt or make him feel queasy.
Car exhaust? Yuck. Pills? Too hard to swallow plus he had acid reflux, so they might not stay down. Anything violent was out of the question because Norman didn’t like pain.
Norman reached into his workbag, pulled out a binder and flipped it open.
Inside, covered in smooth laminate sheets, were dozens and dozens of death letters, all written by hand, all carefully crafted and signed by Norman, all making claims about impending self-harm that would never be realized.
He took one last glance at his latest missive, and slid it into an open plastic sheet. Then he snapped the binder shut, slid it back in his bag, and started looking over the dessert menu.