Smile and say thank you

I squint at the name embroidered in white thread on her green apron. Arles, is it?

“Your tea will be out in just one second,” she says through her mask.

“No problem,” I say, and then, “is your name Arles?” I squint at her apron, “Is that an l or an i?”

“It’s an i, Aries, like the zodiac sign,” she says.

“Ah.” I say. My brain tells me this is a fine place to let the conversation die, but I say “I thought maybe you were named for Arles, the town in France.”  She smiles and says nothing. It occurs to me that might sound snobby, and I am reminded once again that we don’t always know what is behind people’s words or actions.

She leaves the window, presumably to get my tea, or maybe she thought I was contemplating saying more. She would have been correct. She comes back with my iced tea and hands it to me through the window.

“My mom and my sister and I went to France about twenty years ago and visited Arles, it was beautiful. We had lunch at a restaurant in a very old building, and sat on the patio, which was partially enclosed by what was left of stone walls that had been bombed during World War II. Our waitress was funny and very patient with us and since we didn’t speak or read French she would make animal noises to tell us what was on the menu…a snort for jambon, a quack for canard. It was a beautiful day and I can still hear the four of us laughing. It’s my sister’s birthday today. She died about seven years ago.”

I say, “Thank you. Have a nice day,” as I take my tea, and drive away.

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