Being part of a series involving Chicago and its surroundings.
She walked in a little circle around me, checking me out. Trying to judge if it was safe to come any closer, I suppose. The pool of vomit, which until moments before had been a turkey burger unhappily digesting in my stomach, lay on the floor at my feet. A chunk of something had landed on the tip of my left sneaker, but aside from that I was remarkably unscathed. I felt better. I was also completely unsure about what should happen next. I’d never thrown up in a public place before, let alone on the floor, let alone right in front of my waitress. She was still observing me closely. Finally I couldn’t bear the silence any longer.
“What’s the damage?” I asked.
“Never mind,” she said. “All things considered, it’s on the house. Are you okay?”
I nodded, perhaps a bit too quickly. “Much better now, thanks.” After a pause I added, “I’ll think I’ll be going now though.”
She smiled sadly at me and then backed away, through a set of swing doors that led into the back, presumably where a mop and pail could be found.
I gingerly stepped around the vomit and made my way to the front door, determined to avoid eye contact with everyone else in the room. Aside from Hank Snow on the jukebox, the place was quiet as a tomb. Nevertheless I believed I could actually feel everyone’s stare bolted to the back of my head. I pushed the front door open and found myself on the sidewalk, big sun in the sky, gentle breeze, cars going by, a kid pulling a wagon past me. Completely ordinary afternoon. What had just happened on the other side of the door already felt like a story I’d told people many times before, always while chuckling with false embarrassment.