I arrange the items on the table in time with my pulse. It is a frenetic, hopeful orchestration of salt shakers scraping, napkins rustling, forks aligning, planets colliding. This, the table shoved into the corner of the Say Hi Cafe, had always been our table. When it wasn’t holding a potted plant or a disillusioned college student’s lap top. In which case the table across the cafe, by the warped glass windows, had been our table. That spot was a good one to watch and be watched.
But sometimes, you didn’t want to be watched. You didn’t want to watch. You wanted to sit across from the laugh that you loved and drink your coffee and get out in time to make it to the night shift.
Or sometimes, you wanted to wait and see if that laugh was coming.
Right now, I wait.
I’ve ordered you your favorite, and the sweating plastic cup it arrived in is one of the parts of my orchestra. That nastily sweet iced coffee that you loved. If you were here, you would have already chewed the end of the straw flat, bite marks to match the ones on my collarbone.
Another college student comes in; sits a few tables away from me. Props open a volume about Woolfe.
I look at my watch. A year ago today, to this minute, you were dying. Held onto a hospital bed by the weight of a broken heart, newly found, though it had lived in your chest that way forever.
I draw a line in the condensation on the side of your coffee. And I wait.
We lounge on the disgusting couch in our apartment. I can’t say that it’s our couch, because we’ve only had it a week, and whoever had it before us had it for years and still has far more visual and olfactory claim to it than us. I do my best to lay mostly on you, Seth, instead of the faded plaid upholstery. Because I know where you’ve been. I believe the couch was made as part of a psychological experiment. And picked up by you as a further continuation of said experiment.
We are watching television, because it is on, and listening to the teapot about to scream in the other room because I am too lazy to get up for it and because you cannot get up, held down as you are by my body. There is a woman on the television explaining how she never said goodbye to her dead daughter, and she never has to, because she sees her every year on the date of her death. You shift your weight beneath me as she describes how she and her daughter pre-arranged it in the event one of them died before the other.
“I always thought I would be first to go,” the woman says. Her voice holds wonder and her eyes are dry.
You roll onto your back and arrange me more firmly on top of you, hips to hips, your hands resting on my waist as if I might tip. I will not tip. I would not risk touching the sofa.
“Our table at Say Hi,” you say. “Right?”
“The window one or the plant one?”
“The plant one,” you say and you are smiling in that serious way like when you suggested we get married. “It’s better for posthumous conversations.”
“Deal,” I say. The teapot is wailing by now, afraid to be in the kitchen by itself. I shift to get it because it’s drowning out the television.
You press a hand on my thigh. “Don’t go.”
“It’s the teapot,” I say. “Anyway, I’ll be back.”
The shadows have moved behind your iced coffee, which is no longer iced and possibly no longer coffee, after this much time. It’s hard to tell without lifting the lid to see how far along the decomposition process is. I keep glancing at the other table, by the window, which is still empty. No one has sat at it for hours, and I wonder.
What will I tell you after all these months alone? What in a year is important when you have only a day to say it? I know what I am thinking. I am thinking about how I burnt all of your boxes of teas. There were thirty seven of them in the cabinets — did you know that? No wonder we had no room for canned goods. To think of the number of times that I swore at the apartment for its lack of storage and really it was all your fault. The cabinets were just over-laden ships bursting at the seams with rarities like cinnamon and plum and darjeeling and sleepytime and chamomile and dandelion and apple and peppermint.
I burnt the tea boxes in the tiny backyard and it smelled like Christmas.
I thought my tears would put out the fire. I thought they could put out a forest fire. I thought they could drown the world and me. But in the end there were only four of them caught in the stubble on my chin, which wasn’t enough to extinguish anything.
I feel, now, like I want to apologize to you for burning them. I feel like if you went to the apartment and saw the empty cabinets — in the end, what was there to store in them but tea? — you would think I had thrown them out and forgotten you.
I haven’t. I’ve been waiting for today all year.
The movie is a scary one. Not a horror, but one of the psychological thrillers that would make me pull your arm over my face if we were watching it at home. One where you learn to suck in your breath and hold your heart tightly in place before the shrill strings race it to someplace unsafe. In the theater, I am leaning against your shoulder, though it makes the arm rest press uncomfortably into my ribs. On the other side of you, Brooke sits, her arms crossed tightly across her chest, holding herself since she has no one else to hold her.
I know she likes you. With a capital L. I know it’s why she came. Well, because she’s best friends with me, too. And I know she’d never try anything with you, because of me. But I know she wonders sometimes what would’ve happened if you’d met her first, because I wonder the same thing.
On the screen, a shadow becomes a man, the soundtrack screams, and my heart rabbits in my chest. My fingers tighten on your arm and you laugh, nervously, because your hands are pressed tightly to your legs too. It makes me feel better to remember what a chicken you are too.
“My heart is going a million miles an hour,” I whisper to you. I’ve said it enough times that you don’t believe me.
I memorize the lines of the fake wood grain beneath my cold cup of coffee. I become immune to the electronic ding of the cafe door opening. I have spent so much time waiting for this day that I can’t remember what I used to do with my days.
I order you another iced coffee. By now, you would’ve gone through the first one and been ready for another.
I glance at our table by the window. It is still empty. My stomach takes an expedient elevator trip to my feet and back, a rolling sensation I haven’t felt since I saw them take your heart out.
Soon it will be time for the cafe to close; I don’t know where I’ll go, after.
The chair opposite me shuffles out from the table and my heart screams to a stop inside me.
I cannot bring myself to raise my eyes. Easier to live in this moment between anticipation and disbelief.
“How long have you been sitting here, Seth?”
It is not your voice.
I lift my gaze to Brooke. Her eyes are red but her mascara forms an orderly unsmeared line beneath each of them, reapplied to give the appearance of control. I do not answer. I glance at the empty table by the window again.
“It wasn’t your fault, Seth,” Brooke says. “I know you think it is, because I thought so too. I talked to the doctor. He said there weren’t warning signs. Not that we could see. No one could have known.”
I want her to leave. I need the chair to be empty in case you come. If you come in and see that your chair is filled, would you leave again?
“Come out with me — us — “ Brooke says. “Jared and Sammy and I are all going to the cemetery and then we’re going into the city. Don’t spend tonight alone.”
I don’t tell her to leave, but I don’t say I’ll come either. We sit there in silence staring at your two untouched drinks until the barista comes over to tell us that it’s time to clear out.
It’s closing time. It’s been one year since your broken heart split mine, and you didn’t come. I don’t know what to do if I’m not waiting.
“Seth?” Brooke stands and waits to see if I will follow.
I watch you from the table by the window. I watch you wait all day for me. I could cross the floor in a moment. Sit behind the the drinks you got for me.
But it’s better this way. You already spent a year waiting for me.
I see you stand to follow Brooke. On the way out the cafe, you stop right by me, and you press your hand flat against the surface of the table.
“Good-bye, Gill,” you say.
I’ve been waiting all day for you to say it.
Author’s Note: I know, another cheery one from maggie . . .
image courtesy: [auro]