"You can't just use words like 'banal' without being able to back it up with some facts... "

Harold pushed his sandwich crust along the plate's edge. Racing it against some unknown foe. She was still talking to him as though he were a child. Didn't really matter. She was as entitled to her opinions as the next. But he had a growing feeling deep inside his secret places that by association, her thoughts had become "less" in some way. It made him anxious and he cornered the rye too sharply. He thought of all the innocent lunch scrap rally fans he had just killed in the bleachers, and then turned his head back to her. Trying to follow what she was saying.

"Well?" was what she was saying. And his lack of interest in the conversation sat down next to him having properly introduced itself to her. She was scowling. He hated when she did that. She seemed to be leaning in towards him so he could really catch a good look at the lines that ran across her forehead. She was pointing her rumpled brow at him as if it were a gun. He refused to be intimidated.

"Sorry. I wasn't...you lost me.", he said. The meekness in his voice was faked. He doubted she noticed.

"Never mind. What time will you be over tonight? I was thinking of cooking dinner for once. I want to cook you dinner."

"I'm not sure. I might have to work late. Those Nike boards are due to the client by Wednesday, and I've had so little time to prepare them"

"Well then bring them along. Or don't... In fact, let's just save it for another time"

"Oh, don't be like that..."

"I'm not." But of course, she was. She drained the last of her coffee, and made the various shufflings necessary to tell him that she would be getting up to leave in a few seconds. They didn't discuss the check. He would pick it up, of course. He half stood his long legs bumping into the booth's table bottom, and he wondered what sort of gum his pants had just tasted. He pecked her cheek lightly as she stood, and turned without another word, the very picture of professional indignity. He watched her go from his weird crouch and wondered at what point she had faded from him.

It hadn't always been like that. There had been a time when every word that dripped off her lips had been flaxen nectar. Harold flopped back into the soft vinyl of the seat and watched his coffee slosh merrily onto the yellowing formica. He was remembering correctly, wasn't he? She had been very important to him at some point. Yes. He was sure of it. Maybe what he wasn't sure of was that she was important to him now. He hoped so. He had left a lot of his stuff at her place.

He carefully sopped up the spill with a refugee from the tilting stack of napkins the thick-bodied waitress had dropped at the edge of the booth as she had motored past. She was good. He hadn't had to look up at her with verbose apologies and explain his need of napkin. She had seen it herself. He'd have to give her an extraordinary tip. For Harold, this meant 12 percent. He looked back down at the wreckage of his sandwich and debated eating the last bit. He should consume the evidence. Surely, the racing board would want to investigate the cause of the deadly crash... and then it would be found that Harold had been driving under the influence of exceptional apathy. How embarrassing.

He wondered if he had ever even used the word "banal" in the first place. It didn't seem very likely. That wasn't a word he was likely to throw around without caution. He wasn't even positive he knew what it meant. Maybe he'd look it up later. Probably not, though.

He smiled and then felt bad about it. He really should tell her. It wasn't fair to let her run around thinking they were still together so long after his mind had obviously moved on. That lingering doubt came back to him though. Maybe he was just going through a phase.

His mother had blamed everything on the perpetual string of invisible boundaries called "phases". Harold had alway imagined them lined up like a long row of fenced-in backyards. He would climb out of one phase and then fall immediately into the next. His mother would bark like a watch dog tied to a willow tree nearby, about how he had just entered a new place where he hadn't been invited. He was certain he had fallen, face first, into some mental fescue that would never again grow in the correct shape.

He wanted to kick that dog sometimes, but never seemed to have the guts for it.

He sipped at the cool coffee and shook a grimace away brusquely. He'd have to let her know soon. he couldn't imagine this was the way he was supposed to spend his life. He couldn't go on just happily pretending to care about her, could he? He needed to find someone he actually would care about...and for long periods of time. Sitting there in his suit coat he wondered if he would ever have it in him to do that. He knew that he was an arrogant bastard. He knew he was self-involved and judgmental. Could he ever truly accept another messy, vulgar human into his life with the totality that relationships apparently required? He sighed.

He threw a twenty down in the tight swirls of shoddily wiped up coffee and watched for a second as the thin rings soaked into Jackson's face. His mind wandered over to the front counter and grabbed a toothpick. He hated to break things off with her. She had seemed so perfect, and he was about to crossover into the war-torn No Man's Land of "commitment". It was his own DZ. A border he shared with his man-child other self that so longed to move on to the next, now that he had had his fill of this one. He spent a moment hating himself as that thought banged a few pots together and heckled him from the kitchen. He liked to imagine his mind as bad dinner theater. His conscience was always banging those goddamn pots, making it impossible for his thoughts to just sit back and whisper snarky asides to themselves about the low quality of the performance. He allowed himself his moment of loathing and then moved swiftly to the front door, pushing harder than was necessary on the fingerprint-frosted glass and starting as the portal flew open more aggresively than he had intended. He looked back to see if the hostess had seen the outburst, but she was leaning on the register, popping her gum and looking with contempt at the elderly couple who were finalizing their approach to her station. Harold was happy to have no witnesses. He was always happier when he was being ignored.


Cynthia said...

Oh, here you are. See if I had checked in more often, I'd know what the hell was going on.

Forget that part about telling me where you are blogging.