Monday, May 26, 2008

"Excuse me," she snapped her fingers at the back of the waiter's head.

He turned around with his face contorted as if he lost a limb, "What can I get you, Miss?"

"When is my dessert coming? I ordered it at the same time as my cappuccino and I want to have them together."

"Right away, my apologies."

"And, Sir? You can take this cappuccino back. I asked for no cinnamon on top. I don't need to be reminded that I'm not in Europe."

A few short minutes later, the waiter returned with a chocolate ganache torte and a cappuccino. The woman had her spoon at the ready, and before the waiter had turned to go take care of the next table, she had submersed it so deeply into the torte that her diamond wedding band was covered in chocolate. The ganache had permeated the cracks between each rock. She noticed this after a few more bites, and without flinching, put the ring between her lips and sucked it clean.

When it looked like there had never been a thing on the plate, the woman wrung her hands furiously. "It's so sticky! Sticky from the ice cream!"

The pitcher of water had been left on the table. She took the napkin off her lap and dipped a corner into it. Then, she rubbed her hands with the napkin as if they were on fire, and finally she settled down to finish her cappuccino.

After all the foam had been drained from the cup, she asked, "That song you played tonight... was that by that Italian composer, Verdi?"

"I don't know." He wasn't in the mood to entertain her. He knew she would only be pretending to understand the greatness of Verdi, if she knew a thing about classical music. She didn't give a damn about listening to it.

"You don't know? How could you not know? You played it for twenty minutes and spent at least a day or two practicing, didn't you?"

"I just don't know." He kept a firm grip on his glass and brought it to his mouth. All he was concerned with now was alleviating the dryness in his throat that was beginning to plague him. "It's getting pretty late, and I'm worn out. I think we should leave."

"If you don't want to spend time with me just say that."

"That's not what I said."

"I see it. You don't have to say anything. You walk around with your 'holier than thou' attitude because you can play a fucking string instrument? There are uneducated six-year-olds in Mongolia who can pluck a string. You want to learn an art? Gratitude. There's your fucking art." She stood up and started walking.

"Wait," he shouted after her, "you didn't pay for anything."

"I've been paying for plenty. You don't have money? How about you take care of it this time?"

"I won't get my paycheck until next week. I can't cover it."

"Say you need me," she smiled at him and he became increasingly anxious. The smells in the restaurant were suffocating and made him think about carcasses left for days in the heat.


"Say you need me, goddammit. You depend on me."

He didn't say a word and decided it would be best to beat her out of the restaurant. She caught up to him in the doorway.

Staring at the floorboards, he told her, "I should have left. I stayed because I thought you needed me. Now I'd rather leave never get a thing from you."

"Try having nothing," she said as she examined her artificial nails. They were long and sharp.

After a moment's pause he asked, "Do you remember the last weekend we spent in Connecticut, when we found the baby duck in front of our door?"

"What the fuck does that have to do with anything?"

"You told me I should run down and put it by the lake. You said that's probably where its family was, and that it just ran away and got lost."

"First I told you not to touch it, but after you picked it up, we didn't really have a choice."

Ignoring her, he continued, "I brought it down to the lake, and when it hopped out of my hands, all it did was quiver and plod around in small circles. I think it was too young to even swim. So, I carried it up to the house and on my way I looked for any signs of nesting, or other birds, anything like that. I didn't see any. I must've looked for more than an hour, just holding this tiny bird. Its webbed feet were scratching my palm until it settled itself and poked its head out. I thought about keeping it and raising it myself, but I knew I'd be crazy to try. When I couldn't think of anything else to do, I brought it down by the lake, where the dirt was richer and there would probably be some bugs for it."

"How very caring of you."

"What I'm trying to say is, I had no clue where ducks nest. I knew nothing about their life-cycles or behavioral patterns. I'm no biologist or veterinarian. I had no idea if this duck had a better shot getting back to its family if it was by the water or up in a fucking tree, but I picked it up anyway and got myself involved. After I left it, the next few weeks all I could do was think about what could have happened to it."

"I hope someone was there to wipe your tears."

"I hope someone is there to wipe yours," he said as he walked silently out the door.

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