Thursday, August 12, 2010

diamonds on the soles of her shoes, pt. 2

He never went to that cafe anymore. He didn't much care for their coffee (it was too bitter), he didn't like the track lighting (it was too Xanadu), and he could do without ever seeing the 2-10 PM cashier again (she was all ex-girlfriendy). And they always mislabeled the half-and-half and the soy milk, and since he didn't believe soy beans had nipples, he'd take his creamer from a cow, thank you very much. He had never understood why everything had to be so fancy.

He figured that his desire for simplicity was why she had moved out yesterday and moved in with her yoga instructor, some guy from somewhere Asian--he was pretty sure it was Laos--who had a ponytail and more stamina than a Clydesdale. His own stamina was, based on some basic, shameful internet research, above average, but his romantic (and residential) replacement had thrown off the curve. He figured he just wasn't enough anymore. Couldn't really blame her, I guess. People need what people need.

And he needed to get his shit back together. Instead of dragging out the breakup over a series of painful, blurred weeks like a normal person, she just packed up and left. She didn't make a fuss, she didn't try to excuse herself, and she didn't blame anything on him. This was, of course, infinitely more hurtful than if she had, say, gotten involved with Laotion Yoga guy before moving out (everyone had confirmed that, despite her quick turnaround, she had never strayed). Or if she had slashed his tires or stolen his hat or dumped the contents of his liquor cabinet down the sink. But no, he came home one day and saw her putting a stack of Faulkner books, the ones that he had never understood, into a box on top of the sheets that had, until then, been on their bed (in her defense, she had bought them).

"Are you leaving?" he asked.

"I need to move on," she said. "We're just not going anywhere, you know?"

"Looks like you are." He dragged the last syllable like a cinder block. She furrowed her brow. "Going somewhere, I mean."

"I know what you meant."

Those may have been the last words she said to him, but the last sounds she made were the click click click of her patent heels as she crossed the kitchen's linoleum and stepped out of their apartment for the last time.

He felt betrayed by her directness. She had lied with her honesty. Her most vocal complaint had always been that they never did anything. Things were at a standstill and there was no excitement. He watched too many movies and read too many of those $8 paperback crime novels and ate the same meal every night and ordered the same coffee every day. In himself, he had become so average.

So he decided to throw off his own curve. After drinking two thirds of a bottle of whiskey he had been planning to share with his brother as a birthday gift, he decided to change himself. The next morning, he got a haircut (much shorter than he was used to), he didn't shave (she liked him baby-faced), and he bought a pair of brown cowboy boots to cap it all off. He got home later that afternoon, took a traditional post-haircut shower, and cleaned his ears with the Q-tips she had left in the bathroom.

And with the Rolling Stones playing on the record player she had bought him for their third anniversary, he turned off the lights, finished the bottle of whiskey, and fell asleep on his couch, just drunk enough to still miss her.

He woke up a few hours later, displaced and disoriented by the dark coming through his windows. Early morning? Late night? He wouldn't be on either. Each step from the couch to the bathroom stabbed his hungover head. He looked himself in the mirror and decided to get all presentable-like.

Pee and flush. Turn on the shower. The steam rising from the ceramic bathtub made him feel like he was stepping into a time machine or a teleportation chamber or somewhere that would take him away from here. He wanted someplace new, but he was realistic. To a fault, perhaps. No post-breakup road trip, no extravagant spending spree, non gin-soaked random bar rebound.

The water washed away the self-loathing and the steam burned out the booze. He felt fresh. He was rebuilt in the fire of hygiene and he would act accordingly. He washed, dried, dressed, styled his hair just like the woman at the salon showed him, and slipped pruny feet into his new boots.

His concrete driveway muted the amount of noise that his steps made, and when he finally got to the cafe, the one where he had met her a few years ago, where he had asked her to move in with him (and where she had agreed to), he heard the full sonic potential of his new footwear.

It really was all in the boots, too. The beat to "Brown Sugar" provided a tempo for his strut and the slight whiskey buzz still lingering in the back of his throat helped, sure, but the boots and each stomp--and each step sorta just came out a stomp, really--made him a new man.

He stepped to the counter and she turned around, her eyes leaping wide like a pop-up book. He was glad to get a reaction at all.

"Can I get a large black coffee?" He paused, grateful that her surprise at seeing him gave him room for a dramatic pause. "...to go?"

"Yeah, sure," she said, stuttering syllables. "Is that it for you?"

"Please." He pulled out his wallet.

"That'll be--"

"I know how much it is." He smiled, paid her in exact change, and threw a stray dollar into the tip jar. Before she could say anything else, he took a seat just around the corner.

And there was a girl there. He thought he had seen her before a few times when he would stop by later at night, but he hadn't really looked at her before. And while there wasn't anything discernibly different about the way she looked tonight, he felt different. Something was different. The track lighting that he had always made fun of in private made her hair almost reflective, and his drumming of the rhythm of "Sway" on his calf, now covered in boot, did nothing to distract him from this new version of something familiar.

She looked up. He wasn't the kind of person to look at someone from across the room, let alone as intently as he found himself doing, but he was someone else now. He was a man that drank coffee late at night and didn't shave every day and who walked on thunderclouds. He could be a man that smiled at a pretty girl in a coffee shop.

Against all reason (and in accordance with how the things he'd always read about femme fatales), she smiled back. Her front teeth bared themselves just a bit and that made him smile bigger. He had never realized how pretty she was: her eyes were brown and her hair looked like silk that had been spun from them.

But a cup of coffee was shoved in his face and their cross-room contact was destroyed.

"Got your coffee right here," she said, holding it about four inches too close to his face. "And I got you a cookie. On the house."

"That was nice of you."

"It's nice of you to come by. I hope we can still be friends." She released the cup into his custody and he snatched the cookie bag, standing up tall, the boots adding an additional inch or so to his height.

"Thank you. See you later." He tipped the brim of an invisible hat to her and made his way to the exit, his point made and his new changes underlined.

But that girl was there, her nose buried like a spade into an art book his ex had left on the counter one day, thus making it communal property of the cafe.

He had only been single--jeez, what a depressing word--for about 36 hours, but decided that he had to say something to her. He heard his steps before he felt them, the sounds underfoot stampeding into the far corners of the place and echoing back into his ears. He wondered if he'd had to talk over the sound of his walking.

She was wearing plain black shoes that appeared a hybrid between slippers and formalwear. No heels. They looked silent and he immediately became twice as self-conscious at the sound of his own steps.

He couldn't tell if he was imagining it or if she really was looking deeper and deeper at the book with every inch of distance he closed in. But he pressed on all the same, if only to fill in the silence between each time heel met hardwood.

And there he was.

"Excuse me," he said. She looked up instantly. "I like your shoes." Red swarmed her face like melted candle wax and she smiled, her front teeth again peering out from behind pink lips. He matched.

But he was out of words. And he was, perhaps above all, a realistic man, so he decided to bow out while he could. He tossed her a "Have a good day," a final smile, and left.

When he made it outside, he could feel his steps that much lighter and hoped everyone inside could hear him walking away. He finished his cookie in about a block and tossed his untouched, still-full cup into a dumpster at a construction site, grinning to himself as its contents audibly splattered upon impact.

He never did like that coffee.

1 comment:

Kels H. said...

two favorite lines: "a new version of something familiar" & "a man...who walked on thunderclouds."