Friday, December 10, 2010

#16: true love travels on a gravel road.

Ring ring. You fiddle with the dashboard stereo's volume knob, dragging the new Kanye West album (you're in a decidedly uncharacteristic hip hop phase) to an appropriate level. She'll answer any second now, and as grateful as you are for a new sonic landscape in which to baptize your ears--you literally bite your tongue in penance for sounding like a writer for Pitchfork--you'd be happy to trade fresh rhymes and dropped science for a warm greeting and a term of endearment.

Ring ring. Your front tires leapfrogs over the speedbump of the Taco Bell's drivethru slalom. The jostling startles you and you're re-startled by the back tires following suit, landing with a bone-like crunch that should probably be investigated by a qualified mechanic. The menu selection is overwhelming and everything looks simultaneously identical and disparate. You always just order what she gets when you get crappy fast food, and you're not familiar enough with Taco Bell's offerings to notice much difference day-to-day. If only she'd pick up the phone; she could at least tell you what you like.

Ring ring. "Hi, welcome to Taco Bell." The speaker idles like an '82 Datsun and somehow manages to be louder than your car's engine. "What can I get for you?"

"Sorry," you say, embarrassed at your own clumsy attempts at telephonic multitasking, "I'll need a second."

"Cool."

Ring ring. Followed immediately by the disheartening click of the voicemail message. You hang up before you can hear her voice. Outdated, pre-recorded greetings are a mirror encased in fog and you'd rather hear nothing if you can't hear clearly.

"Hi, can I get three, what...burritos?" you ask with ignorance masked as skepticism.

"What kind of burritos?"

"Just, uh, normal?"

"...normal? As opposed to, like, abnormal?"

"I don't want to argue semantic binaries with you, dude." You rub your dry eyes with a dry hand. "I just want some burritos."

"Okay, how about bean burritos?"

"Yes, burritos with beans. Those sound good."

"Gotcha. Three of them. I'll have your total at the second window."

You're back into drive and you let the forward momentum of the shift do all the work for you. The (second) window slides open at your arrival and a young kid with bright eyes and slicked-back hair.

"That'll be $3.24," he says, extending a hand that you quickly fill with an assortment of wrinkled bills and chipped coins.

"Exact change?" he asks.

"Not even close."

He smiles. "Dude, you should be happier. You're about to get some burritos."

While you certainly do recognize his point, the burritos don't change the fact that you have to go back to your cave of a corner office and stay late tonight. Missed deadlines and last minutes and neglected workflows have conspired against you and you are forced to break your oh-so-original dinner and a movie that you had promised her earlier that very morning.

The young man's hand spits out a lumpy plastic bag that you take with an appreciative nod and a thumbs-up. You immediately begin driving away when the bag's in your hand, the kid's "Have a good day" getting caught in a cloud of exhaust from your Accord's nine-horsepower engine.

You don't want to go back to the office. You've been there all day and you can say with a certainty that it's the one place she won't be.

Imagine your surprise, then, to find her sitting at your desk in your chair in your office at your workplace under your clock that reads 6:32 PM.

"Hi!" She leaps to red sneakered feet and plants a kiss like a depth charge on the tip of your nose, her glasses clinking against your like cheered champagne flutes. Her hair is up in a bun and she looks like a librarian, while the three open textbooks and the stack of meticulous notes on your desk don't do much to dispel the persona.

"How'd you get in here?" you ask. "They usually lock the doors."

"The girl at the front--she was super nice, by the way--knew who I was and let me in." Her eyes squint to slivers. "Wait a second. How did she know who I was? She knew my name and everything."

"Oh," you say, reaching faux-dismissively into your dinner bag. "People have just seen you on Facebook and stuff."

"Wait," she says as she shoots a hand out to your forearm. "I brought dinner for us." She points to a much classier bag than yours that's holding Styrofoam containers whose contents are surely an improvement on the roughly 45% preservative weighing down your hand and your soul.

"You did?" She nods. "You did." She smiles. "Of course you did."

"Yeah," she says, "I knew you had to stay late so I figured I'd study here with you so you didn't have to sit by yourself here at night. It's so quiet and depressing."

"It's okay. The finance guys in the office next door have a lava lamp I distracted staring at whenever I walk by."

She's brought you a turkey/bacon/avocado sandwich and a cup of still-hot tomato cream soup. You devour them quickly as you plow through the task which was your charge. Every few minutes, you glance out of the corner of your eye at her, spinning in an office chair, brown eyes focused on yellow legal pads, and your brain transforms the thirty-or-so square feet of this corner office into a living room.

You'd have a similar desk, probably, and you'd both spend evenings emptying wine bottles and checking off items on workloads, making each other laugh and taking brief breaks to take the dog out or flirt or have paper airplane making-and-throwing contents or showing each other video clips of dogs humping old women ("She's laughing, so it's okay!" you'd say) and your heretofore fictional living room clock would eventually reach the 1:30 AM that your actual nonfictional office clock now displays.

But instead of walking her out to her car and kissing her goodnight and thanking her for the dinner and the company you'd lock the front door, brush your teeth, turn out the lights, and climb into a squeaky bed that feels more like home than any house ever could.

Tonight, though, you'll have to be content with watching her drive away, knowing that you can take another link off of the mental paper chain counting down to those goodnights happening with grandfather clock regularity. Her car kicks up a small trail of dust that gets harder to see the further away she gets.

Grass hides chirping crickets and you wonder if hearing them would keep her from sleeping.

Part of you hopes so.

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