Something Bad and Stingy

ell, what do you think?” she asked, serious as boiling water. “Wait, you’re doing it again right now, I can tell.”

The light filtered through the restaurant windows and played across her face, like seaweed undulating on the ocean floor, or maybe more like dolphins swimming in the open sea.

“You asshole,” she hissed. “You’re thinking about the wind or the light, or something.”

Other diners turned to stare with the hypocritical disgust of Roman spectators at a chariot race.

“No,” he finally snapped out of it, like a wasp pulling its way out of flowing amber. “No, I wasn’t.”

“You could tell I wanted to have a serious talk and you started narrating your overblown prose in your head. You’ve been doing that for months.” Her voice was lilting, sonorous like a kestrel in an airplane hangar.

“You were, I want to talk, and you’re daydreaming your way out of the conversation.” Her voice was hurt now, delicate as a hummingbird’s wings.

He picked up his fork like it was a life jacket. “Let’s just eat.”

“You’re never here, in the present.” She spat her words out like a howitzer.

“Of course I’m here, babe,” he said defensive as a lamb. He tried on a fake smile. “You read the new Franzen, yet?”

“God, you’re not even pretending to listen to me.” Disappointment edged into her voice like poisoned honey dripping from a spoon. “Six months, and when I talk about it getting serious you shut down. I can see you figuring out how you’re going to write this scene later, in some fake memoir you’ll never start.”

Her words stung him like, like, like something bad and stingy.

“I’m really into you,” he said lamely.

“No, you’re not. Narrate this: he was as alone as an asshole in the woods.”

She walked out and left him behind to pay the bill.

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