For six years, Linda and James had been meeting every Sunday morning at Nan’s Cafe to eat eggs, drink coffee, and discuss the dreams they had had the week before.
"I was in my old elementary school and I was late for something, probably class, and it didn’t seem weird to me that I was the only adult student, surrounded by children milling past," Linda said. She always ordered scrambled eggs.
"Means you feel superior to your peers." He crossed his arms in satisfaction.
"No, see, I didn’t feel superior to these kids. They knew their schedules, they had their friends, I was the new student and I didn’t know anything. It was humiliating."
"The school system is shit. Industrial complex made every curriculum a goddamn sham. They trained us to be good little workers, quiet, never question anything, accept your lot in life and shut up." James had ordered his eggs over easy and wished he had chosen another way.
"I had quite a good education," Linda said and sipped her coffee.
"Yeah, well, you and nobody else. You know what they taught me in catholic school? That the earth was created 2,000 years ago and that the best way to teach is by the belt." He motioned to the waitress to refill their coffee.
"Nuns beat you with belts?" Linda eyed him skeptically.
"Well, you know, it’s just a saying. But they did rap us on the knuckles with a ruler! For every little thing! Like a military school. Nails not clean enough, shirt rumpled, passing notes."
I felt his eyes boring into me. I refused to look. I kept my eyes trained on the woman we were talking to. She was explaining to us how to vaporize alcohol. The other man in the conversation was a bartender who had won a yearly cocktail competition twice in a row. He was earnest and polite. She was excited and outgoing. The man and I were both silent.
I still felt him looking at me, even though I had said nothing so far. Perhaps I interested him because I said nothing.
“How do you vaporize alcohol?” I asked her. I kept my eyes on hers.
“It’s really interesting, actually. We ordered these metal discs that are meant for ponds, but we decided to use them to turn alcohol into vapor. When the discs are triggered with high frequencies, they start vibrating, and the liquid that surrounds the disc turns into vapor!” She laughed, delighted by the science and creativity of the idea. “We want to make a cocktail using these discs, where the person drinking it doesn’t actually drink anything — they inhale a vapor! So when you hand them a drink, you don’t say, ‘Down the hatch!’ You say… ‘Up the nose!’” She laughed again.
He said nothing. I smiled at the woman and shared in her excitement, asking her technical questions about frequency and the effect a sugary drink might have on the discs.
The bartender joined in every once in a while, clearly enjoying the talk and the liquor already in his red cup. He laughed readily, easily. I liked him, and I liked her.
“So how do you know Catherine and Ned?” she suddenly asked the man.
“I play on Ned’s ultimate frisbee team.”
“I didn’t even know Ned played on a team until today!” I said. “What’s ultimate frisbee like?”
He started to tell me while his broad face grew relaxed.
“My favorite frisbee move is the overhand,” I said. I picked up a plate and pantomimed the move that I was describing.
“You mean like this?” he asked, taking the plate from my hand and imitating me.
“No, not quite. Your hand shouldn’t start so high up. It ends there, but it starts down here.”
I saw the woman who the man came with amble up to us. We dispersed, as if she had broken a spell we four were under. I turned to grab my glass from the table I had set it on, and as I did so I heard her ask him, “Are you playing frisbee again?” She said it in a voice that might have sounded friendly and silly if you weren’t paying attention, but if you were close enough to her, you would be able to hear a steely edge underneath the silliness, as if she had had to pry the man from making frisbee motions with other girls at other parties.
“Are you playing frisbee aga-a-ain?” She asked him. I saw her turn to someone next to her and say, in a casually possessive tone, “He plays frisbee even in the off season, apparently.”
I walked away, feeling two sets of eyes on my back as I did.
A woman had to choose her own particular unhappiness carefully. That was the only happiness in life: to choose the best unhappiness. An unwise move, good god, you could squander everything.
i wonder sometimes about the person i could’ve been if i had drank more water