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Writing Fiction - Chapter 27
Here's where Chapter 26 left you...
I never got to finish my sentence because just then my stomach rebelled against the five aspirin I’d taken at home. I covered my mouth and made a mad dash for little hallway that led to the bathroom.
“Never again, Pearl,” I told myself after I did the nauseating deed. I drank water from the faucet and splashed more cold water on my face after dabbing some of the residue off my jacket with damp paper towels.
I leaned my aching forehead against the cold, tile of the bathroom walls for a moment and tried breathing through my nose until I felt less nauseous.
Plastering a bright ‘everything is just fine’ smile on my face, I shoved open the door of the restroom.
I stopped for a moment to swallow down another round of queasiness and then I froze in place. Surely it had to be my imagination. Surely that wasn’t Jay’s voice ordering a double shot of expresso from Julia.
And now, Chapter 27 continues...
This was getting ridiculous.
Every single time I wanted to talk to Jay to get an explanation for his bizarre behavior with Sp…edgar, he hadn’t been around. And every single time he wanted to talk to me, I’d blown him off.
I gathered my courage and stepped around the corner.
The coffee shop was empty except for Julia and Jay. Fortunately Jay was sitting with his back to the counter. My clogs made it easy for me to be sneaky, so I quietly approached the counter, handed Julia some cash, motioned for her to put the extra into her tip jar, and carefully picked up my steaming cup.
I was so conflicted, I felt as though I was spinning in a circle…not a great way to feel when you have a hangover. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was going to leap out of my throat. I felt horrible. My head felt close to exploding and I’m certain I looked pretty disgusting.
I was at a crossroads. I couldn’t decide if I should sneak back into the bathroom and wait until he left or sit at a table by the opposite window and hunch over with my back towards him.
Maybe it was the headache, maybe it was just that I felt lousy and grumpy and mean, but I decided instead that enough was enough. Every time I’d tried to be prepared for meeting this man, it had ended disastrously. I was just going to face the uncomfortable mess head on.
I squared my shoulders and silently approached his table.
I pulled out a chair and sat down without looking at his face. I was afraid if he glared or yelled at me I would lose my nerve.
Oh, I wish I could tell you I was mistaken, it wasn’t Jay at all, I idiotically stammered out an apology to a total stranger and then took my coffee to another table. But I can’t.
It was Jay, and even though I thought I looked horrible, I had nothing on this man.
When he glanced up at me the single thought that flitted through my head was that this person was broken. He was shattered and put back together badly with Elmer’s glue and masking tape in the hopes the cracks would be less noticeable.
I pulled my coffee closer and tried to find courage in the caffeine to prepare myself to start a conversation.
Although my head was still pounding, I felt stone-cold sober. Hesitantly I reached my hand across the table and put it over his. He didn’t move.
“Pearl, what are you doing?” I questioned myself. “Something is seriously wrong with this guy. Take your coffee and get out of here.” For some reason, I couldn’t.
Have you ever watched one of those TV shows where something is so terrible that you can’t change the channel? You want to, but your mind is trapped in horror and you’re paralyzed? That’s how I felt.
We just sat. His hand didn’t move and I was unsure what to do.
The pain emanating from this broken man was almost visible.
I cleared my throat. Darn. As unbelievable as it sounds, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was babble-less, and brain-less, and clue-less how to proceed in this uncomfortable situation.
Getting up would’ve been cruel; sitting there and saying nothing might be even meaner.
I cleared my throat and tried again. I actually had a deep-thought kind of quote to share that I used to write on sympathy cards about rain and rainbows. Instead what came out was, “Knock, knock?” Don’t blame me. Blame Millie. Obviously there was a large quantity of beer still floating through my blood stream, influencing my words.
I hoped for a moment that Jay didn’t hear my inane question, but instead he looked up with a puzzled expression and asked, “Who’s there?”
I didn’t mean ‘knock, knock’ like a knock-knock joke, I meant it like “Ummm, helllloooo…is anyone home?” so I didn’t know how to proceed.
Jay removed his hand from under mine and tapped my arm, “Who’s there?” he repeated.
I thought as fast as my pounding head would allow. I could only recall one knock-knock joke and it was an incredibly dumb one.
“Ummm… boo,” I said.
Jay paused and then replied, “Boo who?”
Holy cow! What was I doing? The punch line for this juvenile humor was definitely not a great one for the current situation. “Boo who?” Jay repeated.
I had no choice. I had to finish it. “Awwww…please don’t cry,” I said quietly.
For a moment, I thought that Jay didn’t get it. Thank heavens.
After a second, though, he tried to smile. It was ghastly, reminiscent of “Night of the Living Dead”.
I tried to come up with something to redeem my thoughtless remark. Instead I blurted out, “So, do you need to talk?”
The moment of silence stretched out for a second and then he shook his head ‘no’.
I patted his hand and tried again, “Jay, look, it might help you to talk about it. Since my husband ummm… ummm… “ It was the weirdest thing, but in that moment I couldn’t think of a single euphemism. I tried again. “Jay, look, sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know and maybe ummm… you could talk to me.”
Before my husband began ‘plowing his last row at the farm’, he used to accuse me of being nosy. “Leave people alone, Pearl,” he’d say, “If they want to talk to you, they will.” I told him that sometimes it wasn’t quite that easy and sometimes people needed a little nudge. “But, Pearl,” he’d said, “Why does it have to be you doing the nudging?” I’d never been able to explain it to my husband and I probably can’t explain it to you either, but it’s a weird little trait I have. I know inside my heart when I’m supposed to nudge. I almost feel a person’s pain calling out to me. My Grandmother had called it ‘channeling sorrow’. My mother, God rest her soul, had called it ‘acting crazy’. I’d just always figured it was some weird quirk I was born with.
The main problem with the quirk was, if I didn’t act on the cosmic message to butt in when I was supposed to, I felt terrible. Terrible, as in ‘can’t sleep, little comfort in chocolate, and guilt.’ Considering I was already suffering a hangover, I didn’t want to feel worse, so I tried nudging again.
“Jay,” I said gently, “It’s just that…”
He interrupted me. Harshly. “Oh no, Pearl, “I thought to myself, “Here we go again.” Instead I was shocked to hear, “You were right.”
He continued quietly. “I’m a jerk and a moron and I have absolutely no idea why I’m telling you this stuff.” I just sat very still, pretending to sip my now cold coffee. The sun streaming through the window made me feel a little drowsy. My head was still pounding, although less viciously now, so it was easy to just sit in silence.
“I don’t deserve Spot. It was my fault that he got out of the house…”
During the next long pause, I felt drowsier still. I was actually afraid I might fall asleep until Jay’s next words jolted me out of my comfort level.
In a monotone voice, he continued, “After my son was killed my wife didn’t want the dog. She told me and told me to get rid of it. She couldn’t even call the dog ‘Spot’ because she said it hurt too much. I couldn’t bear to get rid of Spot because he was the only comfort I had. In the end, though, it didn’t matter because, when she left, she told me she never wanted to see me or the dog again.”
Jay had been looking down at the table while he said these shocking words and now he looked up at me. He had a look on his face I can’t really describe. It was a combination of defeat, anger and pain. For a moment I regretted my nosy nudge.
“Jay, I think I’m going to need some more caffeine before we continue this story. Do you want something?”
This moment felt too serious for a frivolous coffee drink.
As I waited for Julia to add Half and Half to my cup of plain coffee, I realized my headache was diminishing even further, but, just to be sure I was at the top of my nudging game, I asked Julia if she had any aspirin. She reached under the counter and handed me a little paper package along with a clear plastic cup of water. I quickly swallowed them, paid, and took both coffees back to the table and Jay.
He took his cup of dark brew from me and started looking bleakly into the steaming depths.
The bell jingled merrily over the door as a customer came in. Neither of us looked up. We just sat, intent on our drinks and unsure how to continue the conversation.
To be continued, Tuesday, March 22.
(c) 2010 Jennifer R. Matlock
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