for a ride, for coffee, for payday, for night, for one’s turn in a queue, for people to come, for people who don’t.
She tilts her head sideways and smiles carefully, as if posing for a photograph to stand at a beloved’s bedside table along with the book of poetry whose pages she now marks. But the smile is lost: no one cares to catch it, to press it between their palms and kiss it to memory.
The woman sits at the center table for two in the smokers’ area, toying with her empty glass. She is pretty, and she stands out in the crowd of black tees- and jeans-clad teens like a spotlight was on her. I think how remarkably she would belong in a camera frame, poised there in her tight rice paper skin, pouting her red lips at the clock on the wall, twirling her stubby cigarette between her thumb and forefinger
The woman at the center table for two in the smokers’ area sits with one leg underneath her. As she waits for her coffee to be served, she opens a brown parcel and takes out a book. Smiling, she caresses its spine and unwraps her book as if undressing an inexperienced lover, young and delicate like porcelain.
The woman sitting at the center table for two in the smokers’ area holds her cellphone to her chest as if it were her own heart she was clutching, willing it to thrum.
The woman pacing around the center table for two in the smokers’ area hisses, damn, damn, I’ll feed him to Cthulhu.
Everyday I ask him if he’ll be home for dinner and everyday he says he will but most of the time he doesn’t yet all the time I believe him (because sometimes he does, and I tell myself, what if today he does?) and every afternoon I cook and every evening I set the table for two and every night I wake to find him already in bed with me, and the dinner I made still on the table.
The night before our anniversary, he said, let’s eat out—and so I dusted off my slingback heels and wore my red dress and perched on his arm. But he had only just sat me at our table and the spring rolls were yet to be served when his phone rang and he left and never came back that night.
Sitting at that table and staring into the candlelight, I imagined—I’m back in the kitchen. I have my apron on and I’m cooking. I’m slicing onions and mincing garlic to sauté. I set them aside and pick up a carving knife, pointed and sharp and small but heavy in my hand. I carve out my heart and place it on the cutting board. I slice it and I dice it, and all the while I feel every cut, I feel the cold steel of the knife riding forward and back and down, until the edge clack, clack, clacks against the wooden cutting board. I sauté the garlic and onion and I throw into the pan the bits of my heart. I add hoisin sauce, pepper, the salt of the years of waiting. I take it off the fire, add garnish, and serve it to him. Oh how he eats my heart with such gusto! Finally he tastes what I cook, he smells it, he sees it, sees me. He smiles, he smiles and it reaches his eyes, reaches mine. It is a warm smile; it melts the big cold lump, the throbbing cancer plugging the hole in my chest, and I smile too. And with that smile I take the carving knife from my apron pocket and run it through his heart.