He opens the fortune cookie, drops the remnants onto the little dish, and reads it out loud. “Your life will be happy and peaceful.”
“That’s ironic,” I say from across the table.
“Why?” he asks me.
I give him a quizzical look. How could he fail to see the irony in this situation? “Why are we here tonight? Why did you drag me out on the coldest, rainiest night ever to a Chinese Restaurant we haven’t been to since we were dating ten years ago?”
“I sometimes forget we dated, we’ve been best friends for so long. We used to come here all the time.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. But that’s not why we’re here.”
He’s so frustrating. Clueless. But then, that’s the kind of person who would do this in times like these.
“So,” he said, “Can I have your orange wedge?”
I push the little plate towards him. “Knock yourself out.”
He reaches his big, stupid hand over to my plate and takes the wedge. He starts slurping at it, sounding like a kid who just started wearing braces.
“Don’t you think I’ll look good in fatigues?”
Ugh. “Yeah I hear they’re quite slimming.”
He looks like I just slapped him. He puts down the chewed remnants of peel. The smell reaches me, making me regret giving up the orangey sweetness.
His gaze is drawn outside, looking at the street now devoid of cars. Every once in a while the wind blows a splattering of drops onto the window.
“It’s nice here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. I don’t get why you would leave.”
“There’s so much peace and quiet.”
I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall. He continues.
“I love this place. I’m going to miss it.”
“Then why go?”
I really didn’t. There is no reason, no point. The worst is that as of now it’s faceless to me. I don’t know anyone there, so I don’t need to worry or care. I can avoid it by staying away from the news, papers, websites. But now he will be there, and now it has a face and I will be confronted with it at all hours. At work. In the car. Washing the dishes. On a date. I’m forced to think about it now…and it makes me feel…
“Uncomfortable?” he asks.
“Huh?” It is like he was reading my mind.
“You look uncomfortable. Need to switch? My chair is pretty soft.”
“No, no thanks,” I say, laughing a little.
“I ship out pretty early tomorrow.”
“Do they still say that? Ship out? Isn’t that the navy?”
He turns a little red, reminding me of the time he walked in on my little sister changing.
“Maybe you better find out before you make an ass of yourself.”
He gets up, bumping into the table and making the glasses of water sway enough to spill a bit over the edge. He drops a twenty on the table.
“Thanks. This was important.”
“I know,” I whisper.
He turns to go, and I feel like I need to say something meaningful, but can’t think over the emotional noise cluttering my head.
He turns, but I still don’t know what I want to say.
He gives me a sad wave and turns around to leave. Pulling his coat tighter, he opens the door and is attacked by the wind, rain spraying him as he makes his way out of my life, and possibly out of his.
She always dreaded that the day would come. He had been serving in the army for a second tour of duty, and she would often have nightmares of that fateful moment. The men would come, dressed in their uniforms, and solemnly approach her home with that letter, the typed, impersonal apology from the United States government.
It had happened to Ethyl down the street, and she spent days there, consoling her, bringing casserole after casserole, returning home with the emptied dish every night with the knowledge that she would just have to fill it up again tomorrow, a shared sympathy. After all, it could just as easily be Ethyl bringing the casseroles to her.
And then one evening, she was sitting watching the television when she heard a car coming down the street and just knew. She got up, still dressed from her long day of shopping with Ethyl, attempting to keep her mind off of her loss, and she could see the car slowly driving down the street. She watched from the window, lights off, praying that the car would just pass her house.
It pulled into her driveway, a long, black Buick, and the headlights illumined the space around her, through the window. For some reason she grabbed her purse, an afterthought, or perhaps something to hold onto when the news came. She watched as two older men in uniform got out of the car and straightened their shirts, double-checking for perfection. Then one reached into his pocket and withdrew the envelope.
For a brief moment, she felt a breath on the back of her neck, and she turned and saw her husband there. The men approached her stoop.
She reached out to touch him, and he smiled, just for a moment. The men were at the door now.
His smile disappeared, and he nodded knowingly, reassuringly, and she knew what he was trying to tell her. The men knocked.
She looked down at the carpet, freshly vacuumed, felt the gentle caress of his hand at the small of her back, and when she looked up he was gone.