by Cher Bibler
You sit and watch as she thoughtfully chews.
“In 5 years,” she announces, finally, “she” (meaning the waitress who waited on you) “will have 2 kids and be divorced.”
You laugh. She holds up her hand, she isn’t finished, “She will bleach her hair blonde but she’ll do it herself and the color won’t be even. Lighter here, darker there. You know.”
You nod your head.
“She is trying to stay young and vital. Attract the guys. She will meet a guy at a bar who will seem really cool, answer to her dreams, but he’ll turn out to have a record, he will occasionally beat the crap out of her, but by the time she finds this out, she’s too in love with him to turn back, so instead she sets out to rehabilitate him. She thinks love will be enough.”
“And is it?” you ask.
“Of course not. She gradually begins thinking she deserves it, that she’s not worth anything more than this, when he beats her up, and it goes on and on until the day he flips out and starts beating on the kids and she blasts his brains out with a shotgun and spends the rest of her life in prison.”
“Oh my,” you say. “What about the kids?”
“They get raised by her mother.”
You both study the waitress, considering. The waitress sees you watching and comes to ask if you need anything. You are embarrassed and ask for more coffee. When she turns around to go get it, your eyes meet Kell’s and you both burst out laughing. The waitress isn’t far enough away and turns to see what you’re laughing at and you look away quickly and try to pretend it’s something else. She looks confused and you feel guilty, but Kell says, “Her name is Meranda. With an e. On her name tag. They want to fit in with a normal name for the kid, but they want to make it individual, so they change a letter. You know?”
She says the name again, emphasizing the first syllable, pronouncing an exaggerated short e sound, and you laugh at her.
“And what about the woman over there?” you say, nodding towards another table.
“Hmm.” Kell studies her. She narrows her eyes and her mouth twists in concentration. Finally she says, “She’s just come from the doctor. She hasn’t felt well in ages, but she can’t quite put her finger on what’s not right. Her doctor only half believes her, thinks she’s a hypochondriac, but she has good insurance so he’s happy to send her for all sorts of tests. Eventually they will discover that she’s had a tumor growing inside her for many years (that’s why she’s so oddly shaped) and now it’s big enough to press against vital organs and cause problems. By the time they discover this, however, it will be too late, and although they try to operate, she doesn’t make it and her legacy will be that she was living all this time with this 75 pound tumor hiding inside her that nobody knew about.”
“Wow,” you say, and you are actually wondering if the woman is better off not knowing, living her life blissfully unaware of her dire fate, when you realize that this is just a silly game and none of it’s true.
You shake your head. You smile at Kell. “You are impossible,” you say.
She shrugs her shoulders. “It’s a gift.”
You look around the restaurant for more victims. “How about that couple over there?”
Kell has to turn around to see them. She stays twisted in her seat watching them and they notice and wonder if she is someone they know. They can’t place her. They feel uncomfortable. Kell keeps staring, oblivious.
“Strangers,” she says, “they are checking the place out. Casing the joint.”
“They want to rob the restaurant”
“No, silly. They’re just eating lunch, like everyone else. They came into town this morning and they checked out the bank and now they’re wondering if it’s worth it. They’ve seen how run down Gypsy Hollow is. They will move on. They will get in their car and drive off and not look back.”
“And five years from now? Prison?”
“No. They’ll get away with it. They’ll make that one big haul and set themselves up in the Caribbean somewhere, laying on the beach and sipping Mai Tais for the rest of their days.”
“Oh, really?” You watch the couple in amusement. “Mai Tais?”
Kell nods her head soberly.
“What exactly is a Mai Tai?” you ask.
“I don’t really know,” Kell says. “I think it’s one of those umbrella drinks. I have absolutely no idea, but they definitely look like a Mai Tai couple.”
“Or,” you say, “that bank robbery could go wrong. The wife turns on the husband and goes state’s evidence, he gets put away, she goes into the witness protection program and is never heard from again. He gets off early for good behavior and meets our waitress – what’s her name? Melinda? – in a bar, but has this unfortunate habit of beating her up until that fateful day when she goes after him with a shotgun…”
Kell rolls her eyes and stops you dead. “Mai Tais. Trust me.” She shakes her head at you. “And it’s Meranda. With an e. Not Melinda.”
“Meranda,” you repeat. You pause and then go on, “He doesn’t die right away. They take him to the hospital and he shares a room with the tumor lady…” you stop at the look on Kell’s face and laugh. “Do you really think that’s why she’s got such an oddly shaped stomach?”
Kell shrugs. “She could be pregnant with an alien baby. You never know.”
“She went into a bar and met an alien and they had sex? She doesn’t look the type.”
“No, she’d be the driving down a country road in the middle of the night and gets abducted type.”
“Artificially inseminated, I’d think.”
“Have to be. Even aliens have standards.”
“I’m getting an idea for a song here.”
Kell laughs. “Even aliens have standards?”
“Baby, baby, you’re my alien child.”
“Don’t look now, but your Hemingway is showing.”
“I was thinking more Ramones. Punk. Loud guitars, you know?”
You smile again. You can’t remember the last time you laughed so much. You suddenly realize you are happy.
She shakes her head like you are the most ridiculous thing she’s ever seen.
You suddenly realize you are in love. You don’t know how it happened, when it started, but you are definitely there. Uh oh, you think. This wasn’t in the plan. You wonder if it’s reversible.
“What?” Kell says.
“What what?” you say.
“What are you thinking about all of a sudden?”
You shouldn’t. You really shouldn’t. But you do. Your mouth opens. Words come out. “I am thinking about us,” you say. “I am thinking about us in 5 minutes. 5 hours. 5 days. 5 weeks. 5 months.”
“Yeah?” she says. She is startled, you know her well enough by now to know this, but she is going to bluff her way through. You know her well enough to know this, too. “So what do you see?”
“In 5 minutes,” you say, and you’re not even drunk, “I am going to kiss you, one of those big, Gone With the Wind type life changing kisses. You will see fireworks. In 5 hours…”
“I’ll be at band practice,” she inserts, checking the time on her cell phone.
“6 hours?” you say, “7?”
“Ok,” she says.
“We will drink champagne. We will look at the stars. It will be a perfect night. I will take you in my arms…”
“I think it’s supposed to rain,” she says.
“That doesn’t matter. It will be a perfect rainy night. We won’t care.”
“Stars,” she says. “There won’t be any stars if it’s rainy.”
“Oh, the stars are still there. They are just hiding behind the clouds. We’ll still be able to feel their presence.”
“Enough champagne, I suppose we will.”
“We won’t even need the champagne. We’ll drink it anyways, but we won’t need it.”
“And 5 years?”
“We still won’t need the champagne. We’ll still drink it, but what we have will be stronger than champagne.”
“We will have something that lasts 5 years?”
“Yes. We will. In 5 years, we’ll be travelling the country. I will sit in corners working on my novels while you are interviewed by Rolling Stone for their next cover story. I will be standing backstage holding your extra guitar while you play.”
She smiles at that. “Do you know how to change strings?” she says. “Can you tune?”
“I am a quick study,” you say.
She checks her cell phone for the time again. “Your 5 minutes are up,” she says.
You don’t usually kiss in public places. You generally save it for when you’re alone. You reach your hand across the table and hook it behind her neck and pull her to you.
Rules are made to be broken.
She is tentative at first. She doesn’t trust you. Or she doesn’t trust herself. One or the other. But then she decides to go for it, you can feel her relax, respond. You have asked her to give more of herself than anyone’s ever asked for before – you don’t know how you know this, but you do. She is afraid of it, but she decides what the hell? You would be afraid of it, too, if you were actually thinking about it, but you’re not. You’re just going where it takes you. You can deal with the consequences later.
(A chapter from a novel in progress.)
Cher Bibler is the author of one book of poetry, California, California. She has worked as editor of Amanda Blue, a poetry magazine, and co-editor of a literary magazine, the Wastelands Review. She was a fiction reader for the Mid American Review and worked as poetry editor for the Heartlands Review. She was a book reviewer for Literary Zoo.
She was a founding member of the alternative band Tinfoil, as bass/rhythm guitarist, singer and songwriter. Over their career, they released 12 albums. One of their songs, People Don’t Know, will be featured in an indie film, Certainty, directed by Keith Mosher.
Her short story, Not Waving But Drowning, was a winner in the annual NOBS competition, and her current novel, I am never sure when, was a finalist in the 2012 Faulkner competition. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as This Side of Paradise, Blue Hour Magazine, Poetry Pacific, Thirteen Myna Birds and The Evergreen Review, as well as the Blue Hour Anthology.
She resides in Merida, Mexico, is supporting herself playing music, and serves as the content editor of In Other Words: Merida. You can hear some music at http://www.reverbnation.com/cherbibler