Water falls on her dark hair and his artificially tan face and on the thin white t-shirt that shows beneath her jacket and on the tops of his beat up Reeboks. He tans because he hates the winter here and needs sunlight. He goes to the worst place in town with the dullest bulbs in the oldest beds because they let him lie in that warm Plexiglas coffin for a half hour at a time. She wears shirts that let her equally thin bra and in this weather she knows nipples as well show through because it gets her husband mad and at this point she'll take any attention she can get. Even the kind of attention that would have made her feel like kicking a guy's ass maybe just two years ago.
He stares at her but somehow it is not obvious. He stares with the edge of his sight as he looks past her shoulder at the steel gray sky and the Burger King end of a faded downtown. The old "Standard" gas station sign with the torch is now a "bp" sign with green leaf shapes. The only change apparent. She looks at the ground, mostly, but manages, with each drag, to pick up details of his face, his hands, the un-ironed nature of his shirt, the way the blue is worn away at the knees and fly of his jeans.
He knows there's a bar across the street. He wants to say, "fuck the papers." There's not one kid who'd give a shit if he threw them all away. As long as he gave out As. Most even if he didn't. Maybe one kid. Alright, maybe four. Does that matter? He'll give out As anyway. Who cares. He wants to dump the papers in the bin with the remnant disposable plates and napkins and plastic forks and take her to the bar and drink with her and talk with her and take her home and have sex. He doesn't know who she is. He noticed her a half hour ago and thinks she is equally lonely. He imagines that. He likes the way her hand curls around a coffee mug, the length of her fingers, the way she pushes the hair from her face. He doesn't care. He wants conversation with an adult outside a teachers' lounge. He wants to be drunk. He wants to be touched.
She thinks there's a place in the next town. She's driven past it. It looks old, kind of Chicago neighborhood Italian and she wants this guy to take her there and drink real espresso with Sambuca, not this semi-Starbucks crap, and deep red wine and eat extravagant pasta and she wants him to reach over and touch her hand and talk to her and say the kinds of things she used to hear but doesn't now. She's been watching him for almost two hours from across a room full of small-town pretenders. She's making assumptions based on a vaguely familiar look, on the hurt in his eyes, on the way he sighs with frustration, on the fact that she thinks teaching is a noble thing. What she imagines is diligence, empathy, and care. She's not sure how much she wants to get back at her husband. Has no plans for an affair, really. She just imagines that getting "picked up" that way might restore her knowledge of her sexuality. And fill her time tonight.
He drops the butt of his Camel into a puddle and it makes a tiny sizzle. He shakes the rain off his hair. She flicks the remnant of a Newport into the street. He turns toward the door, his features highlighted by the typical red and blue neon "open" sign. She turns toward the door. He opens it and holds it for her. She walks back in to cold coffee and two messages from friends 1,700 miles away. He sits down and picks up "World War I and Woodrow Wilson," sighs. Writes an A in red at the top, picks up the next.
copyright 2003-2004 by Ira Socol
image: Michellious Peyne 2008