“But what if the earth is flat.”
I had never heard this much emotion in her voice our entire relationship.
“It’s not flat, that’s been proven,” I said as if I were adding to the conversation.
“But have you yourself proven it?” she asked. “Anybody can prove anything, but how can you truly know anything for yourself unless you go out and experience it yourself.”
“I mean… there’s birds and stuff.”
The conversation lasted surprisingly long staying on the same subject, which I didn’t think either one of us was all that interested in. We always did this. Argue about things that were already solved. I watched her stare at her plate. She threw two meatballs into her mouth before telling me what she thought about the way I coughed.
"It’s too loud," she said. “Way too loud. And it’s scratchy. When I picture your throat, I picture there being a bunch of bug bites on it.”
“You don’t have to picture my throat if you don’t want to.”
“I don’t want to, but boy do I.”
Whenever she said boy do I, I felt like I was in the 1920's. I think I would have done well back then. Maybe back then I would have had a job and some friends.
“Do you ever think how easily one of us could ruin things,” she said.
“I think I’ll ask for more lemonade.” Her eye contact was so intense I should have brought an extra shirt.
“I’m serious. It would be so easy for me to just dump your lemonade on you, spit on you, and start screaming, "He raped me, he raped me!" It would cause something so different in our relationship. There’s no way we would stay together after that."
“That’s probably true, yeah.”
“And same goes for you. You could push me over right now - right as I’m talking - you could yank my shirt off and grope me here in front of everyone, or punch me, and it wouldn’t even have to be bad intention you could just do it to see what would happen. And then we’d never talk again. Something like that would be irrevocable no matter the intention.”
“Sounds like bad intention to me.”
My lemonade came, which was the highlight of the evening.
“I hate gift cards, she said.”
“Tell me more.”
“People always act like it’s not real money. Like Fran took me out to dinner one night, and I was like - this is so expensive - and she was like it’s fine I have a gift card. It’s like, you can just say you’re rich, that’s okay.”
“How’s Fran ?” I asked.
“I hate how people talk about money. But don’t get me started on mental health.”
The lemonade was sweeter than I remembered. I expect consistency from outdoor cafes, but you don’t get that here.
Sometimes the tables are clean, and sometimes you rest your elbows on the table, and you’ve got sticky elbows the rest of the day.
Joan hadn’t slept much the past week, which made her a little more talkative than normal. I always enjoy being with her, but sometimes I’m not sure how she wants me to respond. And sometimes I wonder if everything she says is serious or if nothing is. Both of those scenarios frighten me. She hates so many things. She hates how people talk about sleep. When I ask her, "how did you sleep" she always says something like, "I slayed a dragon and drowned 3 times so you tell me.”
Once I decided to take my mind off the overly sweet lemonade, I tossed my face back into conversation. Sometimes I felt like a bungling clown talking to her.
“I think it’s great more people talk about mental health.”
“Quality over quantity,” she said. “Everyone says they’re depressed. Having a bad week is not depression. If you can get out of bed, you’re fine.”
“I don’t know if that’s fair,” I said with a sneeze.
“Well I do,” she said, mashing another meatball in her mouth.
“These meatballs remind me of Carlos.”
“Who’s that ?”
“He was a guy in magic school bus I think.”
“Did he like meatballs?”
“I don’t know.”
We sat in that silence for a while with nothing much to ponder.
"Do you think 3 is a magic number" she asked me.
“I don’t believe in magic.”
“Well, I do, so help me out.”
“To another 3 years of magic,” I said while raising my sweet lemonade.
“I don’t particularly like when you’re sarcastic you know. It’s not an affable look for you. I genuinely believe in magic. And I genuinely am excited for the next 3 years. Not just of our relationship but of everything. And you know how I hate the word genuine, so you can be sure I’m really being genuine.”
“I am too.”
“Before this restaurant closes let’s do something insane.” She stared at me hard.
“I am not going to punch you.”
“No not like that. Let’s challenge our relationship.”
“That sounds nice and all, but I think instead of challenge, we should enjoy it.”
“Let’s break up.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said, but she was looking at my large nose.
“This would be the most challenging thing. If our relationship can survive a breakup, it can survive anything.”
I drank more lemonade even though it was getting worse by the sip.
“How would we break up as a test?”
“We don’t speak or see each other for exactly one year.”
“That’s 52 weeks.”
“That’s a lot of weeks.”
“Exactly. If we love each other that much our love will be that much stronger.”
I put my lemonade on the table…. Well, she would tell me it’s not my lemonade, it’s just a lemonade. If I keep talking like that, soon I’ll start calling her my woman when she’s just a person.
“Do you want to break up?” I asked. “Genuinely?”
“But like for real.”
“It’s the only way.”
“Only way for what?”
“For true love.”
She pointed to me and mouthed, "he raped me," as a joke I guess and then left the café.
I wasn’t really sure what to think. I started wondering about what would happen if she had groped me just now. Would I push her away and never see her again? Would I pretend nothing happened? Would I laugh? Would I cry? Would a demonic part of me rise up and weirdly would I enjoy it? I don’t know.
I felt less despondent, more tired. I loved Joan a lot, a whole lot, but sometimes our conversations felt like when you walk outside then go back inside then walk outside again, and you’re like wait what am I doing.
I lay back in my chair for the first time.
“Another lemonade please”
©2023 Jake Schick