She envies people who have the money to just leave, who are always saying good-bye, standing in that doorway waiting to let go. She imagines that they're always looking for the lull in the conversation, the right time to cough and pull their arms through their jackets. Get out get out go go go. It would be easier if there was someone to leave with, someone that made this feeling tangible and not something she mulls over dinner or tea. Someone to conspire with, to whisper to: "Yes, I'm going away right now, yes, we're going away..."
They could concur on the rendezvous, the specific time, day or night, the color of the getaway car. She could mark it in her daily planner in the weekend box under BUY MORE APPLES or RETURN DVDS. It could have a code name, or maybe she'd just write ESCAPE in big bold letters. ESCAPE 3:35 PM. Like an appointment with the dentist, or a job interview.
They sit at a table by the neon light. She tries to look into his eyes, but can't move past her own reflection in his glasses. Her face is curved, like an overripe pear, and her stick body caves under the weight of it all. She reminds herself to sit up straight. This is a borrowed life, somebody else's dream. Her life is much different in her head, warmer.
Outside her thoughts, Jackie is the type of girl to always do as she is told. This cold reality envelopes her, blotting her out. It's a feeling she is always surprised of and never fully admits is hers. She stares at him, across the table. He folds his hands. "You're just not practical enough to appreciate this place. There are famous people who live here, and there is a lot to do. You just choose not to do it."
"And what is there to do? Go to a bar? Get drunk? All those American pastimes...but where's the Film, the Theater?"
He brushes her rebuttal away with the sweep of his hand. "What about that guy you're always going on about? The painter, by the Hudson...?"
"Yeah. See, there's art here."
"But he's dead. It's not like I can ask him to go see a movie."
"Well, you can ask me."
"But you never want to see what I want to see."
"Well," his smile is kind and indifferent. "Then get someone new."
The neon light from the DONUTS sign flickers over their faces from outside the window. She has the impression that he is always laughing – not just at her, but at the neon sign and this coffee in Styrofoam cups and the withered ladies who are battling drug addictions behind the counter, or perhaps who are just eating too many donuts in between sales.
The orange hue blinks on and off their skin. She asks him why it's always the exotic girls that he ends up with, who follow him around like dizzy birds, the ones from the names of countries she can't pronounce. He shrugs. "Those are just the girls that fall in my lap."
"So am I one of them?" she asks. "Am I one of your exotic girls?"
"Maybe." That smile again.
"But I'm white. I'm European American. Does that count, is that allowed?"
"Now you're just being silly."
"You mean stupid."
"No. I mean what I say. Not like you. You're silly."
Jackie lets the tea burn her fingers. Her hands press against the Styrofoam and her palms tingle from the heat, but although she focuses on the ache of her skin, the colors still stain her thoughts. She remembers that they are drawn to him, and when she is gone, their wide-eyes and soft lips will still be drawn to him, and knowing this makes Jackie uncap and cap the lid on her tea again and again and push her glazed donut between them, to the center of the table, no man's land. In high school her mother often said: "Never let yourself go, Jacquelyn. You will never forgive yourself if you do." Jackie often wondered what her mother meant by that, how she could ever wander away from her own body. Her mother had a way of speaking without saying a word. If there was chocolate in the fridge and young Jacquelyn reached for it, her mother would puff out her cheeks and shake her head, symbolic of what a plump little Jackie would look like when nibbling on too many milky chocolate squares.
Jackie bites into her glazed donut, licking her lips and then each one of her fingers. She usually would be too shy to do this in front of another person, but she knows Charlie doesn't expect her to slice into her donut with a knife and fork or pick it up daintily with the folds of her napkin.
The neon sign reflects off his glasses. She tries to paint this scene in her mind. Boy meets girl. Girl amuses boy. Two kids blowing on their sugared water, waiting for the cold to come, the tint of the sign distorting their existence. Like a fly, Jackie is drawn to the light. She finds relief in the absence of God, reveling in the neon chapels of the city that go on for blocks. A religion for today. This is all there is. A following he will never understand. He knows the lights are a distraction and only nods when she tries to explain. "They're just lights." He squints, watching the withered ladies behind the counter scoop donut holes in the sides of their mouths, bulking up for the long winter ahead. But she likes how the lights are just lights. She likes how they're just there. They are colors put on display, a waste of energy and time that everyone forgets and no one really needs, and when she's looking at them, when she's under them, it's almost like she's not there, too.
About the author:
Eva Konstantopoulos lives and writes in Los Angeles, CA. She has previously been published in Gangsters in Concrete and Conte.
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