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BY SUSAN GODSTONE
"Don't wear your hat," he says. "You're having a good hair day." "Okay," I say.
He sees the same movies on the coffee table from the last time he visited.
"Haven't you watched these yet?"
"No," I say. "I've been busy."
"Busy doing what?" he asks.
"This and that."
Like always, he is ready to leave the apartment before I am. I look at myself in the mirror, smear pink lipstick across my dry mouth, and smile at myself.
"Come on," he whines. "I'm hungry."
We take a familiar route up Chestnut Street towards Van Ness. As we climb up Chestnut to Polk, I lag behind. I see the shape of his back, his jeans, and his black leather jacket scratched and slightly torn on the left sleeve. He slows down and waits for me to catch up. A couple, hand in hand, laughing with each other, walk past us heading towards Van Ness. The man has his arm casually flung around the woman's shoulders.
It's a Friday night. As we walk along Polk Street, there are all sorts of people on the sidewalk, but we don't notice them. We are in our own little bubble. The air is cold enough that we can see smoke on our breath. I wish that I'd worn my hat.
"We have to go Dutch on this meal," he says buttoning up his jacket.
"That's okay. My treat," I say.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," I say. "I wouldn't offer otherwise."
We walk in silence for a while. I notice an abandoned wheelchair on the sidewalk.
"That's for you," I tease.
"No, for you," he says. "You, spinster of this parish."
"I worry that we'll both be alone forever," he says. "One is the loneliest number...," he sings. I try to put my hand over his mouth.
"We won't end up like this forever," I say, "because I'll meet somebody else and you'll meet somebody else and we won't be lonely sad people anymore. How about Thai food?" I point to the restaurant across the street called Thai Spice.
"Okay. Haven't we been there before?"
"Years ago," I say. "I think it's under different ownership now."
"What makes you think that?" he asks facetiously. A large red and yellow sign hangs untidily above the entrance. "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT."
We walk into the restaurant and get directed to the window table. We will be their advertisement for an hour or so. He wants to keep his coat on. I give mine to the waiter, who flashes me a wide grin. We sit down and I notice a couple two tables away. They are finishing their meal. The boy feeds the girl a spoonful of sticky mango rice.
He looks at the menu. "Green chicken curry?" I ask.
"I'm looking for something different," he says.
"You should try something different."
He looks for quite a while. I know what I'm having. The couple two tables away are paying the check. The girl is looking at her watch. She's worried that they will miss the movie.
"No, I'll go for green chicken curry," he says. "It's always my litmus test."
"Sounds good," I say, imagining that I have never heard him say this before.
"I think about fatherhood," he says out of the blue.
"Well, you didn't when we were together." I lean over the table and wave my fork at him.
"That's because it wasn't on my mind then."
"Maybe you didn't want to think about it with me," I say. With the emphasis on the me.
"Maybe, maybe not," he says. "We were arguing too much for me to think about it." He grabs my hand. "I've been too lonely." He looks into my eyes as if going home with me would be the answer to all his problems.
"Me too," I say. "I don't like being alone. I think about getting married. I want to be married."
"Why?" he asks.
"Because I don't want to go through this hell again. It's horrible. I want to be with somebody forever."
"Is this a new thought?"
He looks upset. I am upset.
"Nobody is with anyone forever. At least," he says, "marriage is no guarantee."
"Well, it upsets me to know that you are thinking of fatherhood," I say.
"I know," he says. "I think I can make some money on this decorating job. I brought the estimate for you to check. You know I'm no good at figures." He pulls a crumpled piece of paper out of his jeans pocket.
"I don't have my glasses. I'll look at it later."
"Okay." He puts the papers back in his pocket. I know that I will not see it again.
"How have you been, really?" I ask.
"Not too bad. Like I said, really lonely. I miss you."
He pulls up his sleeve and shows me an angry rash on his elbow. "My eczema is getting worse."
"Yes...it is," I say. "Have you been to the doctor?"
"Nah, I just put that cream on it."
Silence, for what seems like a long time.
"I just want both of us to be happy," he says.
"So do I," I say.
"I'm thinking about selling my truck," he says. "I never use it anymore. It's a waste of space sitting in Mom's garage."
"Sounds like a good idea."
"I've been making inquiries," he says.
The waiter brings our food. Green chicken curry for him; eggplant and prawns for me. White rice and vegetable spring rolls. Beer for him. Green tea for me.
"Is everything okay?" says the waiter looking at me.
"Everything is fine," I say.
"So, have you been seeing anyone?" He looks at his plate of green chicken curry as he asks me this question.
"I haven't been interested in other people," I snap.
"No need to be snarky," he says.
"I'm not being snarky. I just haven't."
He changes the subject. "This green chicken curry is really good."
"Then it passes your test?"
"Definitely. I think it's the best Thai place we've been to in a long time," he says.
"Haven't you been to any since we've split up?" I ask.
"Not really. A bad one in Berkeley."
"Oh," I say. "I'm thinking about trying Internet dating." I blurt it out as if it's a dirty secret.
"That's not the way to meet people," he says.
"The Internet," he says. "How can you tell what a person is like from an e-mail?"
"I think you can tell a lot," I say. "If you really pay attention to what people are writing, that is."
"You're a beautiful woman," he says.
"No, I'm not," I say. "I'm an old woman."
"Okay," he says.
There is quite a bit of food uneaten, but we are finished. I look out the window and it's starting to rain. The waiter intrudes into our conversation. "Do you want to take what's left home?"
"Yes," we say.
"In separate bags?" the waiter asks.
"Yes," he says. "We lived together for ten years but not anymore." He looks sad and I can tell the waiter takes pity on him, not me. The waiter sighs in his direction and collects the dishes. When the check comes, I pay.
"I want to call you whenever I want, unless you don't want me to," I say.
"What does that mean?" he asks.
"I don't know," I say. "I suppose I want to talk to you whenever I want, even though we can't."
"I'm not begging anymore."
"I don't want you to beg."
"Yes, you do. It's a power thing. You like it," he says.
"You mean if I didn't like it, I wouldn't see you."
"Yes," he says.
"I don't think that's true."
"Well, just another thing we'll have to disagree upon." The waiter brings my coat and he helps me on with it.
We walk together to the bus stop. This time we go down the road, his arm around my shoulders, mine around his back. Each carrying our bag of Thai food. It is raining hard but neither of us has an umbrella. I reflect on what he says. It doesn't make me feel good, but I don't know what to do about it.
"When you think about fatherhood, do you have a mother in mind?" I ask finally.
"No, I just keep looking at babies. I'm broody. I didn't know men could get broody."
"You're a shit," I say.
"I am who I am," he says.
We arrive at the bus stop. A homeless man asks him for a quarter. He rummages in his pocket and pulls out a dime. The homeless person sneers at both of us and shuffles off.
"I'll see you soon," I say.
"I don't know," he says. "Maybe, maybe not."
"Here's my bus," I say. He kisses me quickly on the lips and I get on the bus without looking back.
* * *
London native Susan Godstone has been living in San Francisco for eight years. She has been a member of a fiction-writing group called Kill Your Darlings for six years. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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