She fiddles with her chopsticks. “I once had these green socks.”
He pushes his fork through his chow mein, looking for the shrimp and chicken.
Her chopsticks tumble again from her fingers. She aligns them neatly on the table and picks up the paper wrapper they came in. Twirling the wrapper around her finger, she sees this irritates him. She lets the wrapper unfurl and pushes it to the edge of the table where the passing waiter picks it up and replaces it with a fork. She smiles for the first time since they arrived. A little joke, and to give her options.
She continues. “The point is, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about how — and I get how this sounds —“ His tie falls off his shoulder and onto his plate.
“Christ! Would you believe?!” He’s not asking her. He pulls a stack of paper napkins from the overstuffed dispenser.
“I remember at the time how odd it was that I had to have these socks because I was pretty young and your parents buy you socks, right? I was so nervous to tell you how much they cost. I must have told you they were meant as a gift. But they were for me.”
He looks up from wiping his tie. The question is forming, she can see it, what has he ever done that she cares so much about what he thinks? He takes a fresh napkin and daubs it in his untouched water, one of the ice cubes spilling over the lip of the glass. He recoils and cradles his hand. She instinctively passes him her napkin and begins to rush.
“Anyhow, these socks got a hole in them and for years I kept them in the back of a drawer and then in my bag, just so I could look at them.”
She’s starting to flood. Funny how it feels like clarity, like all the bullshit is slipping away and here comes the truth. She leans closer, her voice steadily resembling his so closely that he has no choice but to meet the gaze of this stranger. Have they met before? His eyes have gotten milkier since she saw him last. But here she is, always the one to invite him to lunch. Maybe this time she’ll say the right thing.
“Mom threw out my blanket when I was young. Moms do that, it’s OK. But I threw out these socks and, I have to tell you, it’s a part of growing up I really wish I could undo, because then maybe I could keep looking to them for answers and not you.”
His face softens, no, melts. Is he finally readying himself to speak? It feels like one of those miniature springs from the tip of a ballpoint pen. You looked forward to the pen drying out just so you can disassemble it and *boing*. She feels, what is this? A flirty vibration. Intimate, lurching from her stomach to her throat, and as he smoothes his tie to his chest she’s not done talking. She’s not done talking. She’s not done talking. She’s not done. She’s not done. She’s not done. She’s not done. Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. Don’t tell stories. Don’t tell stories. Don’t tell stories. She cups her hands over her mouth and leaves.
The waiter prepares the cheque, folds it sharply down the middle and pitches it like a tent on the table. Bumming a cigarette from the cook, he goes out back, retrieves the rumpled chopstick wrapper from his apron pocket and strikes a match.
Julie Wilson is the author of Seen Reading. Originally from Toronto, she lives in San Diego.