As they drank their beers, ate their hamburgers and fries, the pathetic one would have to admit – later, when being honest with himself – that nothing was different. Really, everything that night mirrored their time of working together: At first businesslike, for a short time convivial, then near the end – like their final dying days years before – marred by failure.
Their food is eaten now. Runt fries shoved to the sides of plates. Torn pieces of beer labels strewn like unraked leaves on the table. Behind them a group of millennials talks loudly about which is better “unshaved pits or unshaved legs.”
“Let me get this straight,” Don says over the chatter. He is the manager of the bookstore where they once worked. He hired the pathetic one, as well as Rebecca, the other at the table. “You’re asking if a woman orgasms in the process of making her child, will that child be more or less likely to live a happy life?”
“Coming,” the one pathetic one says, “yes, that’s good, or bad…for the baby.”
“Oh my gosh, Joseph,” Rebecca says, giving only the beginnings of her smile. She takes Don’s hand.
“It’d have to be a good thing, I guess,” Don says, “to…do that. But it wouldn’t improve a life. That’s impossible.”
“Well, Christ, you two don’t believe in the power of an orgasm, do you?” And the pathetic one slams down his beer. He had drank too much, the couple knew, before coming to the bar. “Think about it. Whatever it is, the juices of life or whatever, that has to flow through to the new life. Let me ask this…”
Pathetically, he pauses, as if waiting for approval to say something inappropriate. He is trying to be playful, they know, though how could they forget that once Joseph shouted, “Rebecca Angle is really great!” on her third week of working there. Or when Rebecca explained to him that she just didn’t have those feelings, there in the parking lot near where they worked. And more than that, the time Joseph knocked over a row of magazines on the day he quit, leaving everyone in the store, including the newly-married workers behind the counter – Don and Rebecca – speechless.
Rebecca loosens her posture. Taking Don’s chin, she gives her husband a kiss on the lips, then two small ones on the cheek. ”A gentleman never reveals these things.”
His pathetic beer is empty, but still Joseph tips it back. And with those last bits shaken out, he picks at what remains of the label, which is just the glue. Rebecca tries to smile, and not just for Joseph, but for everyone. Though their lightness, however tenuous at the beginning of the night, is fully gone. Water down a sink. So they sit in silence, until Don steps in. He is the man of the table; he has a wife. A good job too.
“Should get the check.” He taps at his watch. “Told the sitter 11.”
“Of course,” Joseph says, pathetically trying to make eye contact with Rebecca who does not acquiesce.
It’s then, as they get up to leave, Joseph tries once more to give the love of his life, he was just sure, the look that would explain everything. And if she looks back in his eyes the way he dreamed she would, she will say, if silently, how much of a mistake it all has been. Youth blinded her. Circumstances get in the way. That’s just how life is.
Rebecca does look back, but all she has is a friendly nod, and at that moment Joseph wants to sit the world down and show it how much he feels. How much more it is than everyone else. To have his insides picked apart and inspected. He desires, more anything, that someone other than himself could know what they contain.
Then they are outside. Rebecca scrunches her body within her coat and Don stands like a cowboy. He even wears a jean jacket. All he really needs is a cigarette. The warmest of the bunch, it seems, is Joseph. He speaks first.
“We should do this again, now that I’m back in town.”
“Okay,” Don says, his wife nodding over and over in the half-darkness.
Then it is pathetic Joseph, a man the couple would do their best to avoid for the rest of their life together, who offers a goodbye. He has time, as they had already started to turn away, for one short wave.