There’s something howlish and sudden and bare about watching the Christmas lights above our booth smudge your hairline in primary colors. Your forehead is graffitied with holograms of the glow as you move your face – heavy – up and down above your plate. A crunchy kind of silence stuffs your cheeks as you flutter and fluster mouthfuls of second-hand song lyrics, thrift shop dogma, political jargon rubbing off its arms in a sticky holiday cardigan.
There’s something bookish about your blueberry muffin and boyish about your hands as they shake the crumbs from your Brooklyn beard, tangled up like radio wire and rainy Rolling Stone magazines. I watch the daddish curve of your chest grin against your dress shirt and a gaudy pimple shoves its head through a loose buttonhole. You’re disgusting and kind of beautiful and it’s going to be lonely belonging to myself again.
I think about ordering more eggs, scrambled and fried in deadpan, before sneaking you the leftovers of myself under the table. I think about unloading my gun for a mouth and laying out my bullets in prose next to your coffee cup with the chip on its shoulder. I think about lipsticking the insides of my mouth together and swallowing my whole self this way. Before you do it for me. I think about a lot of things and count them in letters, carving A’s and B’s and “Why’s” and “Exes” into the aching wooden panel above the jukebox stained in what looks like varnished alphabet soup. I think about what it would take to turn me into the kind of writer who let a boy scuff up her voice and leave his shoes in the diner where her heart exploded for the first time.
I became a writer and a breakfast person in the year before I met you. I always knew that being both meant allowing others to finger your internal pendulum and swing it back and forth, obsessively slamming it into your ribs and forcing you to feel things at degrees you imagined no one else ever could. I did love nastily that year. I did love fully. I terrified myself because I knew that it was dangerous to believe that these people were capable of more than personhood. That this temple of coffee drinkers could forgive me for my blasphemy, for leaving it behind just like you did and tangling it up in tea-flavored sentences when I returned.
There’s something funny and warm and a little Ginsberg-headed about watching you across from me, your hands all scraggly and your eyes all baby-baked and your tiara of Christmas lights winking and shedding its eyelashes all over our leather seat. There’s something sore and split and singed with runny light and wet windows that rests between us, next to the burnt pancakes and the blueberry muffin and the nineteen-dollar check and the chipper cup of coffee. The mousiest version of me wonders if there will ever be anyone like you again. If I should have given you my body and clicked all the right buttons and removed myself from this homely virginity thing.
But my writer claims that this mountain man act of yours won’t work without any mountains to climb and there must have been a reason I wouldn’t. For a moment, Mousy me tries to pin your wings to the booth, all butterflew, but the pin merely went through you. My thinker teases you for wanting to build things for a living when all she really sees is a little boy trying to fill his empty spaces with grown up teeth.
BATTLE OF THE BOY
After a while, I thank you for the coffee and the company and the story that didn’t crave an ever after. We hold hands, but the distance between our palms is wider now. And then we stand, not quite facing each other, near the door with the rusty bell hanging from its arch and sneezing, like an infected nose ring, every time the wind holepunches our goodbye. You say we’ll see each other sometime; you’re sure of it. And then there is some fumbling, and it is done, and you are gone, and all my verbs and the nouns and combinations of the two corpse themselves into toothless soldiers and the Battle of the Boy.
SCRATCH AND SNIFF
My diner sniffs behind me and I crunch myself, alone, into our booth once more. I press my feet up against the gum on the bottom of the table, and let the stillness and the stirring of spoons in chipped cups with muscular shoulders rest against me.
I’m itchy. I can’t cry here.
The stillness shades me with keys and hair clips and the losable things that make up a life and finally, it Ginsbergs me, sucking up my howl and sticking the lights and blue and yellow and red around my soundless song.
A boy and a girl walk into the diner. Their hips are padded with winter coats and unzipped pockets but they move them in exaggerated, opposite angles anyway, as if to touch would strip them cold and naked. The girl glances towards a booth that has maple syrup on its seats and a fist-sized puddle of orange juice on the table next to the napkin dispenser. She doesn’t notice and sits in the sticky, unwrapping her scarf from her neck and staring at the Christmas lights above the booth until beads of primary colors hang themselves around her pupils. Her thin neck is lost in the puffy collar of her jacket. The boy sits, too, across from her, under the lights and removes his gloves roughly. He won’t look at the girl, hunting for a waitress instead. He already knows what he wants and there are no Christmas lights reflecting in his eyes. You can see his neck.
The waitress – her name is Ellen- has a tattoo of a triangle on her arm that cringes in the corners when she places two cups of coffee on their table.
Her cup is red.
His cup is chipped.
Ellen returns a few moments later with his pancakes. They’re black around the edges so he orders a muffin with too many blueberries. He places the whole thing inside his bulbous cheeks. His tongue is purple and black: the shade of pen explosion. The girl sips silently.
The girl clinks her chipped, ice pink nails against the mug. She fiddles with the miniature jukebox between the ketchup and mustard. The neon that lights up the names of musical artists seeps through her nails as she scrolls; they look like fireflies like that. The boy is sliding his hands around his plate and licking the crumbs from his fingers. She places her coffee cup down so that she can dig through her pockets for quarters. There are none there. Only pennies. She sighs and picks up her mug again, holding it against her chin just to warm her face and smell the bitterness. She forgets to zip her pocket and when she readjusts in her sticky seat, the pennies drop to the floor. The boy opens his mouth to speak and a shriveled blueberry falls out.
After the pennies are retrieved, the girl directs her attention to the carvings in the wooden screen above the jukebox and the neon and the condiments.
“DH + MF = 4Ever”
“Zoe + Oliver were here”
“The omelettes here are shitty”
A single, scalding finger lingers over the carving closest to her mug. The letters are boxy and deep and she can fit the edge of her whole nail inside. She presses down on it, willing the wall to close in on it, to rise like skin and suck it under. The boy watches her and blinks a few times and reaches for more muffin that isn’t there. He flicks his tongue over his mouth, opens it again: no blueberry falls out. Then he begins to speak in the same voice he ordered in. He begins to break down the break up.
THE MUGGY CARVING
“I love you only sometimes”
Their mouths flicker like light bulbs that need changing. One hundred words are exchanged, maybe less. Her hands stay stuck to the red of the mug and his fly from his beard to his dish to his hair and once, maybe twice, he knocks the strand of Christmas lights in primary colors above his head and once, maybe twice, fiddles with the miscellany in his pockets. Once, maybe twice, he begins to stand but sits when he realizes she isn’t done with her coffee or the company or possibly the ever after.
She spins her cup around and taps the handle when she is finished. They’re sitting in silence now. They have been for a while. Since his bruise-colored tongue had left the last of its hushed lashes in the purposeful space still between them. She stands methodically but leaves her scarf on the seat and doesn’t button up her jacket. He reaches for her hand and misses, though his thumb gets stuck around her palm. It still counts.
STOOPS AND RIDGES
She walks him to the door of the diner, the one with the mistletoe stitched to its stoop. A tribe of fathers and sons with pine needles stuck to the quiet ridges of their corduroys bang it open. The bells on its ribbon ring loudly and tinnily like the echo of screeching wheels in a tunnel. There’s a fumble; he removes his thumb and his eyes from hers and looks to the floor as he bangs the door open loudly and tinnily like wheels that just stop.
She stands in his absence and rubs her chapped hands under her belt loops. She bows her head and a single strand of blonde hair catches between the spider-leg clumps of mascara on the lashes of her left eyelid. She turns tightly and walks back to their booth, her legs stretched straight. She sits, on his side now, underneath the Christmas lights, and closes her eyes. The thin hair matted against her eye is a prism as thin as a breath, each third of it illuminated: in red then yellow then blue. She parts her lips and blows at the hair, letting out a hysteric and tamed whistle from behind her puffy pink tonsil that could have been a whimper. A freedom cry. An affirmation.