I set my plastic oval plate down on the counter and unwind my serpentine computer cord. It suddenly slips from my hands and plunges down with the weight of the adapter, hitting one of the rungs on my stool and clanging rudely. I look around in apology, but no one seems to care. The sockets in here are a little tight, so I have to plug in the prongs via an elaborate dance of shimmies and shoves. I push my laptop to the left, turn my plate so that the soup bowl is closer to me than the half-sandwich with the red onions peeking out like skinny loopy tongues—the tongues of a psychedelic funhouse clown, maybe—and log on.
They are talking enthusiastically from the moment I sit down, but I think, well, this is a place for people to catch up, to meet up, to flirt…I have to allow for a little noise. It should be ok. I mean, I am pretty good with background activity. I invite it, actually. Silence is what pierces my solitude the most (yes, that was an Emerson allusion). But I sip my soup, somewhat oily and salty for a dish that’s supposed to be only 80 calories, and realize almost immediately that the girl’s voice was not born to be ignored. I turn to my keyboard and focus on the words in my document. I’m writing copy for a website on facial rejuvenation, a craniosacral therapy kind of thing. The typical. But I do need to concentrate.
“We met dancing, don’t you remember?”
I haven’t yet looked directly at her, but her voice is self-assured, theatrical.
“Yeah—yeah—you and I danced,” she says to the boy sitting next to me. “I’m telling you. What else?”
“I got slapped,” he says.
“You got slapped? Not by me, right? I don’t remember that…”
“Naw…by some other girl. My hand got too close to her ass. I was like, isn’t that what you’re here for? Like, then don’t get fucking rip-shit drunk and try to blame me for taking what’s pretty much a sure-fire invitation.”
The girl laughs loud, and I imagine a wide, loose, red set of lips behind which perfectly straight white teeth chop in the air. She is so boisterous that her boisterousness just might boister me right off the stool. “Okay, ’cause like, I was gonna say…what the fuck?”
I ingest a few more mouthfuls of soup. I can’t really zero in on craniosacral therapy while I’m eating, I discover, as some of the material has to do with bodily fluids and tissues. So I might as well just eat and then worry about writing. Instead, my eyes follow the people walking up and down the sidewalks of Stuart Street, past the wall of windows behind which we must look like performance mannequins, iPhones to our ears, hands to our foreheads, spoons to our mouths. Oh—and the girl, chin popping outward, then tucking in, head tilting left, then right, as she tells her stories.
“Last summer, I went to this performing arts summer program thing in Colorado,” she says. “One day we were supposed to do something we’ve never done, like, something outside of our specialty, like, in another department or whatever. So it was, like, between dance and trapeeeze…and I was like, ‘All dancers do is, like, talk about their bodies and all point this and suck up that, and eat apples, and I was like, you couldn’t pay be to be a dancer. All set.’ So I took trapeze…and damn, I had blisters by the end of the first day.”
“Wooowww,” the boy says.
“And you know, they told us to pee on our hands to make the blisters heal and make our skin tougher.”
“Yeah! That’s what they told us. Think the dancers do that on their own feet? All those callouses and shit?”
“I should try that,” the boy says. “You seem pretty tough to me, though. Did you do it?”
She slaps her hand down on the counter and the reverberations jump my soup bowl. Everything clatters.
I am staring at the screen, the words about how physicians in ancient China knew the secrets to flawless skin well before we Westerners did. A mix of good nutrition, exercise, herbal treatment, meditation, and this craniosacral stuff…light touching of the head and feet and sacrum—whatever the heck part of the body that is—to make everything flow right inside. This chicken noodle soup tastes like it’s from a can. It’s probably blocking my flow rather than enabling it. I close my eyes and think about massages instead.
“I don’t know about you, but I, like, can’t stand it when things aren’t going good physically in a relationship. The attraction’s always got to be flowing, you know?”—I open my eyes again—“I think I must be more like a guy in that way. If the sex isn’t doing it for me…I mean, the chemistry’s gotta be there. There must be other girls who feel like that, who like sex. But they’re better at hiding it.”
“I don’t know,” the boy says, his voice taking on a higher pitch, the words sloping upward and then downward in wariness. “I’ve met some girls, man…insatiable. They’ve been pretty open about stuff.”
“Really!” she says. “All right, then…cool. I gotta meet these chicks.”
The effort is laborious, my trying to keep straight the oval plate unevenly weighed down from the soup bowl, carrying my wool trench coat and my overburdened tote with anthologies for my poetry class, and hugging my laptop against my chest, all the while dragging my extra-long cord on the floor because for some reason I can’t get it to fit in the tote, but I move from one side of the restaurant to the other. My cranio needs some peace and quiet.