Fiction, 3/12/09

Lunch dates had been a ritual of theirs. They would always eat in the early afternoon, always at the old cafe overlooking the bay, where the comings and goings of boats had never ceased to amuse them. Those days and those dates remain his all-time favorites. He misses her dearly now, perhaps even loves her still. While walking home from work one morning he decides he will ask her out to lunch, one last time.

“Hey, it’s me. Haven’t heard from you in a while. I was wondering if you’d want to meet at the Kozy Korner tomorrow, for old time’s sake?” He closes his phone, ending the voice message. Hazy sunlight has already begun thawing the last night’s frost, and a cold, briny breeze tosses fallen leaves about, numbing his fingertips as he walks. Countless times they had traced this path together. Things have changed since then, but the path still looks the same. He hopes his message doesn’t come across as outright pleading, because he doesn’t want to plead anymore. But he hopes she will say yes.

That night after work she checks her voicemail and returns his call. Her mind is on other things, things more pressing than this. She tells him she doesn’t have time to talk right now, but she wants to be there. “I’ll see you tomorrow at 1:30,” she says, already hanging up.

The cafe is nearly empty when he arrives. Business hasn’t been good here, they say. It’s only a quarter past one, so he walks on toward the promenade, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans. Beyond the pointed evergreens he sees the spit enclosing Neah Bay, and beyond that, the Pacific Ocean in its cloud-wreathed, cobalt blue enormity. As he turns to head back, the seagulls erupt in a maniacal chorus of laughter, but they’re always doing that, it seems.

She’s at the Kozy Korner, waiting. “Where’d you go off to?” she asks. “I took a walk,” he tells her. “How long have you been waiting here?” Without responding, she pulls open the door and goes into the cafe. They find a table with a view of the water, and he orders a beer. She sticks with ice water. The bay is quiet that day—not a boat to speak of. He senses where this is heading. She is already well aware. They order a nicoise salad to share, but once it arrives, neither has any appetite for food, and they merely pick at the toppings with their forks.

He notices she’s not wearing her ring. That band of white gold was the first piece of jewelry he ever bought, so many years ago. He mentions it to her. “You don’t remember? That’s been missing for a long time,” she says. “I think it may have been stolen, but I don’t know. You don’t remember the huge fuss I made when it disappeared?” He doesn’t remember. The ring is gone, irrelevant. “Nevermind,” he says.

They split the bill and leave a four-dollar tip. He wants to salvage this, somehow. “Thanks for coming,” he says. “It was really good seeing you.” She gives him a weak smile. “Yeah, you too. I have to go though,” she says, rummaging in her purse for her keys.


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