RSS
 

Amber, part 1

05 Sep

“Do you want to order yet?”

The waitress weighted the yet with subtle emphasis. She stood next to my table with unctuous politeness, holding her notepad in front of her without real expectation. Her pen stayed in her apron. She smiled. She’d asked that question at least twice before, ten minutes between inquiries, each time slightly more insistently. The last time she’d come by, she’d helpfully suggested a margarita. I couldn’t bear the thought of drinking it alone. Two ravaged bowls of complimentary chips and salsa sat between me and an untouched place setting, complete with menu.

As you become more experienced in anything, you learn more survival strategies. By this point, I brought a book to first dates through reflex rather than deliberate choice. In the early days of dating, I selected the book carefully, so that when my date arrived I could place it with practiced, wholly natural nonchalance on the edge of the table, cover down but spine out, inviting my date to read the title and ask me about it. I would smile with charming, rehearsed embarrassment and say “Oh, this?” As a performance strategy, it worked well. I got to parlay the question into a discussion of what my date read, creating a conversational cul-de-sac that could be pleasantly circled for as long as we wanted.

All this is in vain if the date never arrives.

These days, I brought mass-market opiates with four-color covers, mostly because they numbed the shame and frustration better than densely footnoted literary cinderblocks. I’ve always been willing to sacrifice comfort for style, but only to a point. In terms of books, I’d reached that point months before. Today’s book was something called Dr. Bloodmoney, post-apocalyptic fantasy that prominently featured a pleasantly homicidal phocomelic handyman who had psychic powers. It suited me. Belligerently, I looked over the top of the book, past the waitress and out into the parking lot, which was empty except for my car and a steady drizzle. My phone lay silent on the table.

“I’m supposed to be meeting someone here,” I said. Obviously. She smiled politely. “Give me five more minutes, and if she hasn’t shown up by then, I’ll order something.”

The waitress walked back behind the bar and began to wipe it down. I tried to return to my book, but after a minute, I closed it. I couldn’t focus. Lateness per se was not unusual. Even being stood up was barely worth noticing. Still, Amber had come all the the way from eastern Kentucky to see me, and she had seemed more excited about me than was typical. According to her, she was staying for the weekend with a friend who lived on the east side, and she’d left almost an hour earlier. Even allowing for bad directions, she should have arrived already. I supposed the entire scenario could have been fabricated; it would not be the first (or even the second) time that a stranger had lied on the internet. Five minutes had passed. I turned my head to find the waitress, but thankfully she’d become engrossed in something on the TV over the bar. She hadn’t noticed me. I looked down at my silent phone.

It rang.

Startled, I answered it. Amber was calling. I braced myself for the inevitable cancellation and privately decided that as long as I was here, I might as well have a margarita after all.

“I don’t think I can make it,” she began.

“That’s all right,” I responded and stopped speaking, absolving myself of conversational responsibility. After all, I was where I said I’d be. She could give whatever excuse she’d decided on, and I could hang up the phone. It was just a matter of waiting for these things to happen. My participation was not really necessary.

“I crashed my car. I was coming off an exit and skidded into a guard rail. Um, do you think you could come get me? I’m not really sure where I am.”

I felt like an asshole. At least now I knew what we’d be doing for our date.

“Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Where are you?”

She gave me an intersection and the name of a gas station. I left ten dollars on the table and headed out into the rain.

 
 

Leave a Reply