We’re in a cafe with red vinyl 1950’s style booths. There are tiny little jukeboxes on the ends of every table, and Sheryl Crow is wondering if it makes you happy over the speakers. Elle sits across from me, playing air guitar to the chorus of the song, rocking her head gently back and forth to the rhythm. Her bangs move in front of her face, but she looks at me, never losing eye contact.
I half expect her to get up from her seat and stand on the table to drive the point home. She gradually stops and looks away, never quite losing the tempo, and runs her hands through her hair, fixing the strands that have fallen out of place. She turns to me, placing her elbows on the table with her fingers interlocked, and smiles.
You know what the sad thing about people is? she says.
What? I reply, after a beat.
That they want to look into your world. They want to look because they can’t deal with the ugliness of their own, so they turn away from their own, never really facing what makes them look. It’s as if they can’t stand to be bothered by their own insecurities.
I let this thought enter and find a place in my mind where it can settle and carefully diffuse over ideas, strands of thought, never fully articulated.
I bite my lip, and mull over what she said, looking for a concrete example of what she means. The song changes, and Blink 182’s Dammit comes on, and I wonder who picked this playlist.
I away and then back at her.
You know what the funny thing about some people is? I ask.
What’s that? she says.
That they have an appetite for things that they can’t have. Whether it’s objects or other people. Somehow they, we, always seem to desire that which is the other. Other than me, other than you, other than this.
You want to know what’s really funny? she says, with almost no break between the previous thought.
Why is it that Spandau Ballet always plays in the prom scene of every cheese-ball movie that you can remember? That’s the real concern here, she says deliberately tapping her right index finger on the table to the pace of the last three words. Real. Concern. Here.
I smirk, and then look away, crossing my arms, and leaning back into my seat.
You’re not going to make me laugh, I say, looking back in her direction.
She takes her elbows off the table and gives me a deadpan stare. I uncross my arms and look out the cafe window. There’s a lady crossing the street and she’s holding the hand of her little boy and he looks happy to be outside. Next to them is a couple in their late teens and the boy is on his phone, clicking away, and the girl smiles at the lady and her son. When the traffic light changes, they all cross the street together. Breaking the stillness between us, Elle picks up her glass of water from the table.
This much is true. This much is true, I fake croon in her direction.
We both laugh, and she snorts as she takes a drink, and sprays the table between us. Gross and Thanks, I say, from behind a grin.
You’re an asshole, she says with smile drawn across her face. I knew you were waiting for me to take a drink, and I still gave in. I saw it coming, and I still went against my instincts, she says.
Isn’t that the truth, I say.
I help her wipe down the space between us, and then we place the used napkins on an empty plate next to the jukebox.
Do you have any quarters? I ask her.
Let me check, she says, and starts digging through her purse.
I look for Smashing Pumpkins on the jukebox.
Play Peaceful Easy Feeling, she tells me, still looking for a quarter.
No, I say. We always listen to that song.
Yeah, she says, because it’s really pretty. Do you just hear it, or do actually listen to the words? Don’t you want to lay with me in the desert at night? she says.
I turn away from the jukebox and look at her with a crooked smile.
Found some! she says, lifting her hand from the small coin pocket of her wallet.
Yeah, but Mellon Collie is such a good album, it’s been on my mind for the past week, and I haven’t heard anything off of it in I don’t know how long, I say.
She sets the quarters down on the table, closes her wallet, and then in one swift motion, tosses it back into her purse, which she then returns to the seat next to her. She smiles at me, and I continue to search through the list on the other side of the glass for something to play. When I look up, and meet her gaze, she stares right back at me and starts rocking her shoulders smoothly back and forth.
Time is never time at all, You can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth, she melodramatically croons at me.
She then lifts her arm up and sings Tonight, Tonight with an open hand, and brings it down slowly like Freddy Mercury bringing a microphone back into his orbit, making a fist as it moves along its path.
Believe in me as I believe in you, tonight, tonight, she emphasizes the last two words with a fist pump in front of her.
We both burst out in laughter and a man on his phone in the booth next to us looks over in our direction.