“What we desire, what we want, what we make happen.” The middle aged businessman with the salt and pepper hair, just been to the Dentist grin and obvious white circle where his wedding ring had recently been, flashed Diana a reassuring smile as he reached for his glass. “These are the things that make up who we are and where we want to be in life.”
“Well,” Diana said softly “That’s quite an observation.”
“It’s more than an observation,” His cell phone was shivering on the bar, the only indication that someone was trying to reach out to him. “It’s a way of life.”
The rain was coming down in a steady sheet outside, nearly obstructing the view out the window. Over his right shoulder, in some adjacent building across the street, a sign blinked steadily: HOT COFFEE! FRESH PIE! Diana imagined herself there for a moment, what it would feel like to be curled up in a booth with a hot cup in her hands. Flipping through today’s paper while zoning out the chatter around her. How comfortable that would be. His hand over hers woke her from the daydream.
“I’d like to see you again,” He was saying. “I think we could have some fun.”
“Sure,” she managed “I’m always up for some fun.” It always goes in the same direction, she thought. A little chat, a little dinner and drinks in some empty, nondescript restaurant, a little prelude to foreplay, and then precious little else after that. The modern- day mating ritual of the modern-day man. “You never mentioned that you were married.” She gestured towards the ghostly band encircling his left ring-finger but then looked away before she could gage his reaction. The diner’s neon sign blazed across the way. There was a tilted cup now that she hadn’t noticed before, something that his shoulder must have been concealing. The cup favored the left as if about to tip its contents out on to the words: COFFEE! PIE! Words are so powerful, she observed. All they needed to do was blink and she was craving them. The coffee and pie, the comfort of being able to choose where you want to be. She could hear the slight tremor of his phone vibrating against the bar again. It had begun to panic. “You should answer that.” She heard herself say.
A week ago, there had been a Email message waiting for Diana on the Connections dating site Somebody had viewed her page and thought her worthy enough for actual communication. It took exactly one shot of liquid courage and 45 minutes of deliberation to get the nerve up to view it. The outcome wasn’t unpleasant. Salezguy46 was good looking, clean cut, young enough to be adventurous and yet old enough to be sensible. His profile made mention of a decent salary in sales, frequent travel and fifteen years at his current place of work. That meant stability. In his status bar it read: Single. Not separated. Not divorced. Single. That meant no baggage. It also had said No Children but as he opened his wallet to pay for their first round of drinks she could see that that too could easily be disputed. The brown leather flapped open to reveal a photo of SalezGuy46 with his arm around a full-figured blonde woman as two young children grinned joyfully over a colorfully wrapped package. A tinseled artificial tree stood in the background. I wonder if this is the shot they used for their Holiday cards, she thought. He was too busy shoveling the trembling phone into his pocket to notice that she had even seen the photo.
“That’s the third time.” Diana said casually.
“Whoever it is will get the hint,” He patted her knee in reassurance before motioning the bar tender over for another round. “This is pleasure…business can wait!”
Over his shoulder the rain continued, a group of people emptied out of a cab and into the street, umbrellas opened, friends hugged, the sign vanished behind them like a neon moon. It was in that brief moment before she glanced back at his face that she saw it. The gathering had parted ways, leaving one sole person by himself out on the sidewalk. He turned sharply right to continue up the road, each red letter being revealed behind him as if his back were spelling it out. C O F F I N.
The rain drummed loudly against the glass washing out the words temporarily. Diana lurched forward on her stool with a soft gasp, Salezguy’s hands setting firmly against her arms as if pulling her into a hug. The rain settled, the letters sharpened once more. The sign blinked warily: C O F F E E. She took in a breathy gasp of air, her lids fluttering to clear her eyes. Hot Coffee, it said.
“See! Now this is pleasure!” He laughed but Diana didn’t hear him. Words, she thought, words are powerful tools.
For the next half hour, he droned on about his life, a high wire artist carefully straddling the line between fact and fiction. He never got married because of his work. He didn’t have kids because he believed in a good, stable environment and wouldn’t want his children constantly uprooted. Diana volleyed her attention between Salezguy and the sign. The sign blinked a steady invitation. The rain continued as a fresh round of drinks arrived. The photo was flashed once more, a family of frozen smiles and disconcerting eyes.
“So do you have any siblings,” Diana countered, watching the family slip silently back into the recesses of his pocket. “A sister or brother?”
“Me? No! Only child. My parents figured one was enough, why mess with perfection, right?” There it was again. That static smile. It reminded her of the old posters they used to nail up when the circus came to town. Painted faces alluding to an otherwise secretive existence. Step right up, ladies and gents! See the most amazing show in town! She thought of the blonde woman in the photo and suddenly wanted to punch him in the face on her behalf. You ridiculous piece of crap.
Just over his right shoulder the red letters appeared to convulse. Diana’s gaze drifted unsurely towards their mark as the words swelled, thick snakes consuming a meal. It was as if she was leaving her body, drifting up from the stool and across the room to the rain spattered window. Pressing her forehead against the cold glass, hands flat to the pane; she was melting through it and pouring out onto the wet street outside, her wide-eyed stare never leaving the letters. The tilted cup had become a pregnant cauldron that bubbled out the word: DIE
“Oh, my,” she was saying “Oh, my God!”
Salezguy laughed, finishing a comment that she hadn’t heard the beginning of. “I swear, you can’t make this stuff up!” Diana wavered slightly on her seat, next to the untouched third Spritzer, perched just in front of the man so oblivious to her horror. She brought her cold hands up, rubbing them against her eyes as if desperate to scrub the image away. She knew that the moment she looked back up, the word would be gone and she was right. After a brief moment of deep breathing she managed to lift her head, her eyes connecting with the word PIE. A thunderous drumming pelted the glass, wiping the image clean. Salezguy’s rather tremendous paw caressed Diana’s knee. “So hey, where are we going from here?” He fished out three pieces of chewing gum, none of which he offered but rather injected them, one by one, between his teeth. He smiled as he chewed then leaned in for what Diana could only assume was for a kiss. She closed him down immediately.
“I suspect that I’ll be leaving,” her voice clicked dryly in her throat “and that you’ll be going home to your wife.”
“I told you I wasn’t married.” His statement was frosted with the inflection in his voice.
“It’s not what you told me. It’s what you didn’t.” She watched his face as he weighed out the words, balancing them between whether he should bother or whether he should cut his losses and bail. Salezguy46 ejected the gum from his mouth and stuck it unceremoniously beneath the bar, a final punctuation mark to the evening’s conversation. Diana watched his back as he exited the door, cut a sharp right and strolled past the front window, a man who knew what he wanted and where he wanted to be in life even if that excluded the family that loved him. The rain had stopped, offering her a clear view of the sign across the way. HOT COFFEE! HOT PIE! Maybe Salezguy46 had the right idea here. What you desire…what you want….you should make it happen. Seemed like sane advice to Diana. Subliminal suggestion. The idea that a thought can be put into your head and that the very idea will come to fruition. The corner of Diana’s mouth inched up. Yes, that was a plan. Her hand snaked beneath the bar top, locating the moist tacky gum, pinching it carefully between her fingertips. Words are powerful tools.
In a small, warm diner just across from a local bar, Diana sat in a red vinyl booth with a hot cup of coffee, a slice of cherry pie with a fresh cherry carefully toothpicked through the top, and the daily news spread out before her. A lumpy mass of gum sat in the saucer as she tipped a hot spoonful of coffee over it. As she took it between her fingers, its pliable texture began to take form. She tucked in bits of newspaper as she worked; tiny words she had extracted for their content. Word after word, she inserted the following: Liar…Cheat…Misfortune. She had even found the correct letters to spell his first name. The words: Deceitful and Husband became part of the gummy poppet’s sticky legs. She laid the tiny doll onto the table with a soft smile.
“This is what I desire, what I want, and what I will make happen.” She said and pierced the toothpick, cherry and all, right through the poppet’s chest. She knew she was only doing the ritual to be clever but it made her feel oddly calm, oddly just. “This is for you, Mrs. Salezguy46.” With a soft laugh, she dug into the warm pie. Lord, it was good pie.
Six blocks away, on a sidewalk set snugly between a bar and a diner, a neglected cell phone vibrated against the concrete. It writhed curiously, a fish out of water, waiting to be answered by the man who laid face down beside it. A small crowd gathered around, one person contacting 911, another kneeling beside the body attempted to find a pulse, another frantically barking into the dead man’s cell, “Hello?! Hello?! Who is this?”
There was a little diner across the way; you know the kind, bright with life and activity. Some folks had turned their attention momentarily to the scene outside but only briefly. The rain had stopped, the clouds were clearing away, tomorrow was going to be a beautiful day. And the little diner’s window blazed forth a joyous red welcome inviting in anyone who cared to partake. HOT Coffee! FRESH pie! C’mon IN!