“I’ve never broken a bone,” she said, leaning elbows upon the varnished yellow table. “Or lost something I was given.” Her eyes fixed studiously upon the watery soup in her bowl, which she stirred intermittently with a tarnished spoon. Long, dark hair cascaded to the table, pooling ringlets about her round pale arms and narrow face. He swallowed hard, knee bouncing in rhythm to his pulse.
“I guess the former isn’t so strange, but people are losing things all the time. Not just normal tings, like keys and pocket books. Intangible things too.” She paused to look up at him, dark brows over dark eyes. Though her gaze was piercing, his eyes still managed to trail down her features until they reached the thin crevice visible above the collar of her shirt. He coughed throatily, and began searching for the waitress.
“I collect them,” she whispered, seeming not to notice the digression of her companion’s line of sight. “In bags and bottles and cans. The ideas and memories of a thousand thoughtless people.” Her breath caught in her throat. “Have you ever lost something important to you?”
“Why do you keep them?” he cut in, partly to stall, partly to avoid the uncomfortably unanswerable. Pulling back, large eyes wide to fit her reaction, she sputtered to respond.
“But…why if I don’t, who will? Where will they go? Lie in the streets to twist and clutter and rot…”
“Why bottles, then?” was his quick interruption, to stem what he could see growing into a contentious torrent.
She paused, her expression softened to sorrow and a twisted hint of bitterness. Her voice adopted a level tone, however, so he missed entirely this subtle cue—having just finally located the waitress.
“Why, what else would I keep them in? Most of them are too large for envelopes,” she was falling into the patronizing rhythm with which the ignorant and disillusioned address those too obstinate to understand what they say. He had signaled the waitress over, and for sake of propriety turned back to his companion.
“Most of them are too large for bottles too, truthfully, but they’re so used to being metaphorically bottled up that you can usually convince them to be small enough to fit.”
“What can I do fer you, honey? Ready to leave?” the waitress leaned out over the table, and invasive presence engulfed in frills of lacy yellow and white. Platinum curls enveloping a form so perfectly pink and peaked as to make the girl shudder. She turned to her conversational partner, ripe to exhibit her disgust and thus remove this offensive puff of chloroform from her sight, but what she saw in him was a further distraction than she could hope to break him from. She turned inward with her revulsion and brooded.
“Um, yes…Mindy,” he read the name from a beige pin that hung at a loose angle from the woman’s barely masked breast. “If we could get our check…”
“Certainly, dear, certainly.” Her answer was practically a giggle, and a wink from one heavily caked eye. Straightening with a bounce, she capered off toward the front. He pried his eyes away and back to the other.
“So,” he cleared his throat, unaware that the girl across the table from him was fuming. She looked up at his word, expression blankly dispassionate. He continued to ravel, oblivious.
“What would you like to do now?” She made a noise, quiet and noncommittal. “Want to…go back to my place? Maybe watch a movie?” his knee was shaking again. She tried to ignore it, suddenly feeling very cold and tired. The waitress returned, bouncing along on her open-toed high heels with her pale, red-enameled digits crammed into view.
“Well?” He reached across the table and set his hand on her shoulder. She stared at it with a silent, nonchalant kind of horror. He tightened his grip in a way he must have thought comforting, and began stroking her collarbone with his thumb.
Abruptly she stood, and just so broke away from his touch. Without a modicum of shame, and not so much as a backward glance, she left him and the saffron soup to stew together. As she pushed past the heavy glass door, she could hear the waitress’s cheery tin voice addressing her former date.
“Left you with the tab, eh sweetie? Doncha worry…. Mindy can take better care of you ‘en that little bitch eva could.”
Her small blue shoes gritted readily along the sidewalk.