25 / 365 – Unhappy Birthday

FINN TILLARY

Today was Laura’s birthday. It might seem strange that I’d remember it so well, since it’s been give years since we split up, but I’ve marked that birthday for more than fifteen years. It starts to stick to your calendar, like Christmas or the Fourth of July. Her dad came into the cafe, a little later than usual. I knew why he was there. I saw him come in and he sat down in a booth. Didn’t get himself a coffee by the door or anything. I saw Jackie getting ready to take him a cup and a menu and I motioned to her that I would do it. I didn’t have anything urgent on the grill, just a couple of french toast I had just turned. I pointed at those and she nodded and I went over to his booth and sat down. We didn’t even say anything at first. He looked at me and I looked at him. I said, “Can I get you anything?” He shook his head and he said, “Not really hungry.” So I said, “Coffee?” And he said, “OK.”

Jackie was flipping the french toast when I walked past and I went and got him a cup of coffee and his two creams and went back over. Two guys I didn’t recognize walked in just then and sat in another booth. Jackie went over and I knew I’d have to go back to cooking pretty soon.

I sat down again and I said, “How are you doing?” He shrugged his shoulders and sorta shook his head, like he was trying to shake off bad thoughts, or like he’d just remembered a bad dream and was trying to shake it away. And maybe I was making him remember it. I said, “Have you heard anything?” He shook his head. He said something about talking to the police again, her roommate, but there was nothing. I asked him if he was still sending rent and he said yes. That has to be more than his rent here.

He said, “I don’t know why I keep this up. I’m going to have to go out there and collect her stuff.” I said, “I’ll go with you,” just quick like that, without thinking. He smiled and said it was good of me to say that, but I had jobs here, if I was even staying here long — was I really going to stick around here any longer? He said it would take awhile. He would drive. I said, “If you’re gonna go, then I want to go.” And of course then I thought, Crap, how am I going to do that? But we’ll figure it out.

We didn’t say anything after that. I used to have this feeling about her. No matter where I was, I could think of her and I knew she was out there, doing whatever she was doing in New York or wherever she was. Like we were connected. But I haven’t felt that for a long time, since last summer I think. I thought about saying something and then I thought there was no way I was going to say that. On her birthday, especially.

Jackie was taking an order and motioning to me that she was going to need me in a moment. I got up and he said, “Well, we’ll see.” And I said it again, “I’m coming with.” I told him he should come by the Uptown tonight, since I was working, but he said no, he didn’t like going there. Going to a bar would just remind him he had sorrows to drown.

I’ll bet he did something like drive out to the old homestead and sit in the dark. That’s more his way.

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