Gretchen sits at the table, alone (and that’s fine, really, that’s fine) reading and waiting for her food to come. She’s sitting on the outdoor patio and the sun is beginning to set, making it hard for her to see the words in her book, but she manages. It’s mid-summer in New York and the weather is gorgeous. Leaving with the sun is the sticky, miserable humidity of the day, replaced by a comfortable breeze that seems to calm the darkening sky like a xanax.
She puts the book down and closes her eyes, resting them from the straining. She’s in a hipster area of Brooklyn, an adjective that’s about as empty and useless as cool is, a word that has had meaning after meaning after meaning that it has no identity anymore. And that’s great. The area is a pastiche of different interpretations of life, like a patchwork quilt. She loves it, really. She loves the music and the food and the art and the attitude and the general sense that nobody has any idea what the fuck they’re doing.
She’s a little lost, sure, but who isn’t?
She’s handling her divorce very well. Sure, she stays in too much but look at her right now! She’s out now! Some niggling part of her brain tells her that this still counts as staying in if all she’s done is shifted the setting and none of the circumstances. Alone, check. Book, check. Food, almost check. But that breeze. This night. It’s perfect, an adjective that she used to use too much. Maybe she should be out more often. Just sitting alone in the night air. But would that be creepy? Not if she’s by herself. Or maybe that makes it more creepy.
The same niggling part of her brain (she hopes it’s the same, at least,) tells her that she’s also not even divorced yet, just separated. Waiting for the marriage to be annulled. What a nightmare. Evan’s Catholic family is pressuring him not to sign the divorce off but to go through the Catholic channels of scratching it out. They have their first meeting with Evan’s family’s priest, Father Yorke, the next day at noon. Where they’re expected to talk about it, for God’s sake. Turning the divorce into something even less bearable than she could have imagined it would be. And she tended to look on the negative side of things. Talking about it. How embarrassing. She could already feel her shirt sticking to her back, held by sweat. Her sweat glands, gearing up for tomorrow afternoon like how she used to carbo-load the night before a cross country race in high school.
The outdoor lights, hung on a string that wound in fanciful twists and turns above the patio from one end to the other, came on at the same time her waiter did. He brought with him a turkey sandwich and a Caesar salad—food that, for all rational purposes, she could have made at home for much, much cheaper, but she’s getting out there, damn it!—and a bottle of wine with which to refill her glass. He doesn’t look at her, and scurries out with a nod. She hopes that she hasn’t been noticed by people—the poor single woman, eating out alone in one of the cooler parts of Brooklyn—but realizes she can read again now that the lights are on and forgets about seeming cool.
She’s oblivious again, now officially given over to her book and to mechanical bites of her salad. But one word rocks her back to the present, drags her kicking and screaming from the fresh ink that has left smears on her sweaty fingers.
It comes from behind her, and it’s clear that it’s not meant for her, but still she swivels her stupid head around to match the voice to a person.
She should’ve known. You probably did three paragraphs ago.
All of a sudden, her name does not sound like the beautiful, unique name that she was always secretly happy to have. Now it sounds ugly like a curse, like a sentence handed down by a judge. She stands up.
“Evan,” she says. “Hi.”
He has a woman with him, of course. She looks a little bit older than him.
“Hi, um, we didn’t know you would be here. We can, we can leave, you know, if…if it makes you uncomfortable.”
“No, no, I don’t own the restaurant ha ha,” and she actually says this, ha ha, instead of laughing like a normal human, like Evan’s date is. His date? It’s hitting now. How long have they been separated? A month? (One month and four days, and it seems like her brain is now one entire conspiracy out to get her.) “I was just leaving.”
His date. Already. God.
“Okay,” Evan says uncertainly. She hates him so much. Truly hates him. “Oh, uh, of course,” he gestures to his date. “This is Alex.”
“Hi,” Alex says. She looks like the old hag from Snow White.
Gretchen smiles at her. “So,” she says, turning back to Evan, “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
“Yes, tomorrow. Tomorrow at noon.”
“Great. Nice meeting you…”
“Right. Have a great night. It’s beautiful out.”
She leaves ten dollars on the table and hurries out, not looking back, conscious of how dumb she looks walking away, conscious of their eyes shredding through her back, conscious that pretty soon she’ll be torn in half.
“Fuck you,” she says ahead of her into the night and hopes that the words will float away, blown by the breeze back into the patio. Instead, they get tangled up in her hair and face like smoke and make her eyes water.