MAN AT THE OTHER TABLE
by Tatiana Ryckman
Dear Man at the Other Table,
I love you.
The secret pact we made when you sat down, sort of across from me, and looked into my eyes and smiled, and then looked down at your newspaper, and back up at my boyfriend, Dan, and then down again told me you feel the same way.
Issue #115 soundtrack: Isa Gadaser "Ghost Cat"
The patio may be crowded and the sun may be shining, but all this pleasantness only reminds me that I am not having sex with Dan, and because of Dan, I am not having sex with you. You, who make delicate mouth-sized wedges of your eggs benedict on the end of your fork at the next table.
I have myself ordered and finished a great pile of eggs florentine. And I take this as an agonizing sign of our obvious but thwarted long and happy life together. Or, more realistically: our short but emotionally gratifying, intellectually stimulating, and sexually interesting relationship that will end, mutually over a disagreement about the new Michael Pollan book—but not even a disagreement! Because of course we’ll agree with him, we aren’t animals for Christ’s sake—but maybe we won’t quite agree on the finer points: Do we work top-down or bottom-up? This question, too, reminds me of the break up sex we’ll have before what we believe to be our final parting, it will bring me multiple orgasms and we’ll fall asleep weeping in each other’s arms. When I wake and see you dreaming so peacefully, your eyes fluttering open, and looking up into mine—just as you are looking my way now! It will be exactly like this moment, and I will still want to lick that little yellow dot of hollandaise from your upper lip; just as we are in this moment, I will smile tenderly, a remember-the-good-times smile, an I-will-never-forget-you smile; and just like right now, when you redirect your shy bewilderment at our parting—how could we be ending this?—I will stay strong. I’ll give you the space I know you need to miss me.
Don’t look at Dan, he is a beast and not representative of my type at all. I pity him like a dog that runs after a ball I have only pretended to throw. I think if you do not make a grand gesture at this very moment, maybe Dan and I will have a long, dull life together, full of my secret superiority as I gently lead him toward death, as if he would not be able to find the way on his own.
Oh, man at the next table, my love for you is like the green flecks of spinach caught in a yellow tempest of sauce smeared across my plate. I don’t want to leave you, I wish I had just one more bite.
Oh, old future lover. Do you remember the playful dates we would have gone on if I wasn’t saddled with this guy? Like the time we would have gone to the park with boxes of Chinese take-out, feeding the disturbing white discs of canned watercress to the geese. Or those two days when you’d get stuck in bed with a cold. I’d make you soup in our well-designed kitchen (no, no, we wouldn’t be living together; I’ll make the soup in my small, poorly-lit kitchen, but mine all the same, and bring it to you. I’ll knock first, but then use the key you’ve given me. But no, because then you’d have a key to my place and God only knows what sort of horrible ways you might lash out if I left you. Because I might. There’s no way to know these things. Maybe I would break it off over a simple but elegant dinner at our favorite restaurant, which would cause a scene, and you wouldn’t go home with me that evening, or want me over and if I was the one to break it off, probably I won’t want you over either. Even if I knew, draped over the arm of my living room chair, was your favorite t-shirt, right where you’d left it when we were undressing each other for a mid-afternoon coital rendezvous—whether I keep the shirt on purpose or accident doesn’t matter. What matters is that there’s no way to know what a man will do, and I’m not ready to give you my keys. But I will still make you soup and bring it over. On this particular day the door will be left unlocked because you will have anticipated my coming by, you will hope with all the snot in your head that I’ll come, and I will! With homemade soup in hand.) and when you’ve recovered and all the transferable germs have been slept and flushed from your sickly body, you will massage my shoulders in gratitude, and then we will fuck.
Poor Dan. Sitting here unaware of everything between us. Using the same tongue to find egg in his beard as he did to bring me the first of three orgasms last night (although I really accomplished the second one on my own, and the third was more of an accident, the bi-product of changing positions while still attached). The sex is not bad, it’s not even infrequent, it is simply not happening right now. In fact, this morning was an unforgivable disappointment.
I know it would never be that way with you.
Not only had I lied awake for an hour—easily an hour—maybe 45 minutes—maybe 30 minutes of that were spent drifting listlessly in and out of sleep, but definitely I had been pinned in one increasingly uncomfortable position for a solid 15 minutes by his massive arm. It started as an attractive arm, a good strong arm, I thought, considering it in a golden morning glow, and an all-around fine position, too, from which I believed I could arouse Dan gently (both from sleep and sexually) by wiggling strategically against him. But after 15 fucking minutes of pressing my buttocks into his groin and running my toes along his shins and licking, just once or twice, the inside of his elbow, which I could reach only be straining my neck as far as my hair—still caught under Dan’s monstrous head—would allow and extending the tip of my tongue to tap, tap, tap on the soft hairless skin in that crook, I gave up.
I was exhausted and my neck was sore and my arm had gone numb from lying on it, and my hips had become plagued with an ungodly weight that made them also sore, and so I writhed, trying to get out of his hostile embrace so I could, at the very least, go take a piss.
I will say I appreciate that Dan picks up the check. Not because I think he should, but because he does it with a confidence I admire and covet, laying down one bill to cover it and wiping his mouth with an open palm, drawing the hand down and turning it instantly into a comb to brush loose any crumbs from his beard.
Oh my love, my next-table man, somehow in all this turmoil I lost you. Where did you go? Just to the bathroom or home, away, forever?
But I should tell you, my old future flame, I’m not going to wait around. Even as Dan leads me past the crowd of hungry waiting patrons, casually wrapping an entitled arm around my waist and says more than whispers in my ear: “I’m going to tie you to the bed when we get home.” I recognize that it’s a matter of seconds before the moisture pools between my legs and sweat pricks on the back of my neck. You left me, remember? And it only makes sense that it’s his eyes I look into, now. His body I lean against.
Leslie Renn is an artist and freelance designer living in Norfolk, Virginia, with her husband and two children. She received her BFA in fibers and printmaking in 2013 from Old Dominion University. Her art has been shown in several galleries and publications including undressed by petite tenue. She has also been included in the internationally-touring Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project that is on display in Washington, D.C., until March 2016. For more, follow her on the artist on Instagram.
Isa Gadaser is an experimental three-piece based in Portsmouth, Virginia, featuring members of Coral, Lion Tamer, & Black Ranchero. For more, visit the band on Soundcloud.