Monday, October 17, 2011
Magpie Tales: The Anniversary
Peking Palace is not the best Asian restaurant in town. Hung duck carcasses awaiting their turn to grace the plates of diners turn many away, people like separation between themselves and what they eat. The food is well enough to keep a steady flow of traffic on the weekends, but most Tuesday nights only a handful of tables are taken and the atmosphere is much more muted.
Chris is here neither for the atmosphere or the food. His arm raises and lowers the fork bringing food to his mouth mechanically. He chews and swallows, never tasting. It is a forced effort, the pushing bits of sustenance down pipes to the tight twisted confines of his stomach in effort to calm himself for what comes next.
Tonight is the anniversary of the death of his wife, and this another echo of the last meal shared.
The first year after her death Chris found himself sitting in the same booth, unsure how he had arrived. He had every intention of going home after work to a quiet night alone, but that was not meant to be. He had ordered the same meal they shared, completed his own and was staring at her untouched plate when the waiter broke the spell asking if he was ready for the check.
He must have waved a hand because the check arrived with three fortune cookies. He did not even like fortune cookies, and their manufactured messages written by some back room hack with nothing better to do than spout nonsense on unsuspecting patrons held no more sway in life than newspaper horoscopes. Chris crushed them one by one, more to feel the texture of their texture in breaking.
Opening his clenched fingers, crumbs scattered across the table and he retrieved the three slips of paper. These fortunes were different though than any Chris had read before. They were messages from her. I am still here, repeated once on each white rectangle.
Chris waved the waiter over, animatedly asking for more, offering to pay for a box. Cooks stared through the hanging duck bodies as his voice got louder and behavior more frantic. To appease him or perhaps in hopes he would leave, the waiter brought him a box, which he tucked under his arm as he ran out the door into the cool night air.
Sitting in the center of their bed, his bed, Chris crushed them one after another, the silk sheets filling with grit and discarded fortunes. Each one mocked him with insane riddles, but no further messages. Howling in anguish, he tore open kitchen cabinets until he found a dusty bottle of bourbon that quickly emptied, becoming another and another.
Staring into the mirrored window by his table, Chris runs his fingers across his face, each whisker a thorn in his palm. His hair is a mottled nest, barely fit for an animal. Cheeks hollow, eyes vacant unfathomable pools. He is little of the man who once strode confidently into meetings with customers, pen in hand ready for the sure sale. All the trimmings that had come with being a successful sales man had disappeared.
Raising his cup to his lip, he lets the liquor spill into his mouth, no longer feeling the burn of its advance. Five years. Was it five? He is no longer sure of time, other than each year he is here, on this night and she will speak to him. Try as he might to keep himself from this moment, it always came.
A soft click against the table announces the arrival of the check. Turning, Chris is confronted by three fortune cookies in their shiny plastic wrapping, the waiter familiar with what to expect retreats to a safe distance.
Taking the first, the wrapper crinkles, cackling laughter, as Chris' trembling fingers struggle to hold it. Hot tears scald his face, lips sputtering, as he tears the plastic skin. Dropping the cookie, he chases it as it rolls from the table. Aloud crash erupts as the table over turns spilling his empty plate and cup into the adjacent bench seat. He scrambles gathering each of the cookies to his chest, his wild eyes casting about at other patrons.
Cooks yell in chaotic chirps, the waiter appears, grabbing at him, but Chris fights frantically pushing him away. Remnants of his meal soak into the seat of his pants. Their eyes, every person's eyes crawl across his body on sharp feet. What little meal that resides in Chris' stomach forces its way into his throat, hands strangling him from the inside. Duck carcasses dance on the ends of their strings.
Searching his fingers between the shards of cookie, Chris finds the white strips. Words dance in red until his eyes focus. The message is the same. The same it has been every year since the first.
I know it was you. I know it was you. I know it was you.
this is a Magpie Tale.