I’m home for a few days visiting my mother. She suggests we meet my sister for dinner in the nearby town. The part of the world they live in is insular. It’s difficult to get to, and difficult to leave. I visit sometimes, maybe not enough. I sense this when my mother says, “You don’t get to see your sister that much, do you?” I tell her that no, I guess I don’t, and that dinner sounds good. We go to an expensive restaurant that everyone in the town apparently loves. When we get out of the car I see someone I went to high school with. He’s maybe thirty feet away, standing with his mother, about to go into the same restaurant that we are. I can’t remember his name.
He calls out to me and waves, then disappears into the restaurant.
The restaurant is decorated like an amusement park safari ride, though no one seems to acknowledge this, so neither do I. There are exotic animals taxidermied and hung above our table. The bar stools are shaped like tropical fruit. Decorative motorcycles are parked outside the bathroom. One is pink, one is blue.
The man is sitting nearby, staring at me. I go over to him and shake his hand. A few pleasantries are exchanged, but not many. He wants to talk about the restaurant.
“This restaurant is really good,” he assures me. “You’re a lucky guy.”
“Sure,” I say. “Thanks.”
“You should get the quail,” he says. “Or the toucan. I won’t keep you from your family though.” He turns back to his mother and the conversation is over. His eyes are the color of commercials. I go and join my mother and sister at the pale blue table.
“What an odd guy,” I say.
Neither my mother nor sister seem to remember him.
“He was in your class?” my mother asks. “Are you sure?”
I tell her he was enrolled at my school for a couple of years during high school. “He had some social awkwardness,” I say. “You know, trouble fitting in.”
“I can’t remember everyone,” my mother says. “Especially in high school. How could I?”
The food comes out plated in colorful swaths, painterly gestures. I don’t know what I’m eating, only that it tastes and looks like a bowl of Jolly Ranchers. My sister is using an ivory scalpel to halve her emu egg. I get the sense that what is happening is immoral, that what we are eating is shunning a primordial order. The feeling, understood by everyone at the table, is that we have become complicit in an unspoken but deeply felt crime.
The man is fidgeting in his seat. He gets up and helps someone open the door. It swings inward though I’m certain the sign says to pull. He says something to the hostess who responds by saying, “No, we’re fine.”
“Are you sure?” he asks.
“I’m positive” she says, her annoyance beginning to surface.
He sits back down and I turn to my dinner. I can feel him honing in on me. I can sense his stony eyes.
“It’s good, right?” he calls across to me. There is desperation in his voice now.
I turn to him. His face is trembling and clenched, as if to give in to whatever ails him will cause his appearance to fall away completely. I give him a thumbs up and nod reassuringly. Even as I look away I can still feel him trying to pierce me with his gaze. He seems to be inviting consequence.
When we leave I approach his table and extend my hand.
“How long are you in town for?” he asks. “Are you here for long?”
“Just a couple of days,” I say. “I’m here to visit my mother.”
“What about your dad?” he asks.
I tell him my father lives in a different city.
“So you’re like me” he says. “You don’t talk to your dad.”
Before I can correct him he’s turned back to his food. He waves me away.
I remember more about him now as we drive back to my mother’s house. She insists on driving. Big empty clapboard houses careen past. An occasional lamplit room slides by. Houses like gothic oranges, like felled trees. I remember he lived in a mansion near the park. There was an unused tennis court. A pool filled with debris. He would invite us over using the power of suggestion. He was rich and we weren’t, but we had something he desperately wanted.
When we arrive at my mother’s house I open my laptop to find that he’s sent me a message. I wait twenty or so minutes before opening it, vaguely touched and nervous about what it might contain.
“Hey bro,” is all the message reads.
I write that it was good running into him.
Almost immediately I see the icon that indicates he’s typing.
“You too bro,” he writes back. The typing icon appears again for a moment and disappears. I wait for something else but nothing comes.
I scroll through some of our previous messages. The last interaction is from a decade ago, neatly preserved as if it had been yesterday. He’s asking me for the address to a party he wasn’t invited to. My responses are polite but deflective. “I don’t know, man,” my message reads, “try asking Blake.”
“Come on man,” he writes, “Please.”
Jonah Simonak is currently pursuing his MFA from Queens College’s Fiction and Literary Translation program, with a focus on short fiction. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Entropy Magazine, Pretty Owl Poetry, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere.