Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lunch Dates

Still, she'd had to live somewhere, hadn't she? Maybe this duplex in Kaimuki with three other girls wouldn't be the worst place. There was the little matter that she hadn't lived with anybody else besides Naomi since they had both been in college, and didn't exactly relish the idea of getting acquainted with a whole set of girls' habits, idiosyncrasies and schedules, not knowing who was difficult to live with until it was too late, and generally getting used to sharing an enclosed space with multiple people all over again. An only child, and one whose single mother was constantly on the go at that, often leaving her alone until the very ends of some nights, Calisto enjoyed having a place to herself and wasn't sure how else to live.
She smoked and thought all of this over and her mind wandered to how she felt the need to profusely thank Naomi for introducing her to Monte. Had she really been all that grateful? Naomi didn't seem to have too high an opinion of the fellow herself, and the idea that she could think so little of him and yet still think him a good candidate to introduce to her best friend was unsettling. But it had always been that way, perhaps. Of the two of them, Naomi was the unequivocally "the pretty one." Even Calisto's mother had complimented her best friend to her on numerous occasions, making comments like "Your friend is so gorgeous," as if having made a best friend of such a lovely creature reflected well on Calisto, somehow. It was the kind of beauty that was a little too obvious, with its soft features and yellow-blond hair and straight, white teeth (and it had in fact helped her get her job as a field reporter on Channel 2 news) which almost made her look like she was constructed by a focus group ticking off a checklist of optimal attractiveness. But if it didn't show you anything you hadn't seen before, at the very least she certainly got your attention. Calisto was used to seeing heads turn in their direction when they would both enter a room, and getting little if any response when she was by herself.
In comparison, while you certainly couldn't call her unattractive (though her mother came close to intimating as much whenever she had the opportunity), Calisto had a much more conspicuous look about her, as if you had to search in order to notice the fullness of the lips and pleasingly heavy-lidded eyes with seemed to communicate in their own silent language.
This was another thing that had made her relationship with James, however unofficial, feel like such a validation. James and Calisto had been outwardly just as much of a mismatch as Naomi and Eric were. Even Naomi had been heard to comment "Yeah, I'd hit that," after seeing James for the first time. As a matter of fact, he was just the type of guy Calisto had always thought Naomi would end up with, which made it even more flattering and bewildering that he'd picked her instead. Or maybe he just picked the easier prey, like a lazy panther that didn't want to work too hard for its kill. He had the mean countenance of a charismatic iconoclast (she couldn't stop thinking of his last name as "Dean"), and other women set eyes on him wherever they went, they same way both men and women would find themselves casting stares at Naomi whenever she arrived. It certainly was a nice arrangement for Calisto -- that level of scrutiny would'be made her uncomfortable had she been its object, but she didn't mind being just left of the center of attention. 
All this went through her mind in the amount of time it took her to get through about four cigarettes, when out of nowhere she realized she didn't want anymore. She may never want to smoke again, she thought. A faint wave of nausea came over her, and she again regretted the vodka saimin. Even after she stopped smoking, she lingered up on the roof by herself for a few minutes. She wondered if the ocean was close enough to hear from the Dream Crib on a night like this, when everything else went quiet. Waves rolled up and down a rock wall all day and night there.
Finally she climbed down off the roof and got back inside. Their room had two twin beds in it, but she made a habit of falling asleep on the couch every night. However, tonight she felt like sleeping in a bedroom and headed that way. Naomi was out -- she never could stay awake once she got in bed, and nothing could rouse her. It was what made her easy to live with, and again the idea of acclimating herself to a stranger's sleeping patterns, or worse, living with someone who kept the same strange hours as herself was hateful. The slow pulse of her roommate's breathing give her a warm feeling of human compassion and she undressed and got into bed without brushing her teeth or anything. She had always wanted a sister -- the immutable nature of family relationships appealed to her -- and functionally she had one. She fell asleep thinking about what it would've been like to have this growing up.

After that night, whenever they'd see each other during smoke breaks, they would visit and take them together. At first this new arrangement had made her uncomfortable. Accustomed to smoking alone with her thoughts, she couldn't get the hang of having to keep up conversation and generally play the part of a person who socializes with others. She spent all day on the phone talking to strangers, most of whom treated her poorly, as an obstacle at best and an adversary at worst, so she cherished any time she could get to sit in silence.
She tried to change up her schedule, take her breaks on the quarter-hour instead of the top of the hour, and this sometimes worked but Monte would eventually find her again. She found that she didn't mind seeing him so much during these times, though. As long as she wasn't expecting to see him, she didn't mind.
They eventually learned a lot more about each other through these visits, none of them lasting longer than 15 minutes at a stretch, like that Monte had two children, a boy named Dane and a girl named Deanna, ages 6 and 4 respectively. Monte found out that her real name was Monica and that she had been smoking on-and-off since she first discovered the pack in her mother's purse before she could even ride a bike and that she had been studying to be a sign-language interpreter before she dropped out of school.
"Why'd you drop out?" he'd asked.
She shrugged. "Didn't seem worth it. My mom didn't support me because she had no regard for education. And all I did was party and fuck around on campus. I was wasting time and money."
"None of those are real answers. If you'd wanted to, you would've stayed and finished."
"All right, then I didn't want to." His way of not accepting her answers to his questions and spinning them until they fit his preconceptions caused her no end of annoyance. She pointed it out to him every time, but he never stopped. "But if I just say I didn't want to, you would've followed up with 'Why?'"
"I wouldn't have. Dropping out is exactly the thing you don't have to explain. School fucking sucks, your mom was spot on with that one."
"Well I happened to enjoy it, it's just that I couldn't hack it. Anyway, it worked out fine in the end."
"It was sure nice of your roommate to let you keep living with her after you crashed and burned out there, though."
"Yeah, that's kind of a vicious way to put it, but she was a lifesaver. Naomi is my rock. Don't know what I'd do without her."
"It still surprises me that you don't hate her fiancée more than you do."
"I hate him a little. I mean duh, I have to. But I can't hold her happiness against her."
It seemed like this was the same shit they discussed every time they were together. Some of the weightier subjects which had come up the night of their inaurgal stoned reverie remained unremarked upon, as if they both sensed a boundary they had been complicit in creating. She would ask after his kids or his ex or even his mother occasionally, but he seemed reticent to go into any detail about them, giving out only general information. Some people attempt to extract as much biography from you as they can without revealing anything too personal about themselves, and at the time she thought he was just one of those people.
When alternating the timing of her smoke breaks failed to afford her desired solitude, she tried alternating her locations. She would smoke in front of Squarehead's in front of the curtains that were drawn there by day. She went down to the corner in front of the courthouse, where folks waiting for jury duty to begin glanced at her from across the street while puffing on their own stoges. There was a beautiful little mini-garden next to a nail salon, bonsai trees and a hedge of azaleas cropped within an inch of their lives, though she never saw anyone work on it. It was a small piece of earthy comfort amongst all the concrete, glass and metal which she enjoyed staring at because it have her a wistful feeling. This became her regular spot for day on end when it proved isolated enough to preclude discovery, for the time being.
It didn't matter. Monte always found her. Apparently he kept no regular times of locations himself, but spent his breaks and lunches wandering the Square as if driven by a peripatetic urge to abandon all familiar surroundings. A day or two would go by where she would get to smoke and be alone with her thoughts, but sooner or later, there he was.
At times it almost seemed as if he was all over the place not to specifically track her down, but more to avoid some mystery person. One day they a group of fellow nurses and technicians who wore the signature turquoise scrubs of the surgical center he worked at milled past her.
"Why don't you take any breaks or lunches with them?" she had asked him when they were out of earshot.
"If they wanted me to, they'd ask me." he said.
"Why don't you think they want to?"
"Do you mean, why do I not think they want to, or why, do I think, do they not want to?"
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"No. Maybe I don't want them to want to."
"Before we started doing, I don't know, whatever this is right now, I don't remember ever seeing you with one of your coworkers. I'd see them, eating or walking with each other, and I'd see you. But not both together."
"What you see or don't see is not necessarily what is."
"Fine, but you know what I mean."
"You tend to be alone a lot yourself."
"I asked about you."
"But I didn't ask about you. If I see someone spending a lot of time alone, I assume it's by choice."
"It's never a choice. Nobody wants to be alone."
"But that's our natural state, isn't it? Okay, so humans are social animals. But they're also solitary animals. Being social makes certain things easier, but that doesn't mean it's in our nature."
"See that guy over there?" She motioned with her cigarette hand. The elderly gentleman was dressed in the drab gray tones of the cleaning crew who picked up debris and washed the glass doors and windows around the Square. At this moment he was seated at one of the tables with a cup of coffee. "I've seen that guy around here every day since I started this job. In all that time, I've never seen him with another person, not even one of the cleaning ladies. But you can tell, it isn't by choice. I don't know if it's a language barrier or if he just forgot how to be with others. You can see it in his face, though. That is not his natural state, nobody just looks like that. Some people may be solitary animals, that's true, but some people are just lonely." And she finally stopped for a drag.
All Monte had said was "Why don't you go and talk to him, then." Calisto didn't rise to the bait. In subsequent days she would come to regard this conversation between them as the origin of their idea for Lunch Dates.

No comments: