I never see her anymore, but I remember what she said. We were near the end of our second date, standing at a crosswalk. On our first date, we’d been on our best behavior, so I’d postponed any conclusions. We’d both been divorced for over a year. According to Jill, the friend who got us together, she’d given up praying soon after her divorce. Early in the first date she told me I resembled her husband, and on the second date she eyed me as if I might be him in disguise. She didn’t refer to him as her ex-husband, which worried me.
When we stopped at the crosswalk she pushed the call button several times, glaring at the red man, wanting him to vanish. She punched the button again. An aging pickup truck approached, and as it neared us the driver gunned its engine, creating a jolting racket and fumes.
“Jerk,” she snapped. “You know he did that because of us.”
“You think he did it on purpose?”
“I know he did,” she answered. “I would.”
I’m in early, and I hear my partner on the phone behind her closed door. She’s talking about me and my wife.
“He’s fat, sluggish, and his skin is greasy.
He carries a faint smell around with him wherever he goes. His wife is boring and stupid and seems to have no conception of how others see her. And how can she bring herself to choke down that odor of his? I’m stumped on whether to renew the lease. Except for my disgust, everything’s fine. We get along well enough.”
I’m squeamish wondering who she’s talking to and whether she says these things to many other people. I retreat into my office, close my door and call my lawyer, Rudy. Without raising my voice I fill him in. He listens and then tells me his perspective.
“I think you’re lucky. How many people receive the gift of knowing exactly what another person thinks of them? You can now better understand every word she says to you and every action she takes. Be prepared to deal with her assertively, but I would advise against letting this revelation disrupt you. There is nothing unusual in what you’ve heard. Don’t you think disrespectful things about people you basically respect? In many ways, people are wired to get on one another’s nerves, and society is based on the premise that we remain civil and make the best of our proximity to others. As before, I suggest you renew your lease and continue your partnership with Dr. Slipper.”
I thank him for calming me down, but after I get off the phone, my chest heaves and I suppress an urge to mutter.
I hear her door open and her footsteps coming my way. She sees me as she passes, eyes me, steps toward me, then hesitates.
“I didn’t know you’d–”
Can she read my face?
“I’ve been wanting to tell you something,” I say. “I’m tired of you ambushing me.”
Her face shifts to a questioning look. What a hypocrite.
“You’re always coming at me with some issue, in my face, no hello, no grace, just blurting out whatever’s bothering you at the moment. I’d like you to tone it down.”
“Noted,” she says. She moves closer. “You’ve been considering the lease?”
I nod. Can she smell me?
“So have I,” she says. “I still like the space.”
“I’m ready to renew. I just wanted to be up front with you. That’s a concern I’ve had for a while now. Best to let you know.”
“I appreciate it.”
She studies my face, trying not to show it.
“Looking for something?” I ask, her overheard words speaking to me. Does she hear them?
“Nothing,” she replies.
A man I knew only in passing stopped at my table.
“You know I come here, don’t you? Are you copying me?”
He grabbed my beer and took a drink.
“This tastes like spit. Next time tell them not to overcook the fries. I wouldn’t put those things in my mouth.”
He plunked the beer down and snatched my cap from the tabletop, a flat cap I’d worn for years. He put it on his head and waited for me to react. I eyed my cap, kept my hands still.
“Edie will dump you. You’re no match for her. She’ll leave you at the curb.”
“She doesn’t need to dump me,” I said. “We’re not a couple.”
“We were. I know her. She’s bound to be tired of you already.”
He looked straight into my eyes, making no move to return my cap. He walked away, out the door. I followed, caught up, stood in front of him.
“I’m having a problem,” he said. “Your body is in my path.”
I stayed there.
“What do you think’s going to happen?” he asked. “You think you’re taking my cap?”
“Mine now. It fits perfectly. Don’t make me hurt you.”
He raised his eyebrows, daring me. I imagined knocking the cap off, scuffling, wrestling him down, heads pounding on concrete. I walked past him.
He threw the cap at me. It hit me in the back of the head and fell to the sidewalk.
“It has an odor,” he said.
Glen Pourciau’s second collection of stories, View, was published in March by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His stories have been published by New World Writing, Mississippi Review, AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, New England Review, Paris Review and others.