A True Story
W. sits alone at a table near the kitchen, and the flurry of cooks, French expletives, pots and pans in the background brings him and his stillness into sharp focus. Our eyes meet and I smother the pinprick shock I feel. I can see, even from my spot, the curl of his bottom lip that causes his chin to jut out ever so slightly, making me clench my fist. The sight of this little crease, the attitude it exudes, the silent judgement … If not for this spike of annoyance, I would have kissed him to erase that pout. But as I bridge the gap between us in the cafe where we’d met just yesterday, where he requested that we meet again today, I remind myself that I shouldn’t criticize what and whom I don’t know. Not yet, at least.
I answer when he inquires about my morning so far, as if I care to tell him, as if we are simply two friends catching up, rather than odd strangers. His voice is slow molasses, and the pauses between every clothes-line sentence is like a sudden breeze from nowhere amidst a stiff-hot summer day. I feel my irritation disappearing. Finally, he thanks me for meeting him here and I nod, wary.
He waits patiently, hands clasped, as I place my messenger bag against the table’s legs, dig through my mess for a decently sharp pencil and a clean, unwrinkled piece of paper. I feel as if my every move is being tucked away in some mind palace. I stiffen my spine and clear my throat to sway authority in my favor. I am the one telling his story.
But then he said, opening his palms to feel the weight of the air: “Let’s begin.”
“I have a story for you,” the note had said. At first, I didn’t notice the hastily scrawled words, just saw the folded-in-half notepad paper that was dropped in front of me, one corner dipping itself into my cup of jam, and the rest of it soaking in the oil from my croissant. I glanced up from my morning read – a New Yorker – and prepared an indignant Excuse Me. But I stopped when I saw a man about my age, looming over me. Tall, lean, and handsome, with black hair that curled along his forehead, still slightly damp from a shower or from summer sweat. Impatient, too, I gathered from his dancing fingers atop my two-seat table at Manny’s.
It was my Summer Friday, and I had allowed myself to read for pleasure, rather than participate in the search for The Next Big Book, that everlasting pressure an editorial assistant like myself would feel on a daily basis. I already disliked what I was reading, a pretentious essay that overused semicolons, which always need to be treated delicately.
I picked up the note and read it. “What?”
“I see you writing here, all the time.”
“Okay. Creepy?” What an odd way to flirt.
He only laughed. “I have a story. For you.”
“What makes you think I need a story.” And what would he be able to give me?
“Every writer needs a story.”
“Well, every writer lives in Brooklyn. Why are you giving me a story?”
He shrugged, which frustrated me but also made me place down my New Yorker. I wanted to hear his answer, I realized. “I belong to a group called The Saints. We deliver punishment to those who deserve it.”
And I felt it suddenly, a great familiar pang of disappointment, what I seemed to feel every time I fell in love with smart-looking and meticulously dressed men on the subway. This guy was crazy.
“Right,” I said.
“No, look,” he said, a cutting edge now in his voice, which caused me to look around uneasily. No one seemed to noticed this strange man. “I’m serious. I want to tell my story, but I haven’t met the right person to help me with that.”
“Okay. What’s the story?”
The clerk, Hector, called out an order. Crazy Guy got up. He said, looking at me, “W.”
“That’s my name–for the story.”
But I just heard it clearly, didn’t I? “But your name’s –”
“No, W.” He reached for his food, in a brown bag, still not looking at me, and would have grabbed Hector’s shirt if only he hadn’t taken a step back. In another hand W. accepted the outstretched cup of coffee. He pointed at me with a finger. “I need to keep quiet about my identity. I’m telling you, it’ll ruin The Saints.”
“What the fuck’s The Saints?” I cried out.
Then W. grinned. “What’s your name?”
I snorted. Why the fuck would I tell him?
“It’s Loan,” Hector, still behind the counter, said.
“No, I’m Hector. Jesús is in the kitchen,” Hector said, pointing a thumb in the kitchen’s direction.
W. looked at me, amused. “Great, Loan. Saturday. Same time.” He walked backwards, until he was at the front door. Over the cafe’s din, he yelled, “My number’s on the back. Text me if you’re running late.”
To Be Continued As The Story Is Told To Me.