Monday, March 09, 2009

post 555. i spend a weekend out of the city.

post 554. madeline and i get our morning coffee.

Marlow & Sons is far enough south to avoid the twenty-something hipsters of Williamsburg proper; instead, the thirty-something well-dressed professionals are here, cradling Blackberries, their equally well-dressed two-year olds happily jabbering in monosyllabic gibberish.

The dim, wood-paneled interior advertises its dinnertime attraction: blackboards announce oysters and cheese, wines line the walls. The chocolate tarts are great, I hear. Beat-up mirrors. Worn benches rather than chairs.

But Madeline and I have never been for dinner; we come to get coffee and The Times, every Monday. Our one routine. She throws on a shirt, pants, she pulls her hair into a ponytail. Scarf, jacket, that ski hat she refuses to let go.

But today – of all days – I find her sitting at the kitchen table, ready to go, but looking at her shoes.

Are you okay? You look tired.

She looks up, presses her lips in a smile. “Thanks.”

Shall we? I ask, prompting her. It’s our dialogue, our Monday thing.

She presses her lips in a smile. “We shall.” I lean in to give her a kiss on the head but she’s on her way up, and smacks me in the jaw. “Are you all right?”

Not how I planned our day starting, I say, smiling. I give her a kiss.

“I’m sorry,” she says, oddly worried. I make a face. She doesn’t laugh.

It’s warm out. A bright spot amidst the muscle-aching chill of January. You think spring might just come early: you can venture out with one less layer, you can look up at buildings instead of burying your chin into a scarf watching for ice. But it doesn’t last.

This is what we needed, to reconnect. Maddy and I are getting over a rough patch. Relationships have to be about routine, even something small, like Monday morning coffee. Last night we were on opposite ends of the couch, big emotions put into small sentences. But we fixed the last of all that trouble, though. I did well.

I smile at her and try to find her hand with mine while we walk, but it hits her arm as she pulls it up to mess with her hat.

That’s what I get for silly hand-holding, right? That shit isn’t what it’s all about. It’s about orbiting each other, with comfort as the gravity. All that wasted time: Audrey, all those games we played. Donna, the long break-up on her porch with me as a warbling idiot. Laura, lost to drugs. All the records I wasted on the wrong girls, all the drama I mistook for passion. All the starting over.

All I was looking for was this: Simplicity. Madeline.

“Let’s take a walk,” she says, while I hold the door open.

Okay. Sure, I say, and step in.

“Now. Let’s just…let’s just go for a walk. I’m tired of this place.”

Ohhh, come on. We’ll go after coffee, I say, and give her a playful shake. Maddy’s a dream: no obtuse gestures, no bullshit. Just easy steps. Sitting over a thick book Indian-style next to the window. Eating the whole apple. Wanting to brush her teeth with me. But she needs a little guidance sometimes. With what we’ve gone through, we need to have something familiar like this. A reset. We’ll probably move in together now; she’ll like that. I get the paper and two coffees and she gets a seat.

When I find her in the back, she’s sitting with her scarf still on, looking at herself in the mirror, curling a piece of her strawberry blonde hair over her ear, then tracing her jaw slowly with her fingers. She looks older. Wiser. She’s wiser than the rest of them.

I give her a kiss on the back of the head. The paper spread between us, the coffee steaming. This is how things are supposed to be. Maybe sometime this won’t be what we do; I know that. Things change. But now? This feels right.

I arrange the paper in its usual way and pick up the weather. Looks like the winter comes back tomorrow, I say. I look over at her, and she’s slumped down, looking at her cup.

We’ll take a nice, long walk. Maybe up to the park on North 9th. Our first date.

“This isn’t working,” she says.


“I think last night was a mistake.” She talks into her coffee. “I wanted to tell you last night, and I should have.” She suddenly looks tired. Long moments.

She suddenly half-rises and kisses me across the table. Sits back. Long moments. “See?
Nothing.” She gets up, bundles her things under her arm. “I just kissed you, and I get nothing. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You know this isn’t working.”

Hold on, I say. You’re…you’re not making sense. What about last night?

“It’s never as simple as you make it out. It never is,” she says, clapping her arms to her sides, like she’s told me this all along. Another moment.

Well, good, I say. That’s what I was trying to tell you last night, I say.

She snorts, and tilts her head, and smiles, and the smile starts to shake. She leaves.

My paper is soaked. She spilled my coffee. I get up, get some napkins, and another paper. It’s a while before I open it up. I’ve been here before.