The words over at Three Word Wednesday are gasp, mute and viable.
They both dreaded dinner and drinks, not because there was any animosity between them, not really. Fact was, they were nearly complete and total strangers – except they shared a commonality, a common thread, and that was Randy.
And that, in and of itself, was enough for harsh feelings toward a bit of liquor and the amusing, if over-priced dinner special menu printed out on fancy paper with threads of real linen in it.
“Here’s my mobile,” he shot out in a text. “Just in case you get hung up or something.”
He hoped that it would be the case, that she’d come up with an out and he would be spared two or three agonizing hours of talking about Randy. That total fuck-up. Friend or no friend, he wished he could put Randy on mute most days. It would certainly save the hassle of having to keep conversing on the dipshit’s various comings and goings, breakups, hookups, suicide attempts (bogus threats, of course) and tales of work and woe. Fucking drama queen.
She was coming in to the city on the Long Island Railroad, good old LIRR, from some suburban landscaped utopia he always forgot the name of, since it wasn’t really important for him to remember. He lived on the Upper West Side, good old UWS, and he told her he’d meet her in front of the Duane Reade in Penn Station, near the stairs and escalators that regurgitated a seemingly unending stream of tourists onto Seventh Avenue. He supposed it was hard to blame Macy’s, or Madison Square Garden for the congestion, but he couldn’t help but think that it didn’t pay to come into Herald Square at this hour and figure out somewhere to eat and drink at a place that didn’t have plastic-covered menus, paper napkins or drinks served in sappy plastic cups with corporate logos sprayed across them.
He was searching possible places on his phone – among them a few Irish pubs the area was known for and certainly were not that bad an option – when she walked up. Forty minutes late.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, kissing his cheek and squeezing an appropriate amount to his hug-and-squeeze-and-kiss. “I got a late start. Work.”
“No worries,” he said, pocketing the mobile into his suit jacket. “I was a little late myself. Some medical emergency on one of the platforms. Had the 2 and 3 trains screwed up really good. Irish pub sound good?”
“Fine by me.”
The walked up Seventh, like salmon fighting a current of swirling tourists, and made as much small-talk as was appropriate.
“We haven’t done this in months,” she said. “God, the last time I was in the city was for my daughter’s field trip to The Met.”
“I haven’t been down here in months, but it was to go to this place,” he said. “As I remember, the food is pretty good. At least they’ve got Guinness on tap – and shots of Jameson are more than reasonable.”
They walked into the pub, tried to let their eyes adjust to the low-light conditions of the place (dusk was beginning to fall, the sun leaving a last-gasp of light on the windowed canyons) and he scoped out a great place at the bar and hoped she’d follow. The hostess intervened and asked if they wanted to eat and she said she could go for a little something so yeah, let’s grab a table. He was about to say they could certainly eat at the bar, he felt more comfortable there leaning against the wood, so close to the bottles and beer taps, but ended up following the procession to a cramped two-top, chair on one side, cushioned booth against the wall, and squeezed in between a table of Taiwanese businesswomen and a couple of German tourists glued to an overhead flat screen television that was playing a proper game of football. She took, as always, the seat he wanted, the one where he could put a back against the wall and have a commanding view of the entire place. He smiled.
“What are you drinking?’
“Gin-and-tonic? Yeah, gin-and-tonic.”
“Guinness and a Jameson, neat, for me,” he told the waitress. “And a gin-and-tonic.”
They took a collective several seconds to survey the surroundings, conscious not to look at one-another during that time. She touched up her lips with a slash of gloss; he checked his watch.
The drinks came and they ordered, shepherd’s pie for him and penne with vegetables for her, and continued the banal small-talk, safe areas in their sea of Randy, like work and weather. The meal came and they refrained from talk, glad for the respite, yet knowing it was the quiet before a storm.
Both sat stiffly, picked at the last scraps of food with their forks, and thought of the proper way to bring up why they were there. In their minds, they practiced their opening Randy lines, ran them through, trying to find the most viable options.
Plates were collected, fresh drinks delivered. They took turned going to the bathroom. They looked at the other patrons. She re-glossed her lips.
“So, Randy calls me last week from Bellevue and says he sitting in admissions to the psych ward, another three-day observation thing, and he wants me to listen to a song that’s playing. It’s Muzak, or some other piped-in music. It’s pretty loud, well loud for a hospital waiting room, and it’s this jazzy version of a song I can’t place. I know it, it’s like crazy popular. Randy gets back on the phone and says, ‘Hear that? It’s the fucking theme song to M*A*S*H. Suicide is Painless. Fuck me. A little depressing for a hospital waiting room, don’t you think? I’ve already complained to the admitting nurse, but she just looked at me like I was crazy.’”
At that, she burst into a fit of laughter. And continued. Until the tears flowed.