(Manifesto for ... The Less Said ...)Anna told me, with her head down, after we had left the restaurant and we were walking on the grey, wet pavement and her shoe kicked up a muddy chocolate wrapper that had once been red, that she was not going to take things further with the man. This meant that she would not be going to meet him. Then she told me that actually, she had not completely decided.
I did not say anything. I looked at her only when I heard her starting to speak, and then I put my head down too. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her turn to me, as if my silence was a huge disappointment. We carried on walking and I could smell the scent on her again, in the damp air, and this time it seemed an awkward accessory.
I was then being swamped by something that had the quality of a memory, but was indistinct. In spite of its lack of colour or form, it had great weight.
As Anna and I reached the corner, I felt the onset of Sunday afternoon tears from somewhere deep inside my body. And I did all I could to keep them down.
We said goodbye.
I wanted to go back in time.
To the time when we were sitting in the warm restaurant, across each other at the table, and Anna was telling me, over the not-unpleasant din of the human voice and collective eating, with humour and shining eyes, about the man on the dating site who seemed so promising in all ways except that he claimed to be able to communicate with the departed – which is apparently known as Crossing Over. And when she leaned forward because she was laughing so much as she said this, I first noticed her scent, and how then it seemed to be full of hope. And she first saw the family of four sitting a few tables away from where she was facing. And I first noticed, at another table in my line of vision, the man with the long, honey-coloured dreadlocks and how he covered his girlfriend’s hand with his huge one, and how her nose wrinkled up when she smiled back at him. And we both noticed the manager, who seemed to be working at not smiling, and who was very pale, and how he seemed to shadow the waitress, sticking behind her, his eyes stopping somewhere near her arse (and we both said, come on, who was he trying to kid?) as she piled plates up and took them through the double doors and came back out and criss-crossed the restaurant, putting different plates down. The waitress, in contrast, smiled all the while, but did not seem to be breathing, as if it took up too much time, or space. And she first came to our table and her face was pink, and we placed our order, and Anna carried on telling me about the man. And we decided that the waitress could perhaps get away with not breathing because she was still young. And I said that if I had been her I would have either whipped around with a huge hot pizza and slammed it into the manager’s face, and thrown my apron down and walked out, or I would have sat on the hard floor and banged my feet up and down and let out a long, loud roar of Fuck You, releasing all the air I had held in, and thrown my apron down and walked out.
And Anna looked at me and asked me what I knew about Crossing Over, and the people at a large table at the back sang Happy Birthday, and the manager stood with his arms folded and looked on as if he were some kind of security detail and this was a high-risk moment, and Anna and I started talking about how so many people were in the wrong jobs, and Anna said that so many people were with the wrong partners, and then started describing what the man on the dating site looked like, her brown eyes liquid, and I nearly asked her if she had put glycerine in them.
And everything felt right: the light, the noise, the temperature, the occasion itself.
And then Anna started to focus on the family of four at the round table, that she could see more easily than I could, as I had to turn my head to look at them.
Anna said she thought they looked like a really nice family. I turned to see what she meant.
And yes, I agreed, they looked nice.
There was a man with white hair, and I can come up with no better word than ‘distinguished’ to describe him. He sat taller than everyone, taller than the younger looking woman on his right, and much taller than both the girl on his left, and the boy, directly opposite him, whose face I never saw, because he had his back to our table.
We watched them at intervals: while we were drinking the warm, ruby wine; while we were waiting for our food; while they were waiting for their food; while we were eating; while they were eating; while we were waiting for our table to be cleared; while we were looking at the dessert menu.
We discussed the make-up of the family. We put the children at six and eight. The girl eight, just because we thought she looked about eight, and the boy six, because he looked a little smaller, and his bare calves, dangling, sometimes swinging from underneath his chair, were quite high off the floor. Anna thought the man was the grandfather of the girl and boy, the father of the woman, the woman their mother. I said I thought the woman looked too old to be their mother. I could only see her from the side, but she looked as if she was starting to stoop. Anna disagreed, and I said well then in that case the man could be the children’s father. Of course he could have. I mentioned Clint Eastwood and Anthony Quinn, as well as a man we both knew, and Anna for some reason seemed not to like that idea. She looked at the man a lot. I followed her eyes.
We both agreed that he was in his early sixties at the most, and that the woman was harder to place.
I wanted to go back in time.
It wouldn’t have been such a big deal either. It would have been a matter of, who is it, the Big Daddy of Time? Cronos? Yes, Cronos, just to agree to the tiniest of backward nudges. A few minutes, maybe, if we’re talking clocks and watches.
Much bigger favours have been asked of him, after all.
I wanted to go back to the time when the boy threw his scarf up into the air and he looked up with all his body as it floated down as a bird, or a cloud, or a dream, and he threw it up again, and again. To when he put it down next to him and his back arched as the smiling-un-breathing waitress slid his pizza down onto the table in front of him and his head turned to the side to look up at her and his legs swung fast under his chair, and the woman next to him opened up a napkin and tucked it into his collar, his legs swinging all the while, and the girl tossed back her plaits and sat holding her knife and fork upright on the table as her plate was put before her, and the man and the woman smiled, restrained, as they received theirs, both putting their napkins on their laps at the same time, and there seemed to be a centre that was holding them all together.
And yes, they looked really nice.
And my friend Anna had a spring in her gait.
And the man with the honey-coloured dreadlocks leaned forward and stroked a white crumb off the corner of his girlfriend’s beautiful mouth.
And our food and drink came and went and came and went.
And there was an almighty shatter and all heads turned towards the source and the boy’s arm held the scarf in the air above the hail of glass on the floor.
I wanted to go back in time.
To before the man, sitting even taller, looked at the boy and his mouth, turning into a hard rectangle and baring long, yellow wolf-teeth, said…. Well Done.
To just before then.
To before the boy put his head down and the scarf dropped to the floor like a dead bird.
To before the boy’s head stayed down and you could see the deep hollow at the back of his soft, forming neck, and his legs under the chair went stiff in mid-swing, and God knows what was happening to the tissue of his heart.
To before I could not stop looking.
To before the woman’s round back was turned, and the girl retreated into an intense and solitary drawing as the ends of her plaits brushed the table, and the man sat even taller with his chest puffed out and his mouth turned down, and the smiling-un-breathing waitress was on her haunches on the floor with a dustpan, and the manager stood above her with his arms folded.
To before their round table morphed into four distant corners.
To before I noticed how still and rigid the boy had become, the scarf lying in a dark coil on the floor.
To before no adult hand extended itself.
To before this somehow became the before-and-after moment of my day; to before all air and light had been shocked out of it.
To before I wanted to leap across the room and hold the man’s mouth open and make the words, just those eight letters, go back down his throat, and hold them there, so he could taste the bile of them.
To before I could not finish my dessert and Anna would not let it go to waste.
To before I wanted to but could not check with Anna that this was in fact what the man had said. Because I could see, from the way she licked the back of her spoon, that she had seen everything but was now showing me more eyelid than eye.
To before we had broken up into two islands.
To before Anna never looked in the direction of the really nice family again and neither of us saw them leave.
To before we passed their table on our way out and a piece of glass crunched under my foot and on the table I saw a cup of coffee half drunk, another cup of coffee three-quarters drunk, a green wax crayon, and then in the bright pink icing of a half-eaten cupcake, two teeth marks.