by Benjamin Woodard
We settle under a splatter portrait of Jim Morrison, whose lizard eyes suggest we sip old-fashioneds, and despite the fact that old Jim is the worst, we cannot say no. I fashion a frown at the painting from my seat. You flip it the bird. People are strange, but we are American suburbanites maintaining traditional dining customs. We engage our phones to swipe broods across small screens. Little Simon. Tiny Garfunkel. Look at that: the babies have bloomed into famished ghosts determined to eat our rolls. Or maybe the ghosts are our history? Either way, you’re covered in crumbs. “As a child, I dreamt up a monster who slowly followed my steps,” you say, shaking your phone. “No matter where I hid, it always located me. Now, I carry the monster in my pocket and dream about visiting my old office.” We laugh to not cry. We change the subject. We wonder over empty glasses and full plates of meat what it’s like to strangle another human until your fingers are sore. The waiter offers himself as test subject, yet we don’t want to wander from our medium rare delights, to convoy to the coatroom to give it a shot. It’s too creepy, and he’s too eager. He’s a poseur, like Jim Morrison. He’s no Simon. He’s no Garfunkel. We instead turn our attention to doorways and bookends. You mention a charity. I detail a bake sale. Even in dreams, we wear white hats. We are good people, but we have little time. “My nightmares involve failure and humiliation,” I say. You nod knowingly. We eat, and afterward, our take-home boxes empty our plates, carry themselves out to the sidewalk, the parking lot, our minivans. How? Who cares? All that’s important is that we’re done. So soon? The broods must be restless. They cannot survive without our guidance, without our wisdom and money! Time to go. I can hear the alarm. Beautiful friend, this is the end. If there’s one thing we still agree on, it’s our hatred of Jim Morrison. And so we hug, and holding each other tightly once more, we sense something from our youth: the skip of love we shared when we were small, when I was Simon, you were my Garfunkel, time it was and what a time it was and everything was clear. The warmth between our chests is the only comfort I’ll feel until our next encounter, wherever I may find you. But you understand this already. You understand everything. Then we separate and I watch you fade. There you go. You’re gone. Good morning.
Benjamin Woodard is editor in chief at Atlas and Alice. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and teaches English. His recent stories have appeared in, or are forthcoming from, Monkeybicycle, jmww, Atticus Review, and other journals. His short essays appear in the anthology, Miscellany, from Run Amok Books. Find him at benjaminjwoodard.com or @woodardwriter.