Contemporary Fiction

The waiter came to bring us the menu and our drinks, moving in slow motion once handing them to my brother, which acted oblivious to what was happening before him. I had only been to that restaurant once, on a failed date many years ago, but Johnny was living in the neighbourhood now and became a frequent client there apparently.

“I still can’t believe you moved out before I did.”, I said taking a sip of my freezing tap water.

He pulled the left side of his lip on a smirk but never took his face off his phone.

“Sorry, I promise I’ll be here, just need to finish this real quick.”

I took his queue and grabbed my phone out of the depths of my bag. The notifications were off for the sake of my anxious self, but I was uncertain of whether it was helping me or just making it worse. Still nothing, I thought as I hectically opened and closed several useless apps in a row.

“What were you saying again?” my brother asked with his presence facing me.

People always say we are a good-looking pair, but I came to terms with the fact that he is prettier long ago. He has a piercing quality to him that I lack, a type of sureness of being that is apparently overly appreciated by the world.

I flung a hand in the air indicating it didn’t matter and we switched to talking about food.

He got the shrimps and I got a quinoa bowl.

The waiter came by our table again. It was one of those uniform-less restaurants, so people wore their own clothes to work. The guy was stylish, hipster maybe, with his beige cardigan and black beanie strategically worn just on the tip of his head, like it was never made for the specific purpose of heating anything. He acted comfortable around my brother, like he had picked up on some invisible energy Johnny emitted that read he was open for intimacy with just about anyone.

“Well, I’m pretty satisfied where I’m at now. You know, I don’t love marketing but being close to the sports industry is really opening some doors for me. It’s all about the networking. That’s what I’ve been telling you for years now, M. Sorry, what? Fuck yeah, I’m happy. What’s not to be happy about? I’m earning money, that’s all I need. And I’ve been trying some of that meditation stuff you keep telling me about, being more grateful and shit. You know what they say, that this gratitude thing is a key, the key -- doesn’t matter, what matters is that the more you’re grateful for the things you have, the more you get more things, you hear that? I tried that for like, getting that promotion, the one I had been waiting on for months and…boom…one week later, there I was. Getting it wrong?! M, are you kidding me? I’m the one getting it wrong? I meditated for like a second and I’m already getting what I wanted. You’ve been doing this for what? 10 years? And where you at? Still living with mom, no job. You know what, you should try it. You should be more grateful for your life right now, sis. Maybe that shakes some of this desperation out of you. Not desperate? Come on! You keep refreshing that Gmail app like it’s broken or something. It’s like what those meditation people say: you need to change what’s in here first”, my brother said nudging his fingers on his sturdy chest.

I chew on my brother’s words for a few minutes, letting some silence brew amongst us, trying to conjure up a monologue, but all I could taste was a type of bitter angst.

I didn’t care too much for quinoa. If I’m being honest, I only ate it because I knew it was good for me. It had a strong taste on the palate and somehow unravelled an unpleasant childhood memory of my mother making me eat too much radish, which I loathe to this day.

Some part of me believed him: it must be true that I was doing something wrong. I felt so stuck. And the worst part was that I had felt that way for years. No matter which movement I undertook, which direction I started going, I felt like no movement at all was being done, so much so that I couldn’t tell anymore if I was really not moving or whether I was just so disconnected from myself that I didn’t feel like the one taking the steps.

We finished our plates and the waiter came by our table to collect them. He made no eye contact with me again and by then I was wondering if I had done something to him.

My brother asked for dessert, I mumbled a “nothing for me, thanks”, hoping they would think I was just on a normal diet instead of consciously refusing to add elements to my portion of the tab. I thought of how often I dreamt of that day, the one I could order as many things off a menu as I’d like and not worry about running out of money in the first few days of the month.

I looked out the window to my left. The restaurant had a big glass wall, one of those huge windows that barely separated the inside from the outside. They were so clean I could see the street as if I were in it. I loved the city. I always have, even if exhausts me. I love to feel the bustling, people absent-mindedly running from one corner to the next, bumping into each other and barely hearing when they shout sorry to one another, looking down on their phones like they lost the habit of looking up at the open sky. It may be silly, but I ever since I was little, I wanted to be one of those people, one of the runners. I wanted my life to be so busy I’d never have time, like all my time would be occupied with anything but myself.

But now, all I have is time. Literally. I look ridiculous when I try to run for the few appointments I have, appointments I purposefully leave my house late for. But even at that I fail, since my running is too slow and compared to the rest it just looks like I’m coasting.  

My brother asked our waiter for a coffee and the tab. He chugged his espresso down, collected his things and got up to kiss me on the cheek. His phone rang and he picked it up, pressing it between his tilted head and his right shoulder, mouthing he was sorry and that he had to go.

I remained seated, watching him perform his exit through the restaurant, bumping fists with the cashier, tapping our waiter on the back.

Soon enough he was beside me again, but on the other side of the window. With one hand, he buttoned his coat all the way up, waved bye to me one more time and disappeared rapidly into the flux of moving people.

I reached for my phone again. I checked and re-checked the last e-mail I had gotten from the university. Three weeks had gone by since the date they told me I should expect a final answer. It seemed like my shot, but running after it left me feeling like I was going nowhere, so what was I supposed to do next? Looking down at that shiny screen between my hands, my eyes hurt and I couldn’t recall the moment of my life where I became so fixated with the idea that there was only going to be one way, a long winding singular street that would take me out of where I was and to the place I wanted to be at. Should I not have ignored the turns? The arrow heads that pointed to other possibilities?, I kept thinking.

I looked up from my phone and saw the waiter heading towards my table again. Before he could say anything, I picked up my things and sprint to the door.

I had a feeling of what needed changing and no clue how to do it, but I wouldn’t wait any longer. I pierced my phone between my ear and shoulder and made an exit for it as fast as I could.

June 18, 2021 17:56

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