[For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, The Baking Barrister gave me this prompt:' "Do you know how to say 'peace' in Italian?" he asked. "No, but I can say 'I love you' in 12 languages," she replied.'
I gave Kirsten Piccini this prompt: "How could I forget?"]
"Do you know how to say 'peace' in Italian?," he asked. He was doing The New York Times crossword, trying to ignore the silent phones they had placed in the center of the table. They were having a late breakfast, soft croissants with butter and jam, strong coffee, and reading. She was seated opposite him, her face in a book of Lorrie Moore short stories. She didn't want to look at the silent phones either.
"No, but I can say 'I love you' in 12 languages," she replied. They were dressed, but just barely. He was rumpled and unshaven, wearing an untucked blue dress shirt over dark jeans with black basketball sneakers. She wore leggings and soft suede boots, with a t shirt and a long cardigan over it all. Her hair was pulled back into a sloppy bun, one rebellious curl hanging over her eye like a comma.
He had urged her to come out for breakfast, arguing that the walk and the outside air would do them good. He also observed that a little activity would distract them from the call they were both waiting for, the call that they both lusted for and feared. He finally won the day by pointing out that there was precious little to eat or drink in the house. They dressed quickly and decamped for the nearest coffee shop, a faux retro place that pretended to be old and dark, but wound up just looking like it was trying too hard.
"Oh? Which ones?"
"French, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Mandarin, Cantonese, Danish, Tagalog, Basque, and Arabic."
"That's only ten."
"Well, English, too. And American Sign."
"Oh. What possessed you to learn that?"
She took a sip of coffee. "College. We did a project one year, where we tried to make a video with "I love you" in as many languages as we could find. I just found it fascinating, and I just decided to memorize as many as I could. I used to know over 30."
"You never cease to amaze me."
"I'm glad," she said. He took a bite of croissant and started chewing it. She returned to her book. The phones did not ring. Their coffees continued to cool. She got up and added some more cream to hers. She sat back down, crossing her legs again. People came in and out of the coffee shop. Kids chewed on sugary treats. Dogs waited outside patiently for owners to return. Time passed.
"Tagalog," he said.
"What?," she replied.
"Say 'I love you' in Tagalog."
"You don't believe me?"
"Just say it," he said.
"Ana Behibak." A woman with very pretty eyes, her hair covered, turned her head to look as she said it. The woman continued past with a bottle of water and a banana.
"How do I know you're not just making these up?"
"You don't believe me?," she said, her voice betraying a little hurt.
"I just don't know whether or not these are real."
"My word isn't enough?"
"Of course it is," he said. "I'm just giving you a hard time."
"Well don't," she said.
They sat together. The phones didn't ring. He finished his coffee and got up to get more.
She watched his easy physical grace over the top of her book, something that was once so appealing. He played baseball at a high level at the university where they met, until a slide from an Iowa State baserunner destroyed his left knee. He still carried himself like the star he was, and it made her stomach hurt to watch him now. Other women watched him when he moved, their eyes following him, then darting back to her and probably finding her wanting. She stared at the phones, willing them to ring. She wanted to know, whatever the answer was- not knowing, being suspended between the two poles, was killing her.
He came back and sat down. She watched him return to the puzzle, tapping the point of his pen on the paper.
"Mandarin?," he said.
"Shut up," she said as she got up from the table. She closed her paperback and put it into her bag, and grabbed her phone.
"You don't think I'd tell you?," he said. "When they call?"
"Shut up," she said. She walked into the back and went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door of the stall. She stood there for a moment, thinking about the call that hadn't come. She wanted to throw up, more for the mental purgation than the physical relief. She thought about a movie she saw once where someone made an escape through a bathroom window, then she thought about that Beatles song. She looked down at her flawed body, too small breasts and too large thighs and sweaty and matted and gross and bitter and nasty and pure, focused fuckedupedness, and she suddenly saw herself getting away from him, away from this, away from it all. She'd take all the pills in her handbag if she didn't believe she'd probably get that wrong too.
"Didn't anybody tell her?," she sang softly to herself. "Didn't anybody see?"
Nobody told her, she thought. Nobody saw.