The Manchester Review

      She shrugs and sips at her tea, her lips lovely pouted, waits for him to say more about his mind, other places, but nothing else comes.
      “I like tea,” she says. “I never drank it till I came over here the first time. We’re so coffee back home.”
      “I like watching you.” His words come a sudden blurting. “You’re so pretty. You’re so pretty when you don’t know someone is watching you. You’re never prettier.”
      “Really?” It’s not a question, really, and she seems even a little distracted.
      “I want to hold you.”
      “Oh, quit it.” She touches a finger to the rim of the blue cup. “You think I don’t need to feel you hold me?”
      Her voice is hoarse saying this, and this causes his eyes to burn slightly.
      “We keep having the same conversations,” she continues. “ It never gets any better. It’s not healthy.”
      “I know.”
      “I check when you don’t e-mail at night. I look to see if the goddamn server is down. It’s ridiculous.” She reconsiders this, corrects. “I’m ridiculous.”
      You’re the only thing that brings peace to me,” he says. “You’re the only thing that ever made me happy.”
Saying this, he realizes that he means it. It is very shocking to him, this meaning. He frightens himself with a cliché.
      “Oh stop.”
      “It’s true. It happens to be true.”
      “Well, that’s what’s wrong then.”
      They sit at their corner table in silence, sipping tea, nibbling at sugary croissants. A buzz of chatter settles, neighborly. Her compatriots are photographing the walls.
      “It would be easier all around,” he says, slowly, “if you were only to . . .”
      “Meet someone else,” she says, finishing his sentence.
      It is not his intention to hurt her, or he doesn’t believe it is, and as for hurting himself, well he’s not so sure anymore.
      “More appropriate.”
      “Yes.” He considers this affirmation. “No.”
      “I can’t meet anyone I like,” she says, brushing crumbs with her palm. “It’s too late for that. I could have anyone I want. I meet guys and it seems fine and no problem and I think it’ll be okay and then they don’t want to play, chess or anything else. They can’t talk. They have nothing to say, to me, no silly stories. They bore me senseless.”
      “Well, you can’t not,” he begins, “just because. . .”
      He doesn’t know what he wants to say. There’s no because will work well here.
      “I’ll just buy that farm and raise those goats,” she says, achieving a smile.
      “I’d like to live on that farm.”
      “No, you wouldn’t. I’d be there.”
      “Oh, stop it.” He is suddenly aware of his echoing of her. Did he always repeat her words like that, realising it only now? How long has he been dreaming this?
      She sighs and looks around the tearoom at all the purples and reds.
      “Tell me something I don’t know. Something about monkeys, I always like your monkey stories.”
      “I saw Margaret last month,” he says, knowing this is not what she wants to hear. “She’s got so old, shrunk into herself. She’s withered.”
      “We all get like that.”
      “Don’t let me get like that.”
      “That’s not my call.”
      “That’s someone else’s call.”
      “I feel like we’re not talking about what we need to talk about,” he says.
      “No? I thought we just this minute were.”
      He picks up a teaspoon. He’s right way up. Flip it he’s upside down, that easy it is. But why is the spoon so cold?
      “We can’t go on,” she says. “It’s too late. We can only open a space.”
      “If I wasn’t such a craven coward. . .” he begins.
      “You’re not.” She lays her hand upon his and taps a fingernail on the ring, gently. “Come on. Let’s go back.”