By Noah Ruderman
The pie tasted like cardboard, and the room stank of bleach. I was sitting in my usual seat at the end of the counter when I met Sarah. It was a Tuesday morning. Her dusty blonde hair pulled back, she smiled like only a pretty girl can smile. I pretended not to notice, but she was too smart for that.
Six years ago I sat on the dock of Bartlett Lake, holding Joshua. As the sun set, a cool breeze skimmed the water, a hint of summers looming end. Five months into the world, Joshua was fast asleep, his tiny eyes closed to the darkening sky. As the shadows from the forest swayed back and forth, I prayed he was dreaming of happiness.
Sarah took off her jacket and carefully rested it against the dingy chair. I wondered how old she was. I guessed thirty-four but that was only a guess. Her face was sprinkled with freckles. She didn't look anything like Laura. That was my first impression.
Joshua's hands were white, just like when he was born. It was a Tuesday morning. I remember thinking how insignificant this day must be to everyone else. Everyone but those of us standing in that cramped hospital room, waiting for a moment that had already passed.
"I have to confess. I've noticed you before."
I looked over, surprised.
"You were sitting in that same seat last week. I think it was also a Tuesday." She spoke with confidence.
"I come here every Tuesday." My voice was soft.
"Can I ask why?"
She noticed my hesitation.
"He loved the pie."
I wanted to cry. I wanted to ridicule God. I wanted to not matter. But I was helpless. Laura stared at me, her eyes burning. She leaned against my chest, as if I could help her. I couldn't. And from that day on, I never would.
"You're married?" She asked.
I shook my head.
"But you were?"
"I could tell. Even before I met you."
"You have that look."
"Like you're angry."
"Why couldn't I just be angry?"
"You're not, are you?"
Sarah leaned over and placed her hand on mine. It was the first time in nine months that I'd been touched by a woman. It felt strange, like feelings can.
I glanced out the window. A young girl was racing her bicycle down the sidewalk. It was a bright red bike, just like Joshua's. I wondered what would become of that bike.
Almost involuntarily, I pulled my hand away.
"It's not about being scared."
"Then what is it?"
Sarah brushed her hair back. She reminded me of Monica Jennings, a girl I met on the third day of freshman year. Monica had blue eyes, just like Sarah.
"I don't... I can't..." I thought of the simplicity of silence.
"To let yourself have a moment."
I stared at Sarah, her face white.
"Even if that's all it is."
The waitress walked over.
"What can I get you?"
Sarah looked up and smiled.
"I'll take the pie."
Joshua slowly opened his eyes. He looked up at me, his eyes begging for answers. Laura sat down beside me, dipping her naked legs into the cold water. I wanted to tell him everything.
I thought of standing up and heading back to my apartment. Back to my nineteen inch television, my grimy microwave, molding tiles, dusty couch and stiff bed. Back to my nothing life.
Instead, I watched as Sarah poked her fork into the pie and took a bite. She chewed slowly yet assuredly.