The phone rings and you avoid answering it. It’s late. Ten post meridian is late for you. You’ve already been to bed and in your pajama bottoms. By the sixth ring, the caller gives up. Over, so you think, but within seconds it rings again. You opt to pick it up this time, sourly thinking this better be good.
All of a sudden your heart stops, then you smile. You know the voice. An image swirls through your mind and you listen to Eliana’s voice. She tells you she’s just blowing back into town after a long interstate drive. She said she’d just taken a trip down South. She said she wanted to be back where it was warm. Back where she could get back her accent. It didn’t matter about the rednecks; she just wanted to be home for a while.
She tells you she never tossed your number. She said she’s dying to see you, she’s sorry she woke you.
“Where are you?” you ask.
“At a diner.” She said it with a fetching magnolia drawl.
“Why don’t you come here?”
“It’s better that you come here. I mean I want to talk to you about us,” she says. “I don’t want to start anything, right away. I just want to see you.”
You ask her where the diner is. “I’m at the Flameburger. I won’t keep you up late,” she says.
“You know me. I already think it’s late.”
“Then I won’t keep you up too much later.”
You promise her you will be there in fifteen minutes. It’s ten minutes away. You throw on a T-shirt and some clunky shoes and wrap yourself up in a bulky black overcoat. Outside the icy wind whips your hair around angrily as you make your way down the road, but all of a sudden you stop short. You stand still.
You just can’t do it.
You just can’t make yourself go there and say, “Really, really…” and lift the coffee cup to your lips as she talks about the sweetness of Raleigh. You can’t smile, and you can’t order a hamburger and laugh and pick up the check because she says, “No, no, I’ll cover it,” and you say, “Well, okay,” as you smile and spring for the tip.
You remember the last time you saw her she was with another girl buying cards at the only gay women’s bookstore in town. When you saw her with the girl, you smiled to stop the emptiness that filled you up inside—it’s only a matter of time, the lesbian population in Madison is so incestuous: relationships and marriage and contortion. You’d see the two and over again, not only at your bookstore, but at your dance club and your part of the park.
No one belongs to anyone, and now she wants to talk and have coffee at the Flameburger. You can’t do it, not again.
You start walking back to your apartment. You are now walking against the wind, and the wind is kind. You wonder if Eliana would have employed the old standbys, I knew it wouldn’t last between her and me… I didn’t love her… I only love…
For you, that would be so nice to hear in a born-again Southern accent, even nicer to believe as you re-enter your sparse apartment, alone.
Allison Whittenberg is a Philadelphia native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored, and The Sane Asylum.