I was making dinner. The same thing I made every night I could be bothered or sober enough to cook. A cheap packet of pork thrown into a skillet at high heat. Burned too long to remove the fear of bacteria, afterwards doused in soy sauce. Maybe a few frozen green beans when they were around and only if I had a desire to be healthy. A cup of wine within easy reach is standard.
I had tossed in tonight’s package when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I expected another spam from one of the sex mailing lists I’d managed to get on to somehow. I slipped the red brick I called my cell out with the left hand while stirring the night’s dinner with the right. My fingers were halfway through the deletion routine before I realized the name belonged to someone I’d actually met before.
“Can I come over?” she said.
Fuck. “Now’s not a good time. Cooking dinner.” I typed. Flip the pork, done on one side.
Another buzz. “I got off the train a second ago. I’ll be there in a few minutes. I want to talk to you.”
Shit on a stick. I couldn’t do much except stand around, cooking, and wait for the conversation I really didn’t want to have to show up at my door. I had just thrown on the soy sauce when she did.
She forgot to knock. I’m not sure where she got the idea this was appropriate but I let her assumption slide. Though the fact I’d unlocked the door after her last message had nothing to do with my slight sense of indignation. She started to take off her shoes.
“Do you mind if I finish making dinner?” I said, “You caught me by surprise here.”
She stared at me, pausing for a moment before giving a hurried nod. I can only admit it now, but this was a bit of a cruel move on my part. To act as if I had inconvenienced her even though she’d showed up at my door mostly unannounced. Yeah, I chose to be a dick. I’d made plans to do little more than eat and fuck around on the internet. Now I must put up with this.
I didn’t invite her in. So she stood in the doorway. I focused my attention to the pan of food. Silence stretched between us while my meal burned.
“I came to talk” she said.
“Oh yeah? About what?” A terrible thing to say but I’d already had my mind set. This needed to end fast, I was hungry. She crossed her arms and looked around, grasping for something in the small hallway which housed my sink and hot plate to focus her attention on besides me. The only other options were the washing machine and the door to the bathroom so she had few choices left to her. I switched off the heat.
“I just,” she stopped. “I just thought I should come here to discuss us.”
“And what about us? As far as you seemed concerned there is no us,” I said. I turned on the hot water and began to wash my rice bowl. Anything to do to keep from having to acknowledge our shared pain.
“That’s not what I wanted,” she said. “Not exactly.”
“Well you could have fooled me,” I said. I splashed some water around the sink in a dramatic manner.
“I just don’t know what I want right now.”
“What is this? Some sort of half-baked TV drama from back home?” I said, the volume of my voice rising a bit more than I intended. I turned off the water to keep it from going to waste.
This was about the time she started to cry.
“Stop,” I said, “Please…”
“I don’t know what I’m feeling right now,” she said. Yeah, that was the last thing I needed to hear.
“You don’t know how you feel?” I said, “I told you exactly what the deal was the time you spent the night! If you wanted to do this you had the chance right then and there.”
I rattled some of the dirty dishes in the sink because I had no better way to express my frustration at the moment.
“I’m sorry… You just do something to me that I can’t understand.” Her tears came a little stronger now but she did an admirable job of putting up with my bullshit.
“Well what the fuck does that mean?” I said “If you haven’t noticed by now I’m not someone who’s big on uncertainties.”
“You told me you were in love with someone else.”
That was true. At least the part about how I had mentioned those words to her as we lay together in the night. Did I believe it at the time? I wasn’t sure. The other girl in question had a disturbing habit of not replying to my emails for months at a time.
“I said if you wanted to be together I would embrace the idea. But if you didn’t, I’d rather you back off me because I don’t like or need a halfway pseudo-relationship.” I gripped the frying pan handle and gave it a few shakes to keep the sauce from congealing.
“So,” I said without looking up, “Are you done? Because I still need to eat dinner here.”
She shook her head as if waking from a disappointing dream.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Can you still make your last train?” She glanced at her wristwatch. She gave a stiff nod and muttered something that sounded affirmative.
“Good,” I said, “See you around then.” I grabbed my bowl before finally walking into the other room where the rice cooker sat patiently, waiting for me to collect its bounty. I listened to the sounds of her putting on her shoes, the heavy click of the door as it swung shut.
So we’d cleared everything up. Which was good, because I had food to eat.