By Tim Seyfert
We went to Chef Chow’s, one of Palo Alto’s hidden gems. Jenny and I were the only ones in the restaurant. It was nine-thirty on a Tuesday night. There was nothing left to say, but I couldn’t handle the silence, so I talked for both of us.
“He had a twin,” I said. “There were two of these guys.”
Jenny stayed mute as she lazily poked at her Szechuan Chicken with a chopstick.
“His brother was stillborn,” I said. “Came out minutes before Elvis.”
“Kinda nuts when you think about it,” I said.
Jenny let the chopstick fall onto her plate. “Why is that nuts?” she asked, her soft English accent laced with annoyance.
“Just makes you wonder,” I said. “What if Elvis had been the one who’d died?”
Jenny looked through me like she was tuning in to a conversation across the room, then turned to look out the window. I followed her gaze outside. The rain had stopped, and the light from the streetlamps made the street glisten like metal.
“Can we go home now?” Jenny asked, zipping up her hoodie.
It was strange to hear her call it that—home.
I signaled for the bill and the waitress brought it over with two fortune cookies. I cracked one open; it read, “Land is always on the mind of the flying bird.”
Jenny held up her wallet, but I waved it away. I tried to remember a time before when she had ever offered to pick up a check. I couldn’t, and seeing her do it just then unnerved me. I threw down some cash and stood.
Back at the apartment, we went our separate ways. Jenny disappeared into the bedroom; I went out to the balcony. I saw no need to pretend anymore. I usually only smoked at work where I was able to keep up the guise I’d quit. I kept a pack under the floor mat of my jeep and lit the first of the day on my morning commute. My last one was always around five o’clock, followed by a routine delousing in the staff bathroom with mouthwash and cologne. Out there on the balcony I sucked down two in a row.
When I was done, I went to the bedroom. Jenny was on the bed spacing out. She looked exhausted. She turned to me and we stared at each other for a while until she got up and came to stand by the window. She held herself tight as if she was cold, and her face was blank. “Will you just fuck me?” she asked.
I looked at the ground, then went to her.
Her commotion woke me. The harsh morning light poured in through the window. I rubbed my eyes and sat up to watch her. She was already dressed and moving in and out of the bedroom, opening drawers and stuffing things into a suitcase on the bed. Inside the suitcase, on top of her clothes, was a Ziploc bag of condiments from the fridge—plastic bottles of ketchup, mustard, and relish. I didn’t ask.
The car was quiet on the drive to the airport. It wasn’t until we took the exit for SFO that she spoke. “Could you just drop me at the curb?” she asked.
I pulled into the departure’s terminal outside British Airways, then asked if she wanted help with her bag. She just shook her head and got out. I watched her retrieve her luggage through the rearview mirror, then went to join her at the back of the jeep.
“What are you doing?” she asked, slamming the lift gate shut.
“Is there anything else I could do?”
She stared at me for a moment. “Just make sure the money goes through,” she said.
“I will,” I said. “You’ll have it by the end of the week.”
A porter offered to take Jenny’s suitcase, and she let him. We watched him load the bag onto a trolley.
“So, I guess that’s it,” she said.
I let her statement hang in the air for a moment, then said, “This doesn’t have to be goodbye forever.”
Jenny looked at me as if she didn’t register my words and bit her lip. “I suppose I’m not going to get to do this again,” she said, wrapping her arms loose around me.
I hugged her back and for a while we held each other. She let go, then looked at me; her expression was a scrawled mix of emotion.
“Goodbye,” she said, almost whispering, before disappearing through the revolving door into the terminal.
I watched the door spin as different people came in and out. The sight lulled me into a trance until a car honk jolted me to, a yellow cab indicating toward my spot. I got back into my jeep and gave the spinning door a final look before pulling away.
I got back onto the highway toward home, even though I didn’t want to go there. When I reached Palo Alto, I blew past my exit and kept heading south. Soon I was beyond the Bay Area, pushing eighty toward Monterey. I had no destination, no plan, no thought of what the next few seconds would bring. I looked at my hand clutching the steering wheel. The light caught the platinum band on my finger. I thought about taking it off, but I didn’t. Instead I just reached for the pack of cigarettes under the floor mat.