He’d been sitting there 30 minutes when he saw her walking up the steps to the terrace that divided Captain Roy’s Seafood Restaurant and Cocktail Bar from the local Starbucks.
She walked with a determined grace. She’d never looked better. She looked amazing.
On the table in front of him was an empty Dos Equis bottle and an ashtray which already held two stubbed out cigarettes. As he caught sight of her, he lit another.
She came over and sat down across from him. In her smart business suit, expensive sunglasses. He caught a whiff of Coco Chanel. She lay a flat leather organizer on the table.
“You won’t be smoking like this in public much longer Paul,” she told him, “the city has an ordinance against it.”
“Katherine,” he replied, “always with the legalese. Don’t you ever take a break from it?”
“If I’d wanted a break I wouldn’t have put myself thru law school.”
“How…how have you been?” he asked her.
“Oh, if you couldn’t tell,” she told him, “I’m quite fine. You?”
“Me, I mean, the usual. You know. Looking for work.”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m looking for work. Glad you find that so amusing.”
“Paul. You were looking for work in Kansas City.”
“Right. It was different then, babe. Times were hard.”
“You were looking for work in Omaha.”
The arrival of the waiter interrupted them.
She ordered coffee. Speaking tersely. Black. No sugar. He remembered that tone of voice. Flat, listless. It was the voice of a woman long hopeless. It was the voice he remembered hearing, in the weeks before he was taken away.
He felt her eyes search him. Examine every inch of his soul.
“I’m sick,” he said suddenly. The words hung there.
“Stop portraying yourself as a victim,” she told him.
“Kath, please…” he mumbled.
“Please,” she mimicked. “Please?”
“I helped put you thru school,” he lied.
She stared at him.
“It, it wasn’t my fault. I was trying,” he pleaded.
“Paul. Paul, look. Let me tell you how it’s been. I worked 12 hours a day. Factories, diners, truck stops. I got felt up daily by men old enough to be my father. They left 20-dollar tips. So I let them.”
“Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry,” he said. He rubbed his hand over his chin. He hadn’t shaved in three days. He lit another cigarette.
She looked at him. His boyish good looks long gone. Haggard, worn out. Scarred now. Where a wild punch from a prison lifer had almost cost him an eye.
“You dropped out of school. Then you got me pregnant. I was almost eighteen. My mother had to go and argue for me. So I could graduate.”
“But…I loved you Kath…you remember, I loved you…”
“Don’t make me laugh,” she answered.
“I stayed with you, I…I was at your side,” he stammered.
“You stayed because it was convenient for you to stay,” she said, raising her voice at him for the first time. “What jobs are you looking for, that you speak of now. You worked in a shoe factory until it went bust. We lived in a Section 8 trailer; we needed food stamps just to survive.”
“It was a roof over our heads.”
“The sour dope deals, the frigging meth lab. Cops raiding us in the middle of the night.”
“I kept you out of it, didn’t I? Who did the time?”
“Oh, you did the time, Paul. You did do that.”
A man walked up, smooth, polished. He approached their table.
“This is my attorney,” she said. She never mentioned a name.
Paul nodded. The man smiled.
“Kath,” he said dumbly, “that stuff…it’s…it’s in the past … it’s over.”
“Yes. Yes, Paul, it is most certainly over.”
“Ancient history,” he muttered carelessly.
The man held an envelope in his hand. He removed a document, folded in thirds. He unfolded it and laid it on the table in front of Paul.
Divorce Decree and Child Custody Agreement – Final.
They got up and walked away without another word, the unnamed attorney and his now former wife. They walked arm in arm. He saw the man kiss her on the cheek.
Their departure coincided with the arrival of her coffee. He looked at it. He looked at the steam rising off the black bitter cup like fog whose destiny was to consume ships like lives.