• Arleigh Rodgers

Small Talk

Updated: Feb 17, 2019

I look across the dining hall and see them. I look for seconds at a time, focusing on the pitch of his voice and the metallic click when her fork meets her plate. They’re laughing. I catch the middle of the conversation, hiding myself behind the computer screen I’m not paying attention to.

“Okay. Okay. Say we’re, like, living in a world where we’re supposed to die on certain days. Like, you’re supposed to die on September ninth or something. But then you wake up on the tenth. What would you do?”

And he’s off. He’s whooping over the subtle roar of the lunch crowd, rounding off the theory catapulting through his mind. He bites into a corner of his sandwich. His mouth is still full, but his only company at the small table, a girl with straight brown hair and a pointed nose, has mastered navigation around his muffled ramblings. I can tell by the way she nods.

“Maybe you really are dead, and you just don’t know it,” she says. “Maybe that’s what happens.”

“Mmm, I don’t know,” he says. “There’s probably some government conspiracy thing happening, but no one can talk about it. So maybe when you wake up you’re invisible or something. And you’re alive, but you’re not,” he says. He presses his fist into his chin, cracking his knuckles. Watching her.

“That doesn’t make any sense. And I really wish you wouldn’t do that. It’s so gross,” she says. He smiles. Knowing. The smile reaches and opens up his eyes. Like two little fingers draw apart his eyelids and hook their tips under the corners of his lips. Like he’s privy to the thoughts in her head. He moves his hand onto the table. Their worlds inch a little closer.

“Did I tell you about my dream last night?” Her hand on the table too. I think her name is Lauren. She was in my freshman seminar. I think he was too. Teddy. He’s still smiling. I open up Facebook.

“I wrote it down in the notes on my phone because it was so crazy,” she says. She’s animated; she talks with her hands. On Lauren’s profile it says she’s a waitress at the Krusty Krab. Likely. She pulls out her phone and reads from it.

“It was you and me and some other person we knew in the dream, but we don’t know them in real life, I don’t think. We were getting drunk, but it was scary in some way. Like, the walls were dark, but that’s really all I can remember. More of a feeling. But suddenly we were in this fancy restaurant, and I knew the all the answers to the questions the waitresses were asking me because these little dessert-people were sitting on my shoulder and telling me what to say.”

Laughing again. Teddy rubs his eyes for a second, squeezing the final drops of laughter-tears from his eyes. Teddy’s facebook photo is a picture of him with Lauren at the top of a nearby mountain. His hand encircles her hip. They’re laughing and looking at each other, like they are now.

“That’s exactly what I wrote on my phone, I can show you!”

“Did the dessert-people on your shoulder tell you what would happen if you were supposed to die on September ninth and instead woke up on the tenth?”

No sound. She ignores him. I don’t have to wait long.

“Are you ignoring me?” Mocking. Flirting.

“Maybe that’s what would happen if you died and woke up, or didn’t die, whatever. Maybe people know when other people die, so they just start ignoring them.” Lauren says, finally. She doesn’t post on Facebook that much, but Teddy does. He shares cooking videos and conspiracy theory articles and pictures of dogs.

“Maybe I’m just dead.”

“That would make sense because there’s something deep inside me that really wants to ignore you!” She says this laughing. Deeply, the full “Ha!” polished and vibrant. She wants him to listen.

“Or maybe that world just doesn’t exist, and we’re contemplating something that will never happen,” he says. I wonder if he’s appeasing her. Their hands are off the table. She’s still smiling.

“Maybe. I guess we’ll never know. Maybe it’s happening right now, but we’re in a different universe, so we’ll never know,” she finishes. End of conversation.

He looks at her with unveiled interest, fountainheads and green flares erupting in his eyes as he watches her sit and smile and cough on the other side of the booth. She eats her food. He looks away. I close my laptop.


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