Just Another Friday at Bryant Corner Café

Photo by Larry Hoffman, used under Creative Commons.

“All through the night”

I hear Cyndi Lauper faintly over the speakers as I stare, not across the table at my husband, but down a wet and gray 32nd Ave NE. I’m trying to remember this moment. The full booths against the wall, the empty tables around us starting to fill with high schoolers freed from their usual routines. The smiley, familiar waitstaff engaged in banter with us, and I barely notice their gloves. This is the best of old Seattle — a time and place I thought were lost in the recent boom — just another neighborhood café filled with people who are glad to be here, and I’m dreaming of a day when our four-year-old is old enough to come here with his friends and laugh over good food. It’s first meal I’ve eaten out in two weeks and the last we plan to before we settle in at home for the duration. A luxury on what might be our final day with daycare.

“I’ll be with you”

Aside from the news, the only difference between today and any other Friday is the boundary I actually set with work: I haven’t checked my phone since we filled the car with gas as a preventative measure before the next presidential announcement. I’ve thought about work, I’ve talked about work, but I won’t check in on Slack for at least another hour. A remote company, we closed our offices early and plugged into Slack like a lifeline.

I’ve created this space to connect with my husband, the handsome man sitting across the table from me in his San Fransokyo t-shirt and red and gray checked overshirt. Beneath the blue plaid flat cap, he’s trying to make eye contact with me, smiling encouragingly, to share my world in the way I’ve always planned we could during a long lunch on a Friday afternoon. Except, I can’t look at him because I’m trying not to cry.

We’ve both ordered Reubens, another difference, because if you’re going to make a memory it should be the best memory. Ordinarily, I think we could have split one, but we’re trying to leave as much money here as we can — for them, for us — insurance that the long Friday lunches out will be there for us when this is all over.

Different, too, is the chill in my body. Winter’s making a last play and the garage doors aren’t much of a barrier. Not helping is the memory of our last meal here, a day when I sat in a sweater right next to the fire in a crowded room. The staff told me, too late, that I could turn it off if I needed. I was red with heat as I ate a crab sandwich — my last it turns out, as I’m developing an allergy — and we talked, laughed, and held hands. I don’t think I let work completely go, but I did relish the kid-free hour, a reminder of our first twenty years together. An existence so different from that day, from now.

Today the fireplace is broken and I’m worried about the chill. I’ve felt a variety of ailments over the past week as we all pay very close attention to our bodies. The insomnia is adrenaline, I’m certain. The afternoon aches… adrenaline hangover? They could be psychosomatic. The flush due to the hours I’ve spent sitting at my desk over a heating vent refreshing Twitter and the Johns Hopkins map. The barely noticeable rest is all upper respiratory, not the dangerous lower. I’ve checked five different diagrams. I’ve taken my temperature over and over, struggling to push the thermometer past 97°. But still I’ve washed my hands before coming and am being as careful as I can about what I touch.

“This precious time, when time is now”

I think about the elderly couple at the booth behind my husband. I was confident enough to come out, but I would be devastated to infect them and I worry despite their sitting the mandated distance away. The trouble is, no one knows who’s a carrier, not with any certainty, because there aren’t enough tests.

I tell my husband I’m glad my Djiedo is no longer alive. The first time I’ve felt any such thing. He loved Reubens. We sometimes split them. He struggled to breathe under the best of circumstances. And the nursing home would have killed him if the isolation didn’t. One hundred and four years is enough.

Another day, in another time, I think I’d be telling my husband about what I’m slowly realizing Cyndi Lauper means to me. Nightly palate cleanses with episodes of “High Fidelity” have opened conversations about music long past. I’ve told him about the note I wrote to my mom when I was six as I planned to run away: “Listen to ‘Time After Time’ and you’ll understand why.” I don’t remember if I did run away or if I was found somewhere along the five blocks to Katie Thomson’s house. Her mom’s name was Cynda.

What I want to tell him is that of the three cassettes I had as a kid, Cyndi Lauper was the one I least understood. The one I hold dearest now. Madonna was sexy the way I knew I should be. Michael Jackson and his zombies were a little scary in a way I couldn’t turn away from. As my four-year-old brother and I danced around to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” I thought Cyndi was wild and simply lots of fun. She wasn’t classically beautiful and she had that Queens accent. But behind her squeak was a woman who was straightforwardly out there. Colorful. Brave. I think I wanted to be brave like her. I still do. Especially now.

“Until it ends. There is no end”

There’s a story I read once, likely apocryphal, about Paris the day the Germans invaded and how people sat in a café and acted out their normal lives, despite not having any food. I don’t remember the details. I do remember the feeling of reading it, the value of carrying forward what you love.

Leaving the café after gobbling up our sandwiches, we leave a tip big enough to feel like a hug, but not one big enough to trigger a feeling of impending doom. No matter how I felt inside.

I don’t cry until the car. In not crying, I have once again failed to let my husband into where I am. To open the door to where he might be. I tell him the Paris story. He says he thinks a lot of people feel that way. I think he means him, too. On the way home, we leave more insurance money at Third Place Books and swing by Rising Sun to buy Minneolas for our son (who loves citrus) so he’ll have something sweet when we can no longer go out.

We’re lucky. We’re prepared. We might even have a few great chats in the coming weeks (if I can tear myself away from Slack and Twitter). But more than anything I can’t wait until we schedule our next carefree Friday at the Bryant Corner Café.

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Head of Content @Ookla. Novelist @Checkpointed & columnist @LAReviewofBooks. français polski español

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Isla McKetta, MFA

Isla McKetta, MFA

Head of Content @Ookla. Novelist @Checkpointed & columnist @LAReviewofBooks. français polski español

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