She sits at one end of the ramen bar, impatiently tapping her DSW heel on the hard wood floor. She is looking at the laminated menu and trying really hard not to look at the door. She keeps flicking her phone screen on and off, waiting for an “I’m outside” or “I’m around the block” or “I’m actually too busy to make it” text but so far one hasn’t rolled in. The restaurant is smaller than her apartment, which is pretty dang small, and the waitress keeps smiling at her, which makes her really uncomfortable and also really anxious.
“You want something to drink?” Marina declines and presses her lips together inwhat could be a smile if you really contorted her face or if you shut your eyes or something.
The waitress scurries through the black doors of the kitchen. Marina takes another sip of water. Her CVS lipstick leaves a pink film on the edge of the glass. The film fools herself into believing she’s an adult.
She taps her back-in-the-limo nails on the faux bamboo table and chews on her lip. It’s a nervous habit, and her parents tried desperately to break it when she was young. They failed, and the inside of her mouth was decorated with tiny scars from years of chewing.
A mother and a daughter sit four seats down the bar. At least, she has inferred that it’s a mother and a daughter, and so that is the story she is going to stick with in her mind. They’re finished eating, and the waitress is not subtly trying to shoo them out, but they’re too absorbed in their conversation to notice.
“It’s really hard to hear you say this. Hard and scary.” The daughter looks back at her nearly empty bowl. A few noodles float sadly on the surface of the oily broth.
“I know. I know it is. But I really feel like this time is different.”
“You’ve said this before.”
The door opens, and the “super-like” screen of her Tinder is standing in the hearth. They make eye contact, he smiles warmly, she sits up straighter. The waitress scurries over to ask him about seating, but he gestures to her and makes his way over. “Marina, hi.” Picks up the plastic menu, kisses her on the cheek. She’s weirded out, sort of, but she overlooks it.
The next time Marina looks, the daughter has tears welling up in her eyes. Little streams down her cheeks. A lot of freckles. So does Marina.
“So, did you order?” Her focus shifts back to him. He is as cute as he was online. Tall, shaven. Whatever else constitutes cute. Wearing a trench coat. But she’s distracted.
“No, no, I was waiting for you.” She smiles, and he smiles, and she knows already that it would have been better if he had stood her up and she had eaten her sad, lonely noodles in solitude. If she had gotten to listen to the rest of the conversation and if only she had answers as to why this little girl was sitting in a ramen bar crying.
“I usually get the spicy one. Frick, what is it called, what is it called. . .” He flips the menu over, and she allocates the chewing to her cheek.
The waitress comes over, and her pseudo smile is another round of daggers. The inauthenticity of it all makes Marina want to vomit. He orders a Diet Coke, with lemon please. Smiles. Starts talking about his hedge fund. Smiles all the while.
“You have no idea Mom. You have no idea what it’s been like. What it is still like.” The girl’s voice is raised, and she’s staring blankly at the empty water glass in front of her. The waitress won’t refill it because she wants them to leave. They’re taking up space they aren’t paying for anymore. The girl wipes the tears from her chin.
“I know.” It’s so soft Marina almost doesn’t catch it.
“So then, my coworker says to me, I hope you know that that will never work. And I said George, I hope you know you sound like an ass. And then when it did work, he couldn’t look me in the eye. And so that was that. God, let me tell you Marina, the nerve of some people.” He sounds invested in the bullshit spewing out of his mouth, but Marina is less convinced. She presses her lips together again and scrunches up her nose and nods her head.
“So, tell me about you.” He smiles with his teeth, which makes her stomach lurch. They are perfect and straight, of course, but they are also unnecessary. She wants to ask him just how excited he is for her to tell him about her. She wants to ask him what he is so god damn happy about.
“Sweetheart, I would do anything for you.”
“Except get sober.” They both stare wildfires into the white wall three feet in front.
“Well, this is always where I fail at first dates, I guess. I’m pretty average, I think.” They exchange a disingenuous laugh and she tucks her hair behind her ear.
“Please, someone as pretty as you? I refute that out of hand.”
She bites her lip to keep from scoffing.
“I’m trying my best honey.”
“Your best isn’t good enough.”
She racks her brain for something to say. If she was more engaged, she would rack her brain harder. Maybe she would even start a real, meaningful conversation. Say something like “I’m getting a graduate degree in developmental psychology” or “My ex boyfriend died in a freak accident three years ago and I haven’t gotten laid since” or even “My cat has a heart murmur.”
“Er, my favorite color is orange.” Her lips press together again in her infamous pseudo smile.
The mother and daughter stand up, collecting their things, collecting themselves. “Have a good night,” the waitress says thickly, and the mother smiles. “Thank you,” she says, but the daughter is already pushing the door open. Marina wants to get up, chase them out. Ask why the ramen-bar and why tonight and where are they going and can she come?
“So is mine.”
She knows he’s lying because of the small pause between her statement and his response. Just long enough to process, debate, respond.
She knows he’s lying but then, so is she.
Her favorite color is purple.