by Brady Gerber
There is no joy. There is only pain. I slither, like the snake I am, into this forsaken Eden to feast, hard and long. It is the lunch happy hour. The hostess — a Charon shepherding lost souls into damnation! — escorts me up to the escalators and back to a corner table. She smiles. I wanted a booth.
I am now in Tuscany, which smells like yellow crayon and the fingernails of cool teens. I order a Diet Dr. Pepper. A table near me starts singing “Happy Birthday” and I pretend to be a fish. I observe the room. I see two kinds of people: I see dressed-down foreign tourists, curious to taste “authentic American Italian cuisine,” and I see vacationing Americans craving the familiar comforts of authentic Italian cuisine. Abercrombie & Fitch burgundy hides everywhere like a shrimp.
I wish to scream. I toot. The table next to me seats a family too large and too timid, holding several Wicked playbooks. They try not to stare at me. We can’t help it; we can’t help ourselves or anyone else. I know they want me to take a family photo. I stare back, hoping to frighten them with my greasy legs. The father, wearing an “I Got A Case Of The Mondays” t-shirt, is not impressed.
My server (fool!) returns. She asks if I have any questions. I have so many. Am I ugly? Do you know my father? Do I know my father? Do we exist outside this room, in any and all realms of existence? Or are we just flickers of dust, falling and flailing towards nothing at the speed of some bland scientific method in this one doomed moment? She leaves. I look out the window. The Black Eyed Peas play at a reasonable volume. I see a couple in front of me snuggling on one side of a table. I wish to take a loaf of bread and stick it into someone’s ear. My server returns with The Alfredo. I finish it and I look down at my plate. My meal, mushed and desecrated, resembles a squashed, enlightened bug. A mirror! A mirror into my soul! The server comes back. We both know this is our last exchange; we’re so glad and mournful for something so intimate to end.
“Do you need change?” she asks. I need you. I love you.
I leave a ten percent tip and I run outside. I rejoin my fellow souls wandering through the endless shadows we create for ourselves. Across the square, I spot myself; a shell of me hangs around what used to be the Guy Fieri’s.
No joy, only pain.