Jackson Pollock had his can of paint. He and my father were not so different.
I was walking slowly. I like to pretend I'm carefree. I was late to dinner with my father. He has a tendency to be angry if people aren't on time. He also threatens to hit people with a two by four from time to time. I'm sure our conversation was a necessary one, something about money I spent and didn't have, but I was busy patting my pockets. Apparently I had locked my keys in my apartment. That meant I had to try to find an open window. My landlord isn't a very active man and seems very irritated when you make him move. I would do anything to avoid getting looks that were less than kind, and I knew asking for the spare key would merit such a glance. That's what was on my mind.
The Italian restaurant glowed. I knew it was too expensive for both of us but I didn't really feel too terrible. It was his choice, after all. I stood outside and dropped a cigarette to the sidewalk. I would hear that lecture, too. I knew life was too short. I've heard all of those things before. The chill air was perfect though. I couldn't differentiate the smoke from my breath, and the fog swallowed my movements. As perfect as the cold air was, the sky was miserable. Not a good grey miserable, but a black and hopeless one. The kind that makes you want to go home and put in some Adam Sandler movie and sit under a fleece blanket and drink soup until the sun comes up, and then do it all over again.
I walked into the restaurant, forgetting that my father and I had things to talk about. I saw the girl immediately, though. She was maybe sixteen. Maybe. Girls look so old now. I swear I used to be able to tell you how old every single girl I saw was. Not anymore. I start talking to some girl I think at least my age, and I find out she just made it into high school. I've been out of high school for five years. Something isn't right.
She was sitting in the corner, at the romantic two-seater that has no direct light above it, and is just out of the sight of the largest portion of the room. It was the corner in the back, where no one can hear the romantic couples, and no one can see the love glide between them over glasses of sparkling grape juice popping with each confession of pure loyalty that only exists at that table, lingering for a while and then disappearing like the snuffed out flame from the tall candle on the table at the end of the night.
The rolling waiter looked at my tight jeans and decided I wasn't worth his time. I love that. I could tell you a million different things that I heard in high school about how I can be myself and no one would care, but that has never been true. People stare, but then again, I know I would too. I'm a funny looking guy.
He wasn't very normal looking either, though. Grease in his hair, gross skin, mustache hair with grease. Even his shirt was stained with all kinds of different food. When he finally came to me to help me find "the rest of my party," I had been able to have my eyes drawn to the girl again three times. I wasn't staring, but that booth was so romantic and designed for her, it made me twitch, thinking about how someone might have stood her up. I couldn't help looking her over.
What's worse is I found my father sitting at a booth along the wall opposite the corner, in the well-lit section of the restaurant. Perfectly placing her in my line of sight. I felt terrible the whole time. We were already going to be talking about how life isn't all rainbows and how I can't possibly eat without a real job. It was terrible.
She was what you could only call young and plain. Her brown hair caressed her pale cheeks while she wavered into a smile and then a frown, not sure if anyone noticed she was sitting alone in the corner, waiting on someone. I could see the sadness in her eyes, almost dripping into the coffee in front of her. Her dark red sweater was beginning to fade, and the sleeves were long enough for her to cover her hands with them as she cradled the coffee with slender arms lifting the black cup to her light red lips. When a girl that sweet looks that lonely, you can't help but want to cry. Every time I saw the eyes drip with sadness, I felt my eyes swelling up. Nothing like tears, it's worse. A girl can get mad and rage up and down for days on end, but nothing compares to a girl that's sad. I would rather have someone hit me between the eyes with a two by four than have a girl say that she's sad.
My father's balding head was facing me. When he looked down was when he got serious. He sighed and looked up at me, signaling that he was again ready to talk. I knew that our main conversation was over, as I could hear the small talk questions beginning. We chatted like the matters of money, living, spouses, credit, and so on had never existed. I hate that. Covering up what you came for with talking about school or work or writing or whatever it is you want to talk about. Forget it.
But when the rolling waiter brought the check, my father pointed at the girl in the corner with a slight lift of his calloused finger and said, "I'll take her check, too." She never looked up or looked over, with her tiny, shining eyes staring straight at the door, still waiting.
Jackson Pollock had his paint, but my father had a lot less to work with.
BIO: Wesley McMasters is a fiction writer and poet living in Orono, Maine. He received a B.A. in Letters, Arts, and Sciences in 2010 from Penn State and is currently a teaching assistant and M.A. candidate in the English Department at the University of Maine. He has also published work in Girls with Insurance.