She introduces herself as Mercy
when she greets me alone at my dinner table:
a college girl from the local university down the street
with a purple Greek Life lanyard around her neck
and hair splashing out of her bun from working two shifts that day,
regurgitating to me some corporate mantra
of dinner and dessert specials
she memorized so well that she wakes up
her sorority sisters at night
from whispering it in her sleep.
And everything is going to plan,
the mood is set like a kitchen timer
as the manager is pushing plates into the dining room
while patrons fork over the last
of their Tuscany Bruschetta.
And as I hand her over the menu,
she asks me that final question,
the one she has probably inquired
countless times today without a second impulse,
but the same one
that suddenly makes my palms slippery
and my chest flutter like a bunch of startled pigeons
on the ledge of a skyscraper,
flying back to four years ago
where if I close my eyes just right,
I can still picture those nights:
the taste of linoleum, the grainy breath,
the maybe you should talk to someone insertions
as my reality attempted a tightrope trick during a tremor.
Nowadays I can’t go anywhere to eat without questioning
the ingredients in my food or when I need to wash my hands like a prayer
every time I open another bottle of a fine year for my lover,
and hear the you don’t have explain yourself dialogue from friends
while their ears are cracked open like confession boxes.
So I’ll order a club soda and lime tonight,
and before she can give me a reaction
I look for the getaway car of our conversation,
and place my eyes on the television screen above
watching as she vanishes with my order like an apparition in a dream.
Only to return seconds later,
sneaking my drink in front of me
while I read delayed subtitles on the Evening News
about a ninety year old man
who fell on a sheet of black ice this morning,
yet refused to have anyone help him
because he wanted to do it himself,
and claimed to the caffeine ridden newscaster:
We all have a floor
to rise from.
So I place the sour fruit wedge
between the blades of my teeth,
bite down and sip the bitterness from the pith,
chewing on what’s left,
until I break the rind.