I’m sitting across from Jane in the outdoor area of my favorite Indian restaurant in Los Angeles. She’s dressed casually. Her hair, longer than the last time I saw her, is falling out of her hood that she has pulled up, perhaps because she is cold. The courtyard of the restaurant is shaded and peaceful as usual, a vine-covered fountain in the corner adding a trickle of background noise to our conversation. She’s doing most of the talking, her brown eyes brimming with tears as she describes to me her feeling about this man she’s been dating who may or may not be ending things.
“I’m cursed,” she says, covering her mouth dramatically, and I think about curses.
I’ve heard of curses being passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, or even family wide, down through the generations, like a recessive gene one is only reminded of when some series of events triggers its reappearance, causes it to rear its misfortunate head. Jane believes she is cursed forever to be left by emotionally unavailable men who will only learn to love after they have walked out of her life. She is just “preparing” them for some other luckier, uncursed woman.
I thank the waiter when he comes to our table to refill our water glasses. He’s a middle-aged Indian gentleman who I suspect is also the owner, and he makes brief eye contact with me as he fills my glass. I can see in his expression that he’s proud of me, or something like proud of me, for having brought a beautiful crying woman to his restaurant. I’m sure he’s come to think of me as something of a loner, having seen me eat here alone at this very table on so many recent occasions.
Jane picks up her phone that has been vibrating incessantly since we sat down and presses a button with her thumb to make it stop. The bright afternoon sun is casting spots of light all around us through the veranda and jasmine overhead. Countless beads of condensation can be seen collecting on our glasses. Jane looks at me expectantly.
I take a sip of my water. She goes on.
“I love him more than anything, but he doesn’t know how to accept it. It scares him. I see it on his face when I’m talking to him, he just withdraws into himself,” she says, putting a lot of emphasis on that word withdraws. She is an actress. Emphasis is one of her specialties.
“Like a turtle?” I ask.
“Yes, John. I guess like a turtle.”
And we sit there in silence for a long moment, stilling ourselves, me looking at Jane, Jane looking at me. As I stare at her face, so present all of a sudden, I imagine that she’s looking into me, seeing whatever is really there to see, the various processes that go on somewhere behind my eyes. In the world of my imagination, these processes connect the name John, when it is uttered, with this idea of me, an idea I’m having trouble recalling the meaning of right now. It’s as if the point where I end, and where the restaurant surrounding me, or more importantly, where Jane sitting across from me, begins, is wherever I deem it to be.
“Pick it up,” I hear myself say.
She looks up and tells me she doesn’t want to.
“He’s probably just worried about me,” she says, “calling to make sure I’m not
dead in a ditch somewhere.”
I look at her straight. She sighs, and without another word, puts the phone to her ear and says hello. I pick up my glass and put it to my lips and drink what remains of the cold water. Jane’s conversation is brief — she says things like “eating lunch,” and “why does that matter,” and “maybe later.”
I let her words wash over me, contemplating the ice cube I’m letting melt in my mouth. I tongue the rapidly shrinking piece of ice to a space behind my teeth, trying to pay attention to the sharpness of the cold, to this moment at which this little square of ice transitions into a slightly less cold liquid. Water is one of the few substances on earth that expands when it is frozen, its molecules slowed. I feel the sliver of ice accelerating, as it reverts to a liquid state against the tip of my tongue.
I remember as a boy sitting in the kitchen at the house of my babysitter Maring. She would serve me iced water in the long afternoons while I waited to be taken home. Maring’s husband worked for the railroad. Photos of a much younger version of himself hanging off of train cars covered the walls and little plastic model train engines sat on top of the window sills. For fun, or maybe out of pure boredom, I would peer into my Mason jar full of water and ice cubes and imagine that the configuration of floating ice actually constituted a superstructure of planetary proportions. I could almost hear the massive weight of the cubes as they shifted, their cataclysmic melting occurring at an almost imperceptible rate in the water.
Many years later, after I’d moved to Los Angeles and my out-of-college girlfriend had left me for another man, I remembered that vision of childhood, as my entire life seemed to have slowed around me in the now barren apartment I had once shared with my girl. Her absence was conspicuous: in our queen size bed, in the kitchen beside the large window that overlooked the entry, on that corner of the couch where she used to sit, the look of concentration on her face illuminated in the ghostly light of her laptop. And I could not for the life of me seem to dispel the ridiculous notion that she had simply evaporated into thin air, and that maybe the slightest change in conditions could bring her back.
It was some time in the midst of these dog days that I gazed out my bedroom window at the view to the west, and an entire month passed by me like nothing had happened. The scene I saw outside my window became stuck in a sunny afternoon moment of pigeons scattering skyward and palm trees doing nothing and a single, minuscule jet plane adding its deliberate geometry to an otherwise empty sky. If I could have looked away, at anything, I would have, but I knew there was nothing else. So I just stood there staring as I felt the hours transitioning into days, the days into weeks, my body aging in real time as the rest of the world moved on without me.
When I did finally become unstuck in time, or let back in, depending on how you look at it, I collapsed into bed and tried to imagine who I could call to explain what had just happened to me. But I knew no one would understand, so I just lay there in my bed and sobbed like a small child until, mercifully, night fell.
Jane and I leave the restaurant and begin our walk down Sunset Blvd. I’m holding both our leftovers in a single styrofoam container and Jane points excitedly at various commercial enterprises as we walk, asking me if I’d like to go – to the arcade or the froyo shop or the liquor store. I can tell she’s in a playful mood now and I take it all with a grain of salt.
We pass a group of school children arguing with the feigned intensity of adults, and then a haggard man with longing in his eyes, and then a pair of women speaking animatedly in a language I guess to be Armenian. Time moves fluidly as I walk down Sunset with Jane, more so the more time we spend together. I suspect Jane feels it too, because when we get to the intersection where we would need to part ways to get to our respective homes we both hesitate, and instead of saying goodbye we stand on the corner and face one another.
“How can anyone say they hate L.A.,” Jane says, closing her eyes and angling her face towards the sun. “It’s perfect here.”
I wonder for a moment if I could love Jane.
I let these thoughts move through me and squint up at the sun.
“L.A. does have its wonders,” I say.
“Not to mention, I’m here,” Jane says and gives me a smart look.
“That much is obvious.”
Jane begins to smile but touches her upper lip to make it go away, the way she does when she’s embarrassed. For an actress, she embarrasses easily.
“So, are you coming with me or what?” she says after a moment, gesturing in the direction of her apartment, and I say the only thing I can say: why not?
Our walk down Jane’s street in Hollywood feels like the natural crescendo to our afternoon together. Jane takes the leftovers I’ve been carrying, and then wraps her arm tightly around mine.
“Maybe people like you and me, we’re just not supposed to have normal relationships. For us, love isn’t meant to stay put,” she says, looking up at me, “we get the best of it, but only in catches, never the whole picture.”
I’m entertaining Jane’s idea, about to say something about how if we got any more it wouldn’t be fair to the others, when she abruptly stops me about half a block from her apartment.
“That stubborn fucker,” she says, looking up ahead. There’s a hint of glee in her face, and I follow her gaze to a black motorcycle parked in the street directly in front of her apartment complex.
“Is that your boyfriend’s bike?” I ask.
Jane puts a hand on my chest as if to steady me where I stand, then gives me a swift kiss on the cheek before turning away. “Be right back!”
I watch Jane as she gets to her gate, goes up her walkway, and then disappears from sight. I can’t help but notice that the front yard of Jane’s building is awfully drab and a tiresome thing to look at when she’s not a part of the scene so I turn my attention elsewhere. I admire my shoes. I look at pigeons in a row on a slacking telephone wire, and beyond that, inanimate sky. An air conditioning unit somewhere nearby begins to drone. Otherwise the street is surprisingly still, except for me holding my leftovers, waiting for something to change.