I am typing quickly now, feeling better about the direction this story seems to be going. I take the last sip from my coffee and contemplate getting up to get more. I look around and calculate the odds of someone picking up my Mac and running out with it in the time that it would take for me to refill. I decide to risk it and when I get back to the table I have company.
John Keats is sitting politely in a chair across from me, expressly not looking at my screen. I slump back into the half booth and groan. “I didn’t mean to pry. But, sweetie, the thing is,” he says gently, reaching for my coffee, “it almost seems like you have never been in love.”
He takes a swig just as I say, “You won’t like it,” and he pulls a face.
“This is horrible,” he says, and I am unsure if he is talking about the coffee or my writing, “but back to my point. I just don’t feel, well, anything when I read this. Are you sure you really even liked him? I’m getting reluctance, disinterest, and I’m getting… fear, is it?”
I try to ignore him as I continue to type. He will go away if I ignore him, he has before. He does not go away; instead he rips open a pack of raw sugar and pours it on the table. He licks his index finger and begins to dip it in the sugar and then his mouth, right off the table. It is annoying. He smiles sweetly every time I look up, so I stop looking up. Instead, I re-read the first paragraph and try a little harder to explain my heartbreak, which definitely, most likely, is real.
The chair next to John pulls back and an overweight Ernest Hemingway loudly sits down. He nods to Keats and leans his elbow on the table, pointing directly at me. “The problem is pretty simple,” he says, grabbing my coffee. “The problem is that you are a liar. And a coward. You are terrified to feel. You want to write about love and heartbreak and you have never even let yourself go through it.”
“Bullshit,” I say, immediately defensive, “I was devastated. At one point I could not even imagine how I would go on.” I furiously grab my coffee back from him.
“Good. More,” John says, interested at last, leaning forward smiling with anticipation. “Tell us what it felt like.”
I am slamming away on my keyboard, not actually writing anything that makes sense.
“Those aren’t words,” Ernest says softly. “You can’t fool us. Tell us what it looked like when you couldn’t imagine how you would go on.” He uses air quotes in the last part of the sentence and I want to rip his eyes out. “You will never truly be able to write about this because you spend all your time trying not to feel anything.” He looks around suddenly, and then zeroes back in on me leaning over the table. “I mean, where in the fuck even are we?”
“It’s called Panera Bread,” I say, angrier now. “Where should I be? Should I be in the Florida Keys, drunk? Should I be wandering around Rome trying to shake tuberculosis? Should I be screwing my way through Paris? What is it exactly that would make you assholes happy?”
Ernest falls back in his chair laughing and I am instantly angrier, knowing that he got what he wanted out of me. John brushes the remaining sugar from the table to the floor and gives me an encouraging smile. “You can do this. Tell the truth,” he says, ignoring the flask that Ernest has produced from his pants and is now waving in front of John’s face.
I slouch in my seat to avoid looking at them and the booth suddenly bounces a little. I don’t have to look up (I recognize the aftershave) to know that Oscar Wilde is now lounging next to me.
“The real problem,” he says, addressing the two men in front of us, “is that she really isn’t funny.”
Ernest rolls his eyes and says, “Not everything is supposed to be funny, Oscar.” He proffers his flask at him and Oscar waves him away.
“I couldn’t possibly,” he says to Ernest and then looks back at me pleadingly and whispers, “Actually, everything IS supposed to be funny.” He raises both eyebrows and pulls his own flask out of his jacket pocket and takes a deep drink. “So maybe you didn’t really love him. Maybe you really weren’t heartbroken. Maybe instead you write about a misunderstanding? You should work in more subtlety. I swear I see you coming five blocks away sometimes.”
Ernest won’t let it go; he is gripping the sides of the table and gritting his teeth. John looks scared, and Oscar giggles, flicking imaginary dust off of his purple shirt. “What would happen,” Ernest says quietly, clearly trying to control his temper, “if you finally let go and had courage? Would the world end if you were finally vulnerable and you actually felt it all?”
He probably means to be encouraging but I hate him. “I don’t know,” I say, under my breath, “I might pick up a shotgun and blow my head off. Is that what we’re looking for?”
Oscar laughs loudly; even John smiles, though he tries to hide it in order to not offend Ernest. John is constantly kissing Ernest’s ass, but Oscar could not care about anything less than irritating the “Great Morose,” as he calls Ernest when we are alone.
“Maybe you are funny enough,” Oscar says, still lying down on the bench. Ernest slams his hand down on the table and makes one of his typical dramatic exits. We are all meant to beg him to stay and help but none of us does.
“I’m getting pastry,” I say, getting up and stretching. “Anyone want?” They both do.
Andrea LoFiego writes in California, USA.