LIFE IN HELVETICA • by Alison Brierley

Her menu was written in Helvetica. The standard black font paired against off-white paper in a contest of monotony. Cleverly named breakfast options and well thought out puns added colour to the menu choices. She debated between the aptly named Holy Crepe! or the Eggstatic Breakfast Sandwich as her eyes drifted from the menu to her thighs, where the thick book of food options rested on top of her favourite pair of jeans. She squinted as she noticed a faint white stain on her pants and absentmindedly picked at it with her pinky fingernail, realizing only after the fact that it must have been a dried remnant of the night before. Shit. Maybe he didn’t notice, she thought hopefully and pulled the menu closer.

“What are you having, Liv?” he asked from across the table.

Mike was about 5’9”, dark brown hair, crooked front teeth that sat too far forward in his mouth and kind hazel eyes. A gold cross peeked out from under his shirt and she remembered a hazy joke from the bar last night, something about crooked noses and straight-and-narrow Catholic upbringings. She held back a small smile at the thought of him skipping church to go for Sunday brunch and realized unexpectedly that this was probably the first meal she had shared with a man since she and Jerome broke up. She relished in the thought and let herself imagine how it would feel to do things differently this time—to wake up next to Mike every morning, to rest her head on his shoulder every night, to go for brunch every Sunday and visit farmers markets in the afternoon.

“I’m not sure yet,” Liv replied and returned to her menu, daydreaming of the unknown.

Jerome would never be caught dead in a place like this. Cheap wallpaper, kitschy trinkets, mass-produced waitress uniforms. He would have grabbed Liv’s hand and pulled her across the street, steering her towards some mysterious hole in the wall—never wanting to be somewhere known, while knowing that’s all she wanted.

She looked down at the menu and the letters began to run into each other as she read them. Too much tequila left in her blood and she was certain the liquor was leaking from her pores, filling her head with methane-like cloudy memories of messy kisses. She wondered what Mike thought—was he hungover too? Would he pay? Or was that considered archaic? Did he bring other girls here? Was he worried about any of these things?

The waiter came by and refilled their water glasses before taking their orders. Mike put a finger to his chin and bit his bottom lip like a caricature of uncertainty. Liv waited patiently as he scratched a small patch of beard on his chin that hadn’t been shaved properly and her mind drifted back to Jerome. Back to how he never hesitated about decisions, breakfast or otherwise.

“I’ll have the Ham it Up Breakfast Sampler, please,” Mike finally decided.

“Same,” she said and set the menu down, shaking her head clear and replacing the memory of Jerome with Mike—his hand on her hip, his kind eyes, her sureness.

When the food arrived, he started to talk about his friends, and she smiled in all the right places, laughing at his best friend’s obsession with cats and nodding along to a recap of his favourite TV show. The waiter walked by again and offered more water, which Mike avidly accepted, the hangover kicking in. He ran his fingers through his hair while the glass filled and a small smattering of dandruff flakes fell onto his shoulder.

Liv watched the salty scalp speckles that must have gone unnoticed in the darkly lit bar the night before. They clung to his cotton tee as he greedily gulped the water and she wondered if his dandruff was on her pillow at home. Tiny tangible fragments of DNA shaped like puzzle pieces on her yellow duvet from college. Pieces of him were there now, in her bed, in her empty apartment. The thought made her sick.

She looked down at her meal and distractedly pushed around pieces of bacon while her mind hummed. The cheap metal fork rested in her left hand and rubbed against her empty ring finger as she thought about Jerome, about the tinging sound utensils used to make on her promise—about how she preferred the silence.

She no longer imagined lazy Sunday mornings.

Alison Brierley lives and writes in Vancouver, Canada.

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