by Kara Vernor
Propped against the mahogany bar, we finger the stems of our glasses and watch the flat screen in the corner while Jimmy entertains tourists with poetic descriptions of each pour. The less we talk the more water crackers I eat. I do this for the both of us, as an alibi for our missing conversation.
The crackers collect in the crevasses of my teeth and cake in patches on the roof of my mouth. I take big gulps of water to wash them down, which in turn keeps me hydrated. The crackers in my stomach absorb the wine, and I don’t get too looped too quickly. The wine, well, it makes all this tolerable. It’s a fine homeostatic relationship: wine, crackers, water—each doing its part, each contributing. I am thus able to ride my bar stool into the late evening, forgetting but for a few moments that he’s there, too.
“This one’s my favorite,” Mark said during one of his sparse interjections. “The 2006 syrah. It’s cherry-forward, but then the licorice shows up with elements of, hmm, brined pork? It’s very dry though—the most esoteric yet.”
“Great,” I nod. “I like the esoteric ones.” But he’s gone back to watching the screen, not having thought to offer me a taste.
That’s the extent of our conversations of late, regardless of the subject matter. It goes like this:
[Driving across the Golden Gate]
Me: I’ll never get tired of these views, or thinking about the guys underneath us steering those cargo ships.
Him: They are pretty great. Pret-ty great.
[Walking in the botanical garden]
Him: It’s astonishing, isn’t it, how the tropical plants give way to the Mediterranean collection, like we’re walking inside a TV and someone changed the channel.
Me: It is pretty neat, yes, beautiful, too.
It’s not that we can’t talk. In fact, we’re both rather good at it. It was Mark’s way with words that helped him climb the corporate ranks, and when the CEO selected him to launch the San Francisco office, it was with genuine excitement that we said goodbye to our friends, and my sister and nephew.
But now it’s just Mark and me:
Mark and me flossing at the dual vanity,
Mark and me squeezing cantaloupes in Whole Foods,
Mark and me straddling twin bar stools in Cole Valley,
Mark and me slipping into quaint tables for two, looking everywhere but forward.