Somehow you know it's going to be bad news. The tone in his voice when casually inviting you out for a beer, the most public place possible. You wear the shirt instinctively- the father's oxford, four sizes too large, with floppy inkstained cuffs that hang to hide your hands. To hell with eyemakeup. Drive slowly, chainsmoking, consciously fighting the urge to make a wrong turn and just go- Memphis, California. Wherever. Not here.
Park. Sit. Breathe. Brain tells muscles move. Move, dammit. Shut the car off. Do this. Be strong. Go.
In one swift ninja move, you are out of the car and strutting across the parking lot, head high, a deep drag and flick the butt with proud fury. He is on the cellphone, dramatic arm movements and laughing just a little too loud. Filling with metallic hate, your vision clouds at the edges.
The table littered already with jubilant beer bottles. You swig one and finish it before sitting, surly, under his questioning gaze until he hangs up.
Small talk. The weather. How 'bout them Yankees? My mom's fine, thanks. How's work? Nice sweater.
He clears his thoat and gives you the news.
It is everything you can possibly do not to grab your keys and run. You can already feel the chill October whipping through your tangled hair, thriftstore peacoat flapping behind you like some superhero of desperation. You could run forever.
No. You're still here. This is real, this is now. You are frozen to the chair in disbelief. Choke on a breath, oh God here it comes. Don't cry. Swallow. Swallow.
Gently: Do you mind if I smoke? Shaking fingers, you fumble a lighter and heave in the bitter taste. He is silent. Your gaze locks on an old tree intertwined in tungsten streetlight, examining the shadows. You remember suddenly eating mushrooms, a tender childhood in crystalline wonder. You, too, were innocent once. We all were at some point.
Suddenly, interrupted. The server, grinning for tips, Hey how'dja like another beer, huh? You glance up and nod, mouth trying not to crumple in the pain of crashing back into reality. You turn your head away until she leaves, covering your eyes in a sleeve.
Don't start crying on me now, he says. You're too strong for that.
This unleashes it. Your face contorts in anger, hysterical energy. Your body sings with highwire violence, and you escape, spilling drinks, tumbling out. Running.
Back in the car. Pounding the steering wheel with bruised hands, screaming until hoarse. Parkinglot passerby cast fearful looks, edging around your car. They know. They've been here.
None of us are innocent anymore.