On Thursday, Janie woke up at five in the morning to go to breakfast with someone at 7 a.m. There would be no breakfast at 7 a.m., but she’d set the alarm the night before with confidence there would be.
She fell asleep again almost immediately, having been awake for just enough time to shove her phone back onto her desk but not long enough to register the smell of her roommate’s coffee. At 7 a.m., she was awakened again by a text from her breakfast date: “so sorry, running late, postpone?” She dragged her thumb across the keyboard: “don’t apologize, I’m still sleeping.”
There was never going to be a breakfast at 7 a.m., not even at 8. But three and a half hours later, they sat down for brunch right before the dining hall closed for the morning. It felt as if they hadn’t seen each other in ages — or ever. Neither of them acknowledged their tardiness.
“How are you?”
Janie said she was fine, I guess. The same since the last time they spoke. “When was that?”
Simone said, “I don’t even remember. Yesterday? These potatoes are dry.”
“You like them better dry,” Janie said. “By the way, my brother is getting a divorce. My parents would kick him out for that, if they hadn’t already.”
“I’m sorry.” Simone looked for a pepper shaker from the table next to them and stood halfway up to grab it.
She sat down again and said, “Speaking of divorces, you know how my mom’s had one on her tongue?”
“For the last three years, yeah. Is it still on her tongue?” Janie said. “And don’t be sorry. I hate everyone my parents love. And vice versa.”
“Yes, it’s there. Where would it go? Ketchup is disgusting.”
“You liked ketchup last week.”
“Now is not last week. So, vice versa, meaning your parents hate everyone you love?”
“No. As in everyone who loves my parents hates me. “
“I don’t think that’s how you use vice versa.”
“You’re probably right. Maybe we should look it up.”
One of them did a Google search while pushing scrambled eggs to the side of her plate.
She put her phone down and shrugged.
“Well, that didn’t help.”
They would see each other again tomorrow.
Outside of brunches, Janie spent her time working on the middle section of what would become a chapter book about dragonian goddesses in an ahistorical past. That afternoon, after she realized her draft lacked what would make any book worth reading, she took off her jacket and laid her head on her pillow for five minutes. Images from forgotten dreams came back in flashes. She sat up and jotted something down that would have flown away with the morning.
What she recorded was the feeling of an insignificant moment — the way someone’s grin, perhaps her own, had strained itself against her cheeks. It was a rare instance of laughter that sapped proper people of their lungs and their neighbors of their eardrums, and it was the joyful pain in the stomach that came with it. She couldn’t recall any faces, only that there had been someone else. But in this moment, the other person might have been her as well, someone who shifted into her eyes to see what was also herself. She only remembered tears — what could have been so delightful? — and a rushing need to regain control of their voices to continue the cause of their asphyxiation.
In the dream, they’d been sitting across from each other; this Janie remembered because when the person had stood up to touch the ceiling, she’d kept her index finger on the back of her chair. Someone had reached out to brush hair behind her ear, and someone had moved her head to exactly the right coordinate in space to receive the gesture. Then, the dream shifted, and they no longer had hair or chairs, only round bodies, pale yellow chests and the myth of lifelong monogamy, huddled on the Antarctic ice in shared blood warmth. She stopped writing after that.
The next time Janie and Simone met, they sat closer to each other and followed the trajectory of a pleasant chat, starting from “how are you” and heading towards today’s final destination, which was a dramatic reading of different ways to make potatoes. They narrated them in turns.
To the rookie eavesdropper eating alone at the table next to them, it was a gut-busting bit of morning entertainment, a savory display of camaraderie that reminded the loner she could one day have something like that. To Janie and Simone, however, it was a ritual.
In the middle of a tantalizing description of gnocchi, Janie stopped talking and looked at the wall at the far left of the dining hall. If Simone noticed her brunch date’s abrupt displacement of her pupils, she made no indication at all.
Janie turned back, stared at the defined silhouette of Simone and said, “If I tried harder, I think I could actually make it to breakfast at 7.”
Simone laughed and looked out the window. “Me too,” she said.
They sat there for a moment, thinking of different things.
With barely a lilt to her voice, Janie picked up her fork and said, “Do you even like me?”
The eavesdropper from the next table widened her eyes and scurried away toward the bagels.
One of them said, “I don’t even know.”
“I don’t know either.”
“You don’t know if you like me, or you don’t know if I like you?”
“Both, and you have red stuff on your shirt.”
“Ugh, damm it.”
One of them handed the other a napkin. They walked to the bathroom together. One of them waited outside while the other rubbed wet paper pulp and hand sanitizer on a translucent blotch of shirt.
Outside, Janie said, “I hope things work out with all that stuff about your parents.”
“No, I hope my mom sucks it up and files for divorce.”
“That’s what I meant,” Janie said. She searched the eyes of her old, constant friend, Simone, then said, “See you tomorrow.”
There would definitely be breakfast, or brunch, the next day, not at 7 a.m., not never, but when they both woke up and had a moment.
Contact Miranda Jiang at [email protected]