Big red cherry on a spoon.
Microscopic piece of sludge, pulsing embryo stuck to the inside of her uterus.
She pulled up a clump of grass. Jason played piano at the Guthrie Theater as the rehearsal pianist. He’d been doing it ever since graduating two years earlier and he said it was like playing for an audience with cotton in its ears. No one was ever really listening.
When he wasn’t needed at the theater, he played gigs in small cafes that wanted cheap but classy ambiance. Then he could play whatever he liked, as they weren’t really listening either. The apartment they shared didn’t have a piano, although Miriam had offered to chip in so that they could buy one. Jason insisted that he liked having the separation from his art, or at least that was what he told Miriam if she brought it up over a rare dinner together at home. Miriam almost always had dinner at home, almost always between seven and seven thirty. Working for the Walker Art Center as a public relations lackey, her hours were much more regular than his and home was so near by it seemed stupid to spend money eating out. Their brick apartment squatted-even lurked she sometimes felt-on a small side street ten minutes from the Walker and the Guthrie, the Twin Cities twin assertions of edge in the midst of the Midwestern mild smile.
Sometimes, when Miriam sat at home alone eating, she would wonder what attracted her to Jason. They had met at one of his concerts at Augsburg College her junior and his senior year and she had been struck by his incredible stillness; no matter how rapidly his hands moved across the keyboard, his back was like a lightening rod that contained the energy at his fingertips. What she liked best about him, though, was in his eyes. The other musicians seemed to play on nerves. Miriam would find herself hoping that they wouldn’t screw up and embarrass themselves. But with Jason, she never worried; he clearly didn’t.
Miriam began actually reading the half sheets of paper that the music department stapled to the campus boards, looking for Jason’s name. At the end of the school year, she went to his senior recital and, when it was over, finally talked to him.
Unlike the other faces who hovered around the edge of the piano to give their congratulations, she walked up and sat down on the bench beside him. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Miriam. You should let me take you out for a drink, to celebrate being done.”
His pale blue eyes darted from side to side, as if looking for an escape route and Miriam felt a moment of doubt. He looked smaller beside her than she had expected; was she taller than him? Perhaps all that confidence on stage left him nothing to work with in real life. Miriam worried if, once again, she had been too bold, but it was too late to get out of it, and she never enjoyed backing down was she had gotten up the nerve to do something. So Miriam gave him her best, most reassuring smile, and was relieved, if surprised, when he finally looked her in the eyes and said sure.
“I know the perfect place. They don’t check ID’s.” She sat up a little straighter beside him on the bench, daring him to back out now that he realized she too wasn’t a senior. But he just shrugged and began collecting the music off the piano.
The bar that Jason was expecting turned out to be an Indian restaurant. The lights were dim and the tables were only a few inches from the floor, surrounded by a moat with filled with cushions, masquerading as seating. Miriam dropped, gracelessly, into the hole farthest from the door and motioned for him to sit down. She had worn a black spaghetti strapped dress to the recital and it rode up what she considered her slightly-too-ample thighs.
A waiter in a loose fitting shirt, whose dreadlocks protruded from his turban in clumps, came up the table, put down a menu, and smiled at Miriam. She introduced him as her friend Todd. “He can make a ceramic vase that reaches his waist. And he’ll let me have a drink.” She picked up the menu and looked it over for a moment, before holding it out for Jason. When he didn’t take it she began flapping it at him.
“You can order,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows slightly and had to stop herself from smiling as she felt an entirely familiar but unexpected sensation-she felt in charge of the situation. Sitting across from her in the pillowed moat, Jason looked like the other musicians sitting behind their pianos. When Todd reemerged twenty minutes later with a bowl full of chicken curry, Jason peered suspiciously at it before finally taking a fork full of chicken. He straightened his chin with two quick jerks-a gesture she would come to recognize as a pre-performance tick-and put it in his mouth.
“Hot,” he blurted out, a little fleck of orange sauce clinging to the inner corner of his mouth.
“You are supposed to eat it with your right hand.” Miriam dipped her index and middle finger into the portion on her plate and inserted them into her mouth. As Jason watched, she became intensely aware of the gesture, almost choking as she hastily removed her fingers from her mouth again. “It is hot,” she coughed.
“I taste ginger, I think. And chili powder.”