I hate sitting outside when it’s hot, but it’s better than sitting inside where it’s freezing. Freezing in summer, blistering in winter, that’s the thermostat setting in my office. So, I always eat here, outside at a table near Quizno’s. At least the temperature matches the season out here. No way am I eating at my desk. Lunch is supposed to be a break, not an opportunity to type formulas in a spreadsheet with one hand while holding a sandwich in the other.
I wish I had a sandwich today. Today I’ve got last night’s creole salmon, which tastes good in my mouth but smells horrible sitting there in the Tupperware. Note to self: no fish in the lunchbox.
I hear chanting, so I look up. It’s a little girl, probably four years old, skipping across the parking lot and reciting, “Baby come back, baby come back, baby come back.” Skip, “baby come back.” Skip skip, “baby come back.” As she ducks between the parked cars, I catch flashes of a frilly pink tutu and shiny black and white saddle shoes. She makes it to the sidewalk and ducks into Quizno’s. Her mother comes jogging behind her, and as she opens the door to the sandwich shop I hear her daughter and she sing in harmony, “Baby come back.”
I think of Nancy. When we were teenagers living in St. Louis, Nancy and I rocked out to Hall and Oates. We had all their records. We saw them when they came to St. Louis, and when they played Chicago, too. We even drove out to Lexington to catch the last stop on their Midwest tour. We were roadies. “The Hall and R-Oates-ies,” we called ourselves. So of course I had to text Nancy right away.
I pick up my phone and hit the “Kakao” icon. Nancy lives in Vietnam, teaching English to Vietnamese law students; Kakao is the international texting app we use to keep in touch. I notice that the last conversation we had was on May 16, the day Ian died. Today was August 16. It was six months to the day. Today was the three-month anniversary of Nancy’s boyfriend’s death.
“Sweetie,” I type. “I know this is a damn hard day for you, so I’m sharing something fun: I just saw a little girl in a pink tutu and shiny saddle shoes skipping across the parking lot and singing “Baby come back.”
I read over the text and draw in a sharp breath, then I hit the “Delete” button seventeen times. “!kcab emoc ybaB”. I type in “Maneater!” instead. It’s a lie, but the truth would be cruel.
The little girl and her mother come out of Quizno’s, holding sodas and bags of sandwiches. The girl isn’t wearing a tutu with saddle shoes at all, it’s just a short pink dress with black and white sneakers that light up as she walks. I look down at my text. The whole thing is a lie, but I hit “Send” anyway.