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“Ouch!!! I burned my palette again!” She put her tuna melt down and wiped her face with a bleached disposable napkin.
It was hot outside, and I was starting to stick to the plastic chair. I tried shifting my weight, all I accomplished was a squeak.
“That’s what happens when you eat foods that are too hot.” I answered dryly. She smirked.
“It tastes good, and it’s totally worth it.” She took another enthusiastic bite.
I poked at my limp French fries and glanced around at the other patrons of the greasy, run-down, but well loved college diner. There were two obvious microbiology nerds who were taking samples of their tomato soup and milk shake. In the corner was the clichéd loner with slick ruffled bangs and a perfectly mismatched ensemble, too cool to talk to anyone, but in reality truly desperate. The jocks were in the front having a food-tossing contest. They obviously were not a division I team, given their terrible lack of accurate aim. The waitress looked irritated, probably wishes lunch was over so she could finish up her class work, and the quick fry “chef” in the back was probably spitting in sporadic plates just to spite that he never got a college education.
“So, why are we having lunch again?” she abrupted.
I sighed, chest heaving, knowing that the sooner end of “sooner than later”, was now.
“It’s about your father.” Long pause.
“Ok” She said.
So far so good.
“He has lung cancer.” The words came out rushed and labored. I paused for a reaction, shock, dismay, hysteria, leaky eyes? She gave me none. “Stage four” I finished.
There was a momentary pause, and her foot kicked the table with more force than necassary. She looked down at her plate and shifted the French fries from one side of the plate to the other. A light breeze fanned her hair. Deliberately, she looked up at me. Eyes a glossy sheen, she said in forced apathy,
“I have to go.” Quickly, she gathered her spiral notebooks and leather clutch and left me sitting at the unstable diner table. I wasn’t sure if going after her was the right thing. I sat there awkwardly for a moment.
“I’ll call you tomorrow.” I called after her in slight redeeming desperation. I looked around to see if anyone had watched her fleeing the scene and me sitting there in dignified desperation searching for something to occupy my hands and mind with. The wilting salad beckoned me and I replied by stabbing at it.
I waited for my bannanas to ripen before calling her.
“How are you doing?” I asked cautiously, my fingers fondling the phone wire.
“Why does one contradict the other?”
I was confused.
“Shouldn’t you be mad at G-d, the doctors, the injustice in the world, why your dad?”
“No” she said firmly. “I’m mad at him, he did this to himself.”
I saw where this was heading. Long breathing pause, she finally burst and let the floodgates of mental and physical emotion to break through.
“I’m supposed to be happy that my father is dying. I’m not supposed to be mad, and if I’m mad, I should be mad at everyone, but the cause. HE DID THIS TO HIMSELF!!!”
She shouted the last part. I knew it was best to keep quiet, because right now no answer would appease her, it would just provoke her more. I heard intense pacing and she continued.
“For years he’s scoffed at the surgeon’s general warning. Laughed at people who tried quitting. For years, he’s been smelling up the car, his clothes, staining his fingers, coughing up mucus. He said it’s worth it. Cigarettes are just that good!”
There was a harsh, dull thud, like palm meeting plaster. She inhaled deeply. And ploughed on
“He’s a weak man who made excuses. Any person with any vice they can’t break is weak. They are stubborn, blind, and foolish. That goes for druggies, alcoholics, chain smokers nail biters, anyone. You want me to come to be there for him? Sympathize? Understand him? Understand that he’s an idiot that can’t control himself, who won’t take care of himself. That makes the same bad decision over and over again on a daily basis.”
I stayed quiet, because she was right, in a way. He did do it to himself; her presentation was a little harsh though. I waited for her to start again.
“Ouch!!” crackled though the wire.
“What’s wrong?” I asked quickly.
“I burned my palate again, coffee.”
I sighed in quasi disgust.
“Hot things, will do that.” I said apathetically.
“It’s worth it, hot food, it’s just that good.” She restated her argument of four days ago. I could hear a self satisfied smile on the other end.
And I finally had something to tell her.
“You know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“What?” she sputtered.
And I hung up.