146. Voices Carry

Outside rain was still coming down, but we walked along from awning to awning. We came to a used record shop that was open until midnight and browsed a while, and then one of the clerks recognized Ziggy and we signed a copy of the vinyl album from the original Charles River pressing.

I was following Ziggy who was following his nose and not saying much. We passed through a convenience store where he picked up some Raisinets (“for later”) and looked in the windows of several different eateries. We were pretty damp by the time he took us into a barbecue place, but my mind wasn’t really on the weather. We placed our orders at a call window and a kind of American Indian-looking guy, with dark skin and short black hair, told us to sit down. We took a space in a booth with orange plastic chairs and a yellow Formica table that looked like it might have been cribbed from an out-of-business Burger King.

“So, how do you feel?” Ziggy said as soon as we sat down.

“I think I’m okay.” I played with the calluses on my left hand with my left thumb.

“Did it really help for me to stay away from you?” He looked earnest, leaning over the table so far he was almost looking up at me instead of across. “These past two shows?”

“I hate to say it but it did. I think.”

“Because I made you nervous.”

“I guess.”

“Am I making you nervous now?” He was using his down-to-Earth voice.

“Not yet.” The black-haired guy put drinks in paper cups down on the table without looking at us and rushed away. There was a line at the call window now and the seats were filling up with rain-dampened college students. Some kind of event was letting out, I guessed.

He leaned forward even more so he could talk quietly and still be heard by me. “You know that’s not what I want.”

“What’s not.”

“I’m not trying to make you nervous. I’m trying…” He blushed suddenly and sat back. Then he leaned forward and said closer to my ear. “I’m trying to make you want me again.” He slid back in the seat, and slumped, his legs wide and his shoulders bent.

I sipped my lemonade, the kind that came from a bubbling clear plastic machine. Finally I said to him, “Why?”

He chewed his bottom lip while he studied the pattern of scrapes in the table’s surface. “You know why.”

“Because… ” Now I leaned forward, though over the sound of the cooks shouting to each other and people laughing and talking I doubted anyone could make out what we were saying to each other. “Because you want me? Is that all? Why me, Zig?”

Someone in a greasy apron put two cardboard boats of fries down in front of us. “I don’t think this is the best place to talk about it,” Ziggy said, salting his fries with the plastic shaker.

You’d think it would be me who would have been the antsy, nervous one, talking about this stuff in public. “You brought it up.”

He grimaced. “I did. I’m sorry.” He fingered the edge of his fry boat but didn’t say any more. Well, until he said, so quiet I barely heard it myself, “And I really, really am sorry about Chicago. Truce?”

“Don’t chase me off the stage and we’ll be fine,” I said.

Two styrofoam plates of brontosaurus-size ribs appeared on the table. Ziggy retrieved plastic silverware for us both, two knives apiece because he wasn’t confident that one knife could withstand the meat. But as it turned out, the meat was as soft as wet tissue paper and fell right off the bone.


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