On The Topmost Branch of a Beckett Tree


Lyn Coffin

Minutes into their first date, she knew. There was passion in him, but muted. Buried, as if in a vault. Underwater. Not dangerous. Comforting. No explosion beneath a jagged crack would send emotional tsunamis racing for shore. What there was would just warm the bed. Like a plug-in blanket.

When he saw her, something in him rose like an eagle on a high updraft of possibility. He wanted to dive. He wanted to swoop down and carry her off. He was newly strong and forceful and could afford to be a little demanding. She would enjoy it all- his demand, her protest, the eventual subsuming of separateness in one ecstatic yawp.

The pinch-faced waitress vanished after mumbling reassurances, and he started talking. The things he said were standard first date fare- What about this weather? Have you been here before? but he had gotten hold of a fork somewhere, and he made little stroking motions with it. He pawed at the napkin, the place mat, sometimes the table-- fingernails on a blackboard. Was it too soon, five minutes in, to ask him please to stop?

She didn't have much to say. She nodded a lot, even when he hadn't said anything. As though she understood everything. What he said and what he didn't say. As though she already knew and trusted him and was giving him permission to set the tone, to set the stage, to set the great enterprise in motion. She never looked at him for long, but each glance was like a flare.

He went from the weather to divorce and then to sex before the knock-kneed waitress had even had the good sense to return. He didn't call it sex, though. He called it intimacy. He called it love-making. He paused before each synonym and his eyes flared. Why didn't he just say the word, and be done with it? He leaned farther and farther forward. Where were his legs under the table? His hands had disappeared. Where was that waitress?

Now she wasn't even glancing at him. She cast her gaze demurely at the table. Her ivory face was like a little locket. The scarf was loosely fastened around her neck. It was silk, for sure. Ruby and russet. She had missed a button on her blouse. It folded softly there, inviting closer inspection. This small detail seemed a private message to him. Not a text. A telegram on yellow paper: Thinking of meeting you, my fingers fumbled. Stop. I look down now lest I should seem too bold. Stop.

He began to ask sexual questions, though he still clung to synonyms. Clearly, he was taking liberties. Maybe this was another walk out situation. But he didn't seem to expect answers and his tone was unassuming, affectionate, somehow. He spoke in word clusters that trailed off, that stepped into an elevator, but didn't push any button. When your ex came on to checkout girls, how did that--? The last time you were intimate, did you--?

She was flushed now and her breathing become a little wispy, a trifle erratic. Every once in a while, she would glance at him with her soulful eyes, and he wanted to take her silky clothes off and kiss her everywhere. But there was more than the promise of sex here. More and deeper and amazingly, there was love. He had managed it finally- he had fallen in love at first sight. He would give her the gift of time-- time to adjust, to comply. He would not ruin it with urgency.

She didn't know where to look. Where in Christ's name was that snarky little waitress? His eyes had gone saucery. His mouth hung slightly open. Was he one of those who saw women as pastries to be gobbled up? Had he forgotten where they were? The coffee shop was called Intimate Encounters, but there was nothing to substantiate the title, just chrome and vinyl. Her silence only seemed to encourage him. Was it too late to ask him where he worked, return things to the level plains of statistics?

She needed reassurance. He reached out under the table. The eagle flew low across a chasm, an abyss of yearning, and came gently, gently to rest. His fingertips touched what had to be her skirt. Under his wrist her knee curved down and away. But his palm was resting lightly on soft silken flesh. There was a taste in the air like salt. The boardwalks of his childhood beckoned, endless and epheme--

The eagle was pushed off its perch and plummeted.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I just wanted to--"

"You fucking men are all alike."

"Actually, I think we're more like the reverse of Tolstoy's families. It's unhappy, unfucking men who are all alike, whereas fucking men are.... Wait. You're upset. Was it the knee pat? I'm sorry.... I was just trying to reassure you."

"You were trying to reassure me? Oh, that's perfect." She sneered, she stood, she stalked out.

In the wake of her leaving, the waitress arrived. She poured a cup of coffee without his asking, as though he were already a regular. "First date?"

"Yeah. First of no more.... I really thought this was different. But I still managed to ruin it somehow."

"I've been there, believe me."

The coffee smelled good, and the waitress's smile was like warm honey sliding over breakfast toast.

On the topmost branch of a Beckett tree, the eagle brilliantly landed.