glbtq: the online encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer culture

I Can See Clearly Now
Ann Wadsworth

Terry opens her eyes and it is dark. She has heard Lea come in. Already there is low music from the other room. When Terry sleeps in the afternoon she usually wakens tense and unsettled, and now there is an unpleasant metallic taste in her mouth as well. She tries out a question under her breath, then switches on the desk lamp and goes out into the kitchen.

"Still foggy?" Terry kisses Lea lightly on her cheekbone, just below her ear.

Lea looks up. "Very foggy. A real soup, as they say."

"I haven't been out."

Lea is humming tunelessly. After a moment she asks, "Finish your article today? Anything new?"

Terry pours herself a glass of wine. Lea is shredding lettuce and Terry wonders whether she would like some wine too. These small moments are the ones she feels will eventually overcome her; they pause like a trapeze trapped at the top of its arc. It would be polite of her to offer to pour Lea some wine, but perhaps it would also be an intrusion, she doesn't know. In any case the wine was her idea and she doesn't feel as if she should be compelled to share it. She will not be deliberately rude; if Lea asks her, she will pour her a glass and that will be that. Terry wonders if Lea is waiting for her to ask, of her own accord, whether she wants some wine. Will she abstain simply because Terry hasn't offered?

"I'm bored with the writing now," Terry says. But it's the matter of not starting that's boring her, and she can't tell Lea that. She doesn't want to make that acknowledgment, step over that line; she might not be able to get back.

Lea continues to shred the lettuce and Terry sees she will get no response from her. She is amazed at the violence of this shredding. She closes the refrigerator door firmly, leaving the wine in the darkness with the cold cabbage and the San Pellegrino.

Recently she and Lea have become uneasy, rather formal with one another, Terry suspecting imminent disaster, Lea in a sense longing for it, urging it forward. So Terry believes. She has come to believe several things that a year ago would never have occurred to her. She can never be sure about them; they engage and disengage themselves, these ideas. Sometimes she lies awake imagining that everything she has taken for granted all her life is collapsing like fractured glass around her; at other moments she is convinced that all her terrors, the worst of her nightmares, are in fact true. That at some moment there will be no more air, for example. Also that she can actually feel the speed of time that is carrying her toward death, that this death might occur as quickly as midnight is coming, when she will have to go to work. She knows the hour of her death will arrive as naturally and speedily as that. At the moment of her death it is possible that she will remember this evening, it will be that close.

"Listen, come here," she says to Lea, setting her glass on top of the refrigerator. What she means is stop. "Listen. Let's go out and eat."

Lea looks up. "What do you want me to do with all of this? It's almost done. The beans, the rice." She gestures. "I'm about to do the tacos." Terry looks blankly at the stove. "Look. Everything's chopped up here."

"Let it save. It'll save, put it away. Let's go up to Jack's. I feel like having some people around me." She glances at Lea quickly. "I mean, more people."

Lea sighs. "You always do this when it's my turn to cook. When I've already begun."

"We'll put it away, and tomorrow night there won't be anything to do at all." She is already into her jacket. "I want to get out of here. I've been working hard, and I want to get out." The lie swells in her chest and settles there. The phone rings as they go out the door, the first time it's rung all day.

They make their way toward the dull glow that is Centre Street. Terry feels perfectly, unusually safe in this fog. It presses damply against her eyes; cool shreds of dark air touch her and glide away.

At the restaurant they must wait briefly for a table, and they sit at the big oak bar. There is no one here tonight that they know. The restaurant is long and comfortably narrow with wood floors and a low ceiling. Noise does not escape, and the non-smoking section is for all practical purposes nonexistent. Terry likes it here. She knows it. The food is good. There are no surprises.

"There's a new waitress," Lea observes, looking toward the tables in the back. Terry is thinking of something else. She is calculating times. She finds this calms her down sometimes, enlarges her perspective. Tonight she is considering flying times. In the two hours it will probably take them to eat and return home, for example, she might have flown from Boston, where they are, to St. Louis. Or to Chicago. She might be part way to London. It takes her longer to get to her parents' home in Connecticut than it does to fly to Miami. Why is it that when she was younger thoughts like these didn't seem so ominous? Now they seem full of vast, unuttered portents.

"Terry, she's asking if you want something else to drink."

She looks up. They have been seated at a table in the back, near the kitchen, and the waitress is standing close to her, next to the wall. She meets Terry's gaze steadily with calm, dark eyes, smiling slightly. Inches from Terry's face her arm is bent, gracefully poised with her order pad. Terry sees the fine, blond hair on her arm and looks down quickly, overwhelmed by a sudden and profound awareness of her. She can smell her; her body gives off a faint spicy fragrance, as if she has just stepped out of the bath. Her belly rises gently under her skirt as she takes a breath and Terry makes a small involuntary move toward her, as if to lay her head against her hip; then she seems to fall away from herself with a shock and is suddenly, expansively, happy.

"Bring the wine list," she says, smiling. The waitress departs.

"The wine list?" Lea asks her incredulously. "We never buy a bottle here. They don't have anything worth a bottle."

"Who is she?" Terry asks, half turned in her chair.

"I told you, Jack's hired someone new." She pauses. "Yes, she's lovely, isn't she? High cheekbones, dark hair. Very Mediterranean." With this observation Lea dismisses the new waitress.

Terry sits with her hands cupped around the empty glass she has carried with her from the bar. When the wine list is placed before her, she attempts to appear distracted.

Lea tells the waitress, "Come back in a few minutes."

What can I ask her? Terry thinks furiously. What complicated question can I ask her?

But when the waitress returns she is still thinking, and finally Lea says, "Oh, just bring some Pinot Grigio, thanks."

The menu is simple. They order some simple things.

"Listen," she says to Lea. "I've been in that broken chair all afternoon. You want to change places with me, so I can rest my back against the wall?"

They stand up, and suddenly the waitress is at Terry's side, pressed, actually, slightly against her. Terry thinks she feels the swell of her breast against her arm and again an elation rises in her. She grasps the back of the chair. "We're just changing places," she says quickly. This process is clumsily completed, and the waitress stands and watches them impassively.

"We're out of the Pinot Grigio," the waitress says when they are settled. "You want the list again?"

"No, don't bother," Terry says. "Bring us your choice, but dry and white."

"I saw a Graves on the list, bring that," Lea says.

Now, from this position, Terry can watch the room. "Why did you tell her that?" she says. "I wanted to see what she would bring."

"She doesn't know anything about wine. She'd probably bring Chablis. You hate Chablis."

She remembers with horror that she didn't take a shower today. And like a quick return into a terrible dream she realizes her unshowered and -- what was she wearing? She has slept in these clothes.

"Why didn't you tell me I looked like such a mess?" she asks Lea irritably.

"You were in a hurry. Coming here, it generally doesn't matter."

"That's not the point. We're out. We were going out."

The waitress arrives with the wine. Terry watches her eyes concentrating on the corkscrew. Her eyes are large, and dark, almost black. Terry wants to say something. "I'll taste," she says lightly, resting one cheek in the palm of her hand. But the waitress has broken the cork. She apologizes, takes the bottle to the bar.

"She's embarrassed," Terry says. She finds this charming.

The waitress returns with the open bottle and watches while Terry tastes. "This is very good," she says. "Absolutely delicious, in fact."

The waitress raises her eyebrows and starts for the kitchen, but then Jack calls her back to the bar. He has to call loudly, because the restaurant has become busier; people are nearly shouting. Terry doesn't catch the name that Jack calls her. In a moment she returns to their table with a dented aluminum ice bucket and a towel.

"Sorry," she says, "I forgot this." She doesn't meet Terry's glance, she doesn't see that it's all right with her.

After a moment Terry stands up.

"What now?" Lea says.

Terry goes to the bar and motions to Jack. "Don't give her a hard time, Jack. She's doing fine."

Jack stubs out his cigarette. "I'm not giving her a hard time. She didn't remember about the ice bucket with the white wine is all. She's all right." Terry wants to ask her name, but Jack moves off. She sees the waitress watching from another table where she is taking an order. Terry feels good. Perhaps she has helped her. New on the job and all.

The salad is limp and indifferent. Terry usually makes a point of asking for it after her main course, but tonight she takes it from the hands of the waitress as if declining to be served, and eats it slowly. She does not return Terry's smile.

"I hope she doesn't think I was complaining about her to Jack."

"What?" Lea had been talking about Boston Lyric Opera, about a production of Puritani.

Terry watches the waitress move from table to table; she seems friendly with the other customers, relaxed. She smiles at the others, at other tables, and they all look good to Terry; they are clean, attractive, sure of themselves with her. Terry wonders about her, how she lives, where she lives, how she sleeps, how she makes love. She is beginning to feel a little drunk. When she takes her hair down at night, how far does it fall?

The waitress approaches with their dinners.

"Listen," Terry says to Lea, leaning forward. "There's something we've got to talk about, something that's bothering me."

Lea frowns.

"I need to know why, when we sleep together, I mean sleep, that recently you always have to have the radio going."

Lea looks at her blankly. "You want to talk about this now?"

Terry doesn't, really, because it has become a serious issue for her, this radio playing. She sees it as another sign of Lea's distraction, a movement away from her. She doesn't want to talk about it now, but it is the only serious thing she can think of.

The waitress arrives.

"I mean," Lea says, "we're only sleeping together twice a week, now that you're working nights."

There is a brief pause. Terry smiles, but at Lea.

"Who has the 'Chicken Kiev'?" the waitress asks.

"I do," Terry says, her eyes still on Lea. She remains leaning forward, in an intimate pose designed to exclude the waitress.

And she, seeing no other way, attempts to place Terry's plate in front of her from an awkward angle, and in so doing spills most of the liquid on the plate into the glass of wine. A couple of peas also roll in.

Terry leans back. "It's okay, it's okay," she says.

"No," the waitress says. She is exasperated, blushing slightly. She removes the glass.

"She's really green," Lea says, cutting her snapper with her fork.

"She's beautiful," Terry answers, watching the waitress at the bar.

"She's beautiful and green, then."

The waitress is back with a glass of wine. "On the house," she says. "I'm very sorry." Terry senses the absence of feeling in these words.

"There's no need for this." Terry puts a hand on her arm. "We have plenty."

She draws away. "Is everything else all right?"

"Everything is fine," Lea says. "Thanks."

"There's really no need --" Terry continues. But the waitress has turned away. She stares after her, the feel of her flesh clinging to her palm. "She doesn't need to be unfriendly."

"It's out of her pocket." Lea is busy with the fish. "Now what about this radio business?"

She sighs. "I don't know."

"I didn't know it bothered you. I've been doing it since you've been working nights. It helps me sleep. I've gotten used to it."

"This is Chablis," Terry says. "I won't drink it."

Lea lays down her fork. "You don't want to talk about the radio?"

"Not now." Her chicken is cold, but she cleans her plate. At the other tables the waitress smiles, she stands and talks casually with the customers as if she has known them for many years. Terry watches grimly. At the paper that night she would have thought about her, as she edited and rewrote other people's words. She would have felt better about herself, knowing she had acted in a certain way with her. Now she feels the cracks in her skin; she feels her brain cells dying like tiny lights going out, one by one; her breasts sagging. She wants no more of this expanding disillusionment. She wants nothing more now than to be angry.

She takes her water glass, which is empty, empties the remainder of the bottle of Graves into it, and returns the bottle to the bucket with a crash. Across the room the waitress looks up, startled.

"Do you want to go to work drunk?" Lea looks at her and smiles slightly. "You're in an odd mood."

The waitress has crossed to their table. "Are you finished?" Her hand pauses over the full glass of Chablis.

"Yes," Lea answers, after watching Terry for a moment. She drinks deeply from her water glass of Graves.

"Two espressos," Lea says.

Terry asks for the check, then finds to her astonishment that she has left her billfold at home.

"I'll put it on my card," Lea says. "I don't have enough cash for the whole thing."

The coffee is bitter, and sugar doesn't help. She will never come to this place again, and she has loved it for many years. It is time to be giving it up. It is childish to keep returning to the same place.

"What's the matter?" she asks Lea.

"The pen won't work."

"Give it to me." She stands up unsteadily.

"Terry, sit down."

She finds the waitress figuring a bill at the bar. She places the pen neatly in her way. "If you want the check signed, give me a pen that works," she says.

Jack moves down. "What's the problem?"

"Broken pen," the waitress says simply.

Jack rummages by the cash register. Terry and the waitress face each other silently.

"Here you go," Jack says.

"Maybe you made a mistake here with this one, Jack," Terry says slowly. She does not turn away from Terry. Her face is blank, indifferent. Terry doesn't know if Jack has heard.

Outside the fog has lifted slightly and the street is washed with neon. They walk east on Centre Street and meet the wind in their faces. On the back of the check the waitress had written, "Thank you. Gina." This message, Terry supposes, was for Lea.

She had only wanted to be able to think about her, to suppose by some magic that the waitress might remember her. To suppose that she might think of her, even once, while she was getting ready for bed, perhaps. Terry knows now that she won't be able to imagine this; she will be ashamed even to remember what the waitress looked like.

"I don't understand this at all," Lea says.

"She was friendly with everyone else. How were we different?"

"She was friendly enough. She was new, she was nervous."

Terry begins to go over the evening, moment by moment, pointing out to Lea how the waitress had been discourteous, inept, reminding her how she had responded. "It wasn't just that she was new. Somehow she took a dislike to us, to me, I don't know why. Who knows why, with people like that? She's probably an aspiring actress, or an aspiring something else. We weren't the right kind of people for her to be nice to, it's as simple as that. I should have said something more to Jack."

"What did you say to Jack?"

"She was coming on to me at first too, did I tell you that? She pressed against my leg. Then probably she saw how I looked, my clothes -- "

"Terry -- "

"She naturally, of course, thought we were, we had just -- "

"Hey!" She pulls Terry around to face her. "What's going on here? You don't even know this woman. She's done nothing to you, absolutely nothing."

The traffic stops. They turn down Green Street, and after a few minutes the lights from Centre Street disappear behind them in the dark.

"Was I rude, then? I was pretty rude, right?" She is afraid to ask if she has made a fool of herself.

"You've been ruder, certainly."

They stop by the Green Street subway stop, and a space seems to open around her. She looks down the stairs and thinks, If I was that rude, maybe I should take her some flowers. Maybe I should do that, it would be a nice gesture. I could do that tomorrow afternoon. I could take her some flowers at the restaurant tomorrow afternoon, late, after I wake up.

The subway entrance is smeared with grime and sodden trash, and they move forward past it into the deeper darkness. She knows Lea will leave her, very soon.

©1997-2002 Blithe House Quarterly / All Rights Reserved