In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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I don’t remember what we were fighting about,
only that we were in public — in Hugo’s
on a Friday night — and it was winter, as much as it can be
in Arkansas. In case you haven’t been,
the red door to the cafe is below street level, and
inside, the pipes are red and exposed,
and the lights burn red as well. That night
it was so crowded it was hard to hear, so
we felt free to keep going while we waited
for a table — spiteful, vicious, every punch
below the belt; the kind of fight where after a while
you have no idea what you are saying,
much less believe, only that you are trying
to stay afloat on your little raft of words
and not let the other party wipe you out.
Over the cackle of glasses and forks
we kept having to say, What? Could you
repeat that? Even seated at a round table
too small to hold both our plates and the drinks
we desperately wanted by then, it did not stop.
We sat in the red-checkered, red-lit din and
let that argument swell and thin like an inflating balloon,
our coats knocked off our chairs by people
on their way out, and when we asked
the waitress what we owed, she said,
Nothing; a stranger had paid our bill for us
and told her not to tell us until he had gone.
All the way home in the new snow —
silent now, abashed — we wondered
who he was, what he had heard,
whether he loved or pitied us.