All around them the normal chaos was erupting. The rattling carts navigated the overcrowded tables while uniformed servers unveiled clouds of steam as they removed lids and reshuffled baskets. The new patrons ooo’d and aaah’d as the colorful entrées were spread out before them while the veterans wielded their chopsticks like swords as they dove to get their favorite pieces before the bowls were cleared by their fellow diners. All the smells, all the sounds, all the sights were familiar and comforting.
But at their small table in the corner there was no comfort to be found. They took unenthusiastic bites of their dumplings and steam rolls interspersed with sips of fragrant tea; but neither one spoke. Jess did her best to keep her eyes busy, watching the excited baby three tables over spit rice porridge all over his bib while his mother frantically tried to keep the sticky substance in his mouth. The site might have made her lose her appetite, but she’d do anything to keep from looking across the table at the man she was supposed to love more than anything.
“You ok?” Dan asked her through a mouth-full of spring roll.
“Sure,” she answered without looking at him. “Just tired.” It wasn't true, but it was before noon on a Sunday and they’d gotten up relatively early to take the train into China town so the excuse would work, probably.
“Hey, remember this?” he said, and she finally turned to look at him.
She watched as he tucked his chopsticks underneath his top lip and pulled up his arms up in a T-Rex fashion, arching his eyebrows at her as he made the characteristic high pitched noise. She’d called the pose ‘the retarded dinosaur’ the first time she’d seen it and laughed far harder than the pose really warranted. Now she only gave him a weak smile.
She remembered their first time at this place, all those years ago. They’d come early in the morning with a crowd of drunken grad students after concluding that dim sum was the only appropriate end to what had become an all-night pub crawl. That was the first time she’d really seen Dan outside the confines of class and she’d allowed herself to fall for him right away, with no reservations or cautionary investigation. It’d been so unlike her, which was exactly why she thought it was right.
Observing it from the other side of her young adulthood she knew how wrong she’d been. It wasn’t for a lack of love or passion or anything else she’d thought it was supposed to be at the time. They’d allowed themselves to succumb to the madness characteristic of young love and developed a number of bad habits in the process. But they stuck it out, the way she thought they were supposed to, and managed to make quite a respectful showing of the coupling over the years.
But life had changed, for both of them. Not because of anything that either one had done wrong, but just change. The inevitable kind that marches you forward, whether you want to go or not. And all the revitalized bedroom techniques, screaming matches full of fiery passion, and quiet concessions made afterwards in the dim light of morning weren’t enough to undo the inevitable change that drew them apart from each other. The everyday revolutions always led to them reorganize in ways that were just a little too different to be manageable in the long term. It was like seeing the landscape and wondering when it had shifted- it happened too slowly for you to notice but now everything just looked different.
Now as she watched him fumble to control his chopsticks- a trait she’d once found endearing- she knew there was nothing left. Everything had been said, everything had been done, all sentiments had been exhausted and all anger faded into the past. She’d been playing the charade of someone still in love for a while now and even her built-in need to stay the course had faded. Now there was nothing left but empty civility.
“You done?” he asked her, wiping his face and setting the cloth napkin on top of his empty plate.
“Yes,” she said. As she raised her hand to signal for the check she waited for the moment to hit her.
She'd expected that once the moving boxes has been packed and monetary settlements has been made and all the other details had been dealt with she would feel that soul-crushing defeat, or pain at having loved and lost, or something. But she didn't. It was simply done. She wondered if this was the way things always ended, ultimately. Picking up the check and heading out.