Amara didn't speak when I told her. She touched her hair, smoothed her skirt, and didn’t look at the package of Oreos I'd brought. I wanted to say I was sorry, but instead I said, Go ahead, Eat.
I paced. I used my hands and spouted nonsense that swirled around what I wanted to say. The heart to my words was surrounded by dense brick, I had an inability to say what I felt. I felt like a cliché. It's nothing you did; I didn't mean to cheat. Forgive me. Etc.
I sat. Behind her, the TV played and Morris Chestnut wore a tuxedo. Something lo-fi and smooth poured from her sound system. There were tulips on the windowsill, violet and yellow. Petals round and smooth.
Amara's expression stoned up and she pushed the Oreos back. She said, I think you aren’t who you think you are, James. I asked if we could talk, because I wanted to say something real. She shook her head and wiped her lips and said, No, no, nope, no.
It was cold outside, and I pulled my jacket tight. It was brown leather and cracked from years of weather. The street was empty and the snow crackled beneath my feet. Instead of getting in my car, I walked, the stupid cookies tucked in my arm. Why did I think they would solve anything?
I made a left, a right, another left and found myself in a little neighborhood park, one I didn’t recognize because it wasn't my neighborhood. There was a gazebo covered in tags, a bunch of sleeping elms and scattered children's toy trucks. I sat on a bench and opened the package and ate a cookie and then another, my arm a machine.
When the package was half-empty, I felt a tap on my shoulder. You mind if I have one? A bearded, dirty face stared at me. He smelled like weeks of sweat. He had layers and layers of rags on top of each other. Beneath all those rags, were there more rags? What about beneath them?
Where did you come from? I asked.
He smiled. I’ve been here. Where have you been?
Fair question, I said. I’m not sure at all. I handed him the box and added, I don't even like these things.
That's crazy, he said, what's better than cookies? He held them like a life raft. He shoved them into his mouth. The cookies disappeared. The man never broke eye contact until he swallowed and blinked, slowly, languorously.
I don't know, I said. There has to be something better, right?
He shrugged. Does there?
Instead of acknowledging that I didn't have an answer, I asked, do you think there’s more underneath? Do you think there’s something better than the surface?
The man finished the last of the cookies and said nothing at all.
Michael B. Tager is a writer, editor and is mostly vegetables. Find more of his work at Michaelbtager.com.