By TJ Jarrett
Over dinner one night, I said to the man: I feel this could go on forever, you and me in white tablecloth restaurants in some state of want.
And the man said: I love you, which I knew to be untrue.
I said: You know what your problem is—you’ve always loved wanting more than having. By which I meant our problem and the cause of the dinner in the white tablecloth restaurant and what had become one of the ceremonies of our discontent.
He reached across the table with a pulpy open hand and said it again: I love you. I fell silent.
I thought I was having some epiphany on what hunger was. I tried to explain this to the man. I told him the story of that weekend I left for New Orleans without telling him and came back via Meridian to see my grandmother on a Sunday afternoon. She made minute steaks and gravy and sticky rice and we ate together with few words and I held her hand so long she asked to have it back again. I was so hungry, I said, and I didn’t know that I was until she fed me.
The man leaned back. I thought you hated your grandmother.
I reached toward him, put my hand over his, asked: Why is love so endlessly complicated? I’m trying to say I can be satisfied.
Years later, I was in a bar. It well lit with globe drop lights, the stools a cheery yellow and the bar a thick polished white marble. The bartender steered me toward a peaty 18 year single malt. I was waiting for someone. The man was there. We hadn’t spoken in ten years. The man lived in a new town and the fault for not speaking was mine alone. I stared into my scotch and furtively looked in his direction as if he would dissipate like fog.
My companion arrived and the hostess steered us into the long dark restaurant. The busboys were changing the linen and it fell to the table like a sail when all the air lets out. My date asked if I was looking forward to our meal and I said yes. Yes. And I kept my eyes forward and strained to focus on what was right in front of me. The plates. The glasses rising up like soldiers. The clink and glint of knives and spoons.
TJ Jarrett is a writer and software developer in Nashville, Tennessee. Her recent work has been published or is forthcoming in Poetry, African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Third Coast, VQR, West Branch and others. She has earned scholarships from Colrain Manuscript Conference and Vermont Studio Center; fellowships from Sewanee Writer’s Conference 2014 and the Summer Literary Seminars 2012 and 2014; the 2014 VQR Emily Clark Balch Prize for Poetry, a runner up for the 2012 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize and 2012 New Issues Poetry Prize; and her collection The Moon Looks Down and Laughs was selected as a finalist for the 2010 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Her debut collection Ain’t No Grave (finalist for the 2013 Balcones Prize and the 2014 Debulitzer Prize) is published with New Issues Press (2013). Her second collection Zion (winner of the Crab Orchard Open Competition 2013) was published by Southern Illinois University Press in the fall of 2014