I met her for coffee. Her name is Lola. Like the song. La-la-la-la Lola.
She carried a huge black umbrella, even though it was a sunny day in June.
She wanted tea. I made some crack about “meeting for coffee doesn’t actually mean coffee.”
I hope not, she says. No smile.
That made me talk too much, chatter about nothing. I always drink my coffee black, I say. Unless it’s instant, then it needs all the help it can get. I drink my tea black too.
She says, Things cannot be diluted.
What do you say to something like that?
I babble on. I’d ask you to tell me about yourself, I say, but I already know from our online chats that you’re between jobs, have a black cat, and like electronic music.
And she says, My cat died.
Still no smile. Fine. Maybe she doesn’t know how. I say that is sad, about her cat.
Time to change the subject. I ask her what she’d like to know about me.
She says, your roommate is your college best friend and you have a dog. Like I don’t know this. Then she says, You are very cheerful.
I thank her.
I am not cheerful, she says. I am a grief counselor.
I ask her where she works. And she says, It’s who I am.
What? I think that, but don’t say it.
She continues. But it’s not why my cat died. At least, I don’t know if it was. I never had a pet before.
I tell her about my dog, a yellow lab, who is even more cheerful than I am. Although I’m feeling less and less cheerful.
I met a dog once, she says. He was enthusiastic.
That sends me back to babbling, for some reason telling her about my mom’s birds, and how the one with the clever name of Green Bird would call the dog. Sitting there in the coffee shop, I imitate the bird calling the dog.
She says, We are too heavy to fly.
Excuse me? I say.
I could never have a bird, she says. I’m afraid of birds.
I ask her if a bird had ever pecked her or something. Green Bird once took a piece out of my finger.
She shakes her head and says, Walking down the street, there are pigeons and sparrows. That’s enough.
I ask her if that’s why she carries the umbrella. She says, Sometimes.
This was not working. I ask if she wants more tea, and she says that she has to go. I say something like Nice Meeting You, and start to stand up.
Then she says: We will nest on your doorstep. We will lie beside you in bed. Stealthy and soft we wrap in a blanket of fear. Sudden and sharp, we make a hair shirt of regret. Dark and damp, we rain down grief.
While I was staring at her, my cell rang. Awful news. Awful. Car crash. The worst. I said I’d be right there. But I couldn’t move.
Lola handed me the umbrella. You need this now, she said. Nice to meet you.
Judith Pratt has been a theatre professor and freelance writer. Her second novel, Siljeea Magic, was published by Black Rose Writing. Her play Maize was selected by Louisiana State University SciArts as one of three recipients of the SciArts at LSU Playwriting Prize. She is working on a third novel.
Photo by Azhar