“Tell me this isn’t better than pizza and a movie,” Jack says across the candle lit table of a reservations only restaurant.
“Is that what you think it’s like with Oliver?” I ask.
I can’t bring myself to talk about Oliver in the past tense, yet the rings are loose from the vase and back on my hand. The genie is out of the bottle and it turns out he didn’t have three wishes to grant. All he could offer what some bad advice. Sure, the evil genie had said, accept Jack’s dinner offer. What can it hurt?
“Ok,” Jack concedes. “So, what, he’s the coffee house and book reading type? Does he quote you lines from some dead poet?”
I can’t talk about Oliver with Jack. I can’t talk about him at all. My phone registers a text message and I look to see a note from Carol. Just saw you go into Carmela’s with Jack. What’s up?
I don’t answer. I don’t know what’s up.
“Is that him?” Jack asks. “Are you going to tell him where you are?”
“Is this night about me?” I ask. “Or you and Oliver?”
“What do you want, Nina?” Jack says, waving his hand up in resignation. “Do you want to adopt? Do you want me to do like Ray and get on TV and apologize for hurting you? For ruining your life? What?”
You could wish for a pen, the genie whispers in my ear, sign the papers.
“I don’t want you to concede, Jack,” I say. “I don’t’ know what I want.”
“That’s the problem,” Jack says. “You’re always looking ahead for something that might never come.”
I look up sharply at this comment. The truth of it is a perfectly round flood light in high school play, illuminating the two of us there at the table. In the play, the me character gets up and steps into the darkness like a walking behind a wall the contrast is so sharp.
“You’re right,” I say.
“Of course I am,” Jack says and takes hold of my left hand across the table. “Now let’s put all this behind us and get back to where we were.”
He touches the rings that I’m wearing. A wide crevasse has opened between us but he doesn’t see it. I don’t want to get back to where we were. Suddenly I’m not afraid anymore. This was a mistake. Jack obviously thinks my agreeing to have dinner will result in my agreeing to give this all another try. That will follow into his moving back into the apartment. Putting his clothes back into his side of the closet. Setting his place at the table. Soon he’ll be talking about turning the spare room into an office so that if it comes to it, I can have the option of a home based job, and I’ll ask what are you talking about, and he’ll say that I should be open minded about what sort of work I might find once the publishing house is out of business, and I’ll say, no, what are you talking about the spare room, what spare room?
And the old differences we had will still be there.
He’ll want to box the nursery up and put it away in the storage unit in the basement and all my hope will be in the dark and damp of that forgotten nowhere where people dump old grills and camping equipment and bicycles with flat tires and boxes of things from their childhood that they can’t throw away but really don’t need and when the baby finally get here, how will explain to people that the nursery is in the basement. How will you hear him crying way down there? they will ask.
You can wish for another chance the genie says to me, that’s what they all wish for, really. I’ll see what I can do.
“I can’t do this, Jack,” I say. “I’m sorry to have given you false hope. I’m sorry that I haven’t signed the papers. I will. I have to.”
“You don’t have to,” he says.
I slip the rings off my finger and place them on the table.
“Thank you for giving these to me,” I say.
“Nina,” Jack says. “We can at least finish dinner.”
“To what end,” I say.
“Is this about Elliot?” Jack says.
“Oliver,” I correct him. “And not really. Good-bye Jack.”