Over at the Broken Forum there is a thread for writing in which one of the community is running a series of writing exercises, the first of which is due today. The subject: a transformation. This is short-ish, and I want to revise it again. A couple of trips through editing and I think it could be pretty good.
I scratched at an itch beneath my watch band, then turned my wrist to see that she was a half hour late. The dinner rush was still a little while off but the restaurant was busy with the employees setting up all the tables, switching out the afternoon settings for the evening finery.
The waiter brought me another basket of rolls, my third, refilled my water yet again and asked me once more if I wanted to go ahead and order or if I wanted to wait. I told him I would wait. He rolled his eyes at me and walked away.
Another thirty minutes, a basket of bread, and three glasses of water later, Clara finally stepped through the door.
She was looking as good as ever. Her red hair was pulled into a loose pony tail, and it swayed across her back as she looked around the room. I shrank in my seat a little. I wanted to see her, but something made me want to hide, to run.
My waiter tapped her on the shoulder and pointed in my direction. As she walked toward my table I became mesmerized by the measure of her steps. She was tall, nearly six feet, and the grey dress she wore was short enough to reveal her legs with every step. Each foot touched the ground in time with the steady slow beat of my heart.
I exhaled as she reached the table.
“Jeremy,” she said. It was stiff, not the friendly hello I’d been hoping for. We hadn’t spoken directly to each other in nearly ten days. Trading voicemails, emails and texts.
I stood and pulled out her chair. She sat. There was a little smile as she did. I wiped a droplet of sweat from my brow and then took my own seat.
My forehead bumped the table as I leaned forward to scratch an itch above my ankle.
“Did you say something,” she asked. She’d been looking around the bar. It was getting more crowded.
“Me? No. Nothing. It’s good to see you.”
She didn’t smile. “You too.” It was matter of fact, not pleasant. “Should we order?”
I laughed nervously. “If we don’t, the waiter might explode.”
“Nevermind. I’ve just been here a while, drinking water and eating bread.” I indicated the empty basket, the half empty one, and the array of water glasses.
“Sorry, I lost track of time.”
She buried her nose in the menu. I glanced down at mine as well. I didn’t need to look as I was familiar with it, I’d even memorized the prices and which items were recommended as lighter fair for those watching their waistlines.
The waiter approached and asked if we wanted to hear the specials. I shook my head and Clara launched directly into her order.
“I’ll have the chicken fettucine, with the house salad.”
The waiter didn’t write it down. “And you, sir?”
“I’ll have the same.” He nodded and started to turn. “I’ll also take a steak, medium rare. No, make it rare. Can I have two of those?” He nodded again and wandered off.
Clara was staring at me. She blinked slowly and collected herself. “Should we start talking now, or should we wait for the food?”
“Now is good.” I pulled at my collar. My hand went to loosen my tie and then I remember I wasn’t wearing one. I pulled at my collar again and drank another half glass of water. “Where have you been?”
“I’d ask you the same.” Clara unfolded her napkin and laid it out on her lap. “But I already know. You’ve been at home, on the computer perhaps, or maybe you’ve been down to the bar.”
“I went to see a movie.”
“Of course you did.”
“I’ve just been trying to get back to normal.” My left shoulder itched, so I rubbed it through my shirt with the opposite hand.
“And I’ve been trying to avoid normal, Jeremy. I don’t think I can go back.” She sipped a little water from her own glass. “I’ve changed.”
“Is everything so different since we went camping?” I tried to keep the pleading out of my voice but I didn’t succeed.
“It’s all very different, Jeremy! We almost died!” People were looking at us as her voice raised, but then she breathed deeply and regained her composure.
I was scratching at my thigh without thinking of it. My nerves were frazzled now and I was sure I was breaking out in hives. “It wasn’t that bad. We ran them off.” My voice trailed out at the end. She’d actually run them off, while I was busy holding the bandage. It had been sort of amazing, like she was some Amazon warrior princess or something.
“Since we’ve been back, though, all you want to do is stay home, which isn’t much more than we did before. But I want to get out.”
“And do what?” I slugged down another glass of water and the waiter brought me three more along with our salads.
She busied herself with her salad. I could see she was trying to pick out all the right word, she was preparing a speech, or perhaps just recalling from memory she’s already written and practices.
I mopped at my brow with my napkin and pushed my own salad aside. My stomach grumbled. I could smell the kitchen, the steaks being lightly cooked, just enough to warm them without browning. I swallowed the saliva that was pooling in my mouth.
“I started biking to work.” She said it between bites.
I kicked off my shoes under the table and curled my toes. “For exercise?”
“Not really. Just to see more of the world. You know?”
“I took a pottery class.”
“Yeah. Down at the continuing education building. I’ve also signed up for some self-defence, and I joined a book club.”
I ran my hands through my hair and kept tossing glances at the kitchen. I was starving but I also felt like I wanted to bolt.
“With me? Nothing. Why do you ask?”
“You’re just very fidgety.”
She was right. My hands almost didn’t stop moving. I scratched at the itches on my wrist, my thigh, my shoulder. I was using my feet to scratch at my shins. I rubbed one hand behind my ear and mopped my brow with my napkin again. I took in a deep slow breath and tried to calm myself.
Clara and I locked eyes for a moment, and then she looked away. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
She took another sip of water and pushed the remains of her salad to the side. “I met someone.”
“What?” It came out higher pitched than I wanted.
“It’s just, I’ve changed, and you haven’t, and I need someone who fits the new me.”
“It’s only been four weeks,” I snarled.
She sat back in her chair, pulling away. “A lot has changed in four weeks.”
“We almost died and you run off and find someone new,” I growled. I growled.
Her eyes opened as wide as they would go, and then as I stood they opened wider. I could feel the low rumble in my throat as I rose. My fingernails dragged along the tablecloth.
“Who is he?”
Clara’s mouth moved but no sound came out.
I asked her again, slower this time, stopping after every word, the rumble in throat coating each one with anger. “Who is he?”
She managed to squeak out, “I met him in my pottery class.”
“Pottery,” I grumbled through a mouth now full of extra teeth. I looked down at my hands and saw the elongated nails. Past them I saw my feet. My toes had ripped out of the end of my socks. I glanced toward the bar and caught my own reflection. My ears were pointed just slightly at the tips, my eyebrows were thicker and my hair was growing as I watched it. Hair was appearing at my wrists and my collar.
I thought back, four weeks, to the camping trip, to the attack, to the bite on my arm.
The waiter arrived with our dinner.
I stared at him and the low rumble emanated from my throat again. He didn’t flinch. He looked bored.
“I’m going to take these to go,” I said as I grabbed the two rare steaks from their plates with my increasingly furry hands. “She’ll get the check.”
I ran out of the restaurant, howling into the night.