He took me for a walk along the pier. The barriers I was leaning on were soaked at the bottom. I watched the water thrashing below and decided that fish loved choppy water the best. The water was wild, and I hoped a fish would jump. He had wrapped his arms around me from behind and was whispering verbal band-aids. I love you so much. No-one could ever love you as much as I do. I wanted to find a ripple in the water, but it was hard to see with the waves. He told me that the water wasn’t calm enough and we went to get lunch.
An encyclopaedia I read as a child said water pressure builds the deeper down the sea you go. It keeps building, as the water volume above you increases. It said some fish had evolved to withstand the pressure. I pictured a fish being pulled deep and held. There had been a picture of an anglerfish on the next page, but I had been picturing a salmon.
We went into a café and sat at a tiny table. A man with white hair handed us menus and began pouring us glasses of water. I watched it pour. It splashed into the glass and settled, which made me sad. We both ordered soup and I swished the water in my glass to make waves. I thought about the pier, and the fish building up speed, which was surprising, because I was worried an incredibly heavy thought was taking up all the room.
I remembered a chapter in a Peter Pan book I had read as a child. Wendy’s mother searched through her daughter’s thoughts every night and folded the ones she didn’t like, up small. I remember being disturbed by that thought, even more so now that I’m older.
The man came with the soups. Mine was red. His was cream. When the man put my bowl down, the liquid sloshed, and it kept moving as long as I kept putting my spoon in. We thanked the man who smiled at me before he left.
I took a spoonful of soup. It was beautiful, and I remarked on how fresh and peppery it was. He called over the man and told him I had said it was too peppery. The man apologised and took it away. I hadn’t said that. I hadn’t even thought that. It wasn’t even his food. He rolled his eyes at me. I begged him not to send the second one back. After it arrived, he complained again. He told the man I had said it was still too peppery.
The man came over but this time, he leaned in very close, ignoring him and looking me in the eyes. I was startled. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had spoken to me directly. His tone was so soft, and he seemed worried.
“There isn’t any pepper in that soup, but I can make you more if you want,” he said.
I could sense my date, across the little table, listening and glaring. The man had kind eyes and I could tell from the way he spoke to me that he was a good man. He looked back at my companion, saw the glares, and retreated to the kitchen.
I looked across the table and gave him a weak smile. He told me he wanted to order a tea. I said I would too, but I needed to use the bathroom. He stood up and told me if I went, he’d stand outside the door. The bathroom door was two metres away. I told him I didn’t want him to stand outside. He didn’t care. I told him that the door was close, he could see it, he could get his tea. He said it wasn’t safe for a girl to walk around on her own.
I didn’t want to use the bathroom then. He shouted, demanding to know why I wouldn’t go if he was waiting outside the door, so I went with him standing outside. When I came out, he had changed his mind about getting tea.
We left the café. It was drizzling. The rain made ripples in the puddles, but the water was dirty. He pulled me in close and embraced me. When he felt me pull back, he made his grip tighter, so it hurt and wouldn’t let go.
I wouldn’t have made it to the kitchen anyway.
But I could feel a terrible ache of hope, because the man in the café had spoken to me softly and looked me in the eyes. We broke apart and walked down the street. He made me hold his hand. He didn’t know it, but I was secretly remembering books I had read, and visualising ripples every time my foot hit the dirty pavement.
It was as if I had heard a bird chirp at night, or as if I had seen a fish jump, so I could know it was near the surface.