There is a man sitting next to me, telling a story. It is not a good story, but he is telling it with great enthusiasm, waving his hands and raising his voice. He is speaking to another man and we, this other man and I, are listening carefully, waiting for the climax of the story. Of course, they don't know I'm listening; me, with my nose buried in a book whose pages I haven't turned. Me, trying desperately to read the story on the page - the good story - but instead, distracted by this loud man and his spectacularly shitty story.
He is wearing brown suede shoes and pegged jeans and a button down, striped shirt, buttoned to the top. His hair is mousy and the part is crooked and it is still wet from the shower. He is young, younger than me, and dresses from the decade before he was born.
He stands abruptly and walks away - they started without him and he scrambles to catch up. What was he talking about? What was the point? Was he simply talking to fill a perceived empty space? I must know and don't care, and I'm disappointed in him for leaving me.
A woman sits down next to me, in the row of folding chairs against the wall. I cross my legs away from her and lean away. My bag is in the chair to my right, creating a safe zone of personal space. I am too conscious of other peoples smells, their body heat and proximity to me makes me strain to hold my arms close to my body. I am uncomfortable, but moving would be incredibly rude. So I sit, the lesft side of my body tight and tense, taking shallow breaths through my nose.
I will be here all day.
There are stragglers in the hallway. Some of them talk, too loud and too fast, in that superficial way you talk to people you don't really know, or don't really like. Those people you run into at the grocery store and are forced to make small talk while you desperately try to remember their name. These are the people who always seem to know so much about me, making mention of my children and life events, while I stare blankly and search the dark crevices of my memory for a name. Who are you? I want to scream, but I smile and nod and ask vague questions and look for a conversational exit.
I crack my knuckles and the woman flinches. It's a horrible habit and one I've had since I was a child. I do it so often I'm hardly aware of it. Sometimes, I'll do it out of nervousness in a quiet room and the pops erupt like rifle shots, pinging off walls and making old women gasp. I mumble sorry and wonder what I'm apologizing for.
My knee is cramping and my rear end is falling asleep. My shoulders are up around my ears and the shear effort of leaning my body imperceptibly away is making my jaw clench. I uncross my legs and lean forward and reestablish the personal space barrier. Twelve minutes. I feel like thirty minutes is the minimum I have to sit here before I can move without seeming rude. And then, I can't simply move to another seat. I'll need to go walking around this giant, unfamiliar space, pretending to find great interest in things like bronze plaques designating memorial meeting rooms.
I wonder if Richard Blythe lay on his deathbed, his mind resting easily knowing he would be immortalized by a bronze plaque outside a meeting room. There is a continental breakfast laid out on the table below it, and businessmen and women who are torn between the joy of missing a day of work and the pain of sitting through a seminar on increasing profit margins read it while waiting for the person in front of them to dig a disc of cream cheese out of a paper cup with a plastic spoon.
Richard Blythe - immortalized, recognized, forgotten by the time they get to the muffins.
She moves. I am released from my prison and yet highly offended. She has broken the spell and I find myself suddenly hungry for muffins.