2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

At Café Brazil

Author: R.T. Budhram

Kotaro Yumi decided to free her phone of the men who made no impact. She sat under one of Café Brazil's umbrellas and let her Mexican Mocha cool. While she hunched over the screen between her legs, her hair hung down and provided a shield from the passersby. They were not looking at her. Yet, waiting there, she took pleasure in the certainty of the boy's instantly recognizing the red shock that covered her face.

In the daylight, Yumi's eyes squinted back through the smudges on the screen. She opted first to clear the device of memories and watched the photos before her slide into the trashcan. She would soon move on to her contacts, most of which were friends, family, or colleagues with first and last names listed. However, the men she saw regularly had no last names. They floated around in her head and begged to land on their feet; they asked to stay grounded. It seemed they were always demanding that she put them first. Only one of them never wanted anything, and his last name was Kuroda.

Kuroda was not among the ones she wanted to erase. The men she intended to delete took her months to engrave on her mind, for she always had trouble remembering a new countenance. Even after the third date, weeks after the first meeting, Yumi lay awake at night and strained to recall the contours of their faces. She mistook the lines and curves for someone else's and cursed the holes in her memory. After she checked the phone, she relaxed and thought of how photos were relative but never wrong.

When she hovered over those faces, she tried to memorize them. Sometimes the men pierced her eyes, and when she leaned in she could see her own judgment. The feeling was wrong, and the fault was mutual, she thought when the contours contorted. The kiss wasn't enough; neither of us got it right. So, one by one, they slipped away into the trash icon.

Yumi smacked her lips and set the empty cup on the table. The combination of Mexican chocolate and cinnamon left sweetness in her mouth, but its aftertaste was unpleasant. She grew disgusted with her task and dropped her phone, which bounced beneath the rail. Horrified, she scrambled to retrieve it when a shadow covered her body. Kuroda's face was blocking the sun, and Yumi could hardly see his features. He laughed at her grimace. "John, you ass!" she screamed, "You make me wait!" She stood up, punched him on the arm and stumbled inside with her bag, red-faced.

* * *

The Cat is an affectionate whore. He purrs in your lap and marks your knee thoroughly, but then his teeth scrape across your skin because you move. On rare occasions you accept his reprimand; you feel guilty for the things you decide to withhold from him, and now you're convinced he’s been avoiding you since yesterday because you replaced the old litter with new. Not a speck of his odor remains.

Yet this morning, even though you’ve encroached, Hotspur the Cat purrs in your lap. He pushes his cheek against your fingers, and you indulge him with a massage while you enjoy the silkiness of his calico fur. Then, he explodes with a sneeze and abandons you to sit on John's lap. You take offense, but your amusement at their bliss wins out because of the infectiousness of John’s delight. Before you leave the bed, you decide to wash your hands and then shave. But first, you give the man a thought.

For the most part, John Kuroda's humbleness offsets antagonism. He is conservative with the information he shares and manages to maintain a relationship with anyone who shows him the least bit of affection. During ruptures in the peace of these relationships, during times when participating parties complain about neglect, John endures because he believes “the good times are worth it.” Even without his tiresome handsomeness, John could get by on charisma alone.

In months previous, John pelted Hotspur out the patio door. After he caught your furtive feline walking along the counter to sink his fangs into one of your Cornish game hens, out the door the Cat went. But Hotspur, in the midst of other forbidden preoccupations, learned to engineer his escape in John's presence. So John, noting the Cat’s love of outdoor freedom, took to the firing of Nerf projectiles instead. “Not only is it necessary discipline,” he said, “but also wonderful target practice. Win-win.” You snorted and grudgingly acknowledged his point.

You let John do what he wants, but now you tell him from the bathroom to strip the bed before he goes to Café Brazil. In the middle of the shave, the blade nicks your skin because Hotspur’s hiss-and-spit startles you. The “sorry” beneath John's laughter elicits a growl beneath your breath. The blood reminds you of the mess of cum on the floor – probably long ingested by the Cat at this point.

Will you put the gun down, please, and start the coffee before you go? Have some too.” You reach for toilet paper to sop up the mess, but the blood won’t stop. The creak of the front door travels.

Actually, it’s time I leave,” says John. “She’s waiting by now.”

You move to where you can see him by the door, your face half-white and a little red. John looks back and then glances down at Hotspur who, despite everything, reaches up to knead his thigh.

Leave, then.” Through the doorway, past John’s averted guilt, you can see the stairs.

I know I told you this, but don’t say anything.” John looks up again. “I’m not ready.”

I know. Go to your lunch. Tell her I say hi. And tell her to find me online. We haven’t spoken since graduation.”

She misses you, Andrew. She said that. But then she talks a lot.”

He disappears behind the closed door, and Hotspur protests. You’ll never know whether the Cat’s meows spring from John’s leaving or from the extinguished possibility of escape. Nevertheless, the complaints irritate you, and thoughts of Yumi Kotaro incite anger. Forgotten beneath the gun, the scarf you gave John makes you uncomfortably aware of your own presence.

Hotspur prances between your feet to the litter box and bitches over the clean substrate. “Mark it up, then!” you snap and forget about the blood until you see it dribble in the mirror. The droplet falls from your chin onto the floor, and the Cat slinks his way over.

* * *

I decided not to order anything. She might get the wrong idea. Just tell her, say, "I don't have much time, Kotaro, so if you could please tell me why you wanted to see me..." Our texts had already established a time frame, but I knew she'd feel no impact if I told her I had to meet Andrew later at that Italian restaurant. "I have to be going..." But she just wouldn't mind. Probably order another.

Kotaro Yumi had the ability, however, to force my enjoyment of our time together. Her reactions frequently surprised me, yet most of her expressions rang in my gut with familiarity. So, whenever Kotaro was around, I had little trouble smiling.

"John, why are you always late? Do you know how pissed I get?" She placed her cup on a table near the window, not far from where I first saw her. The muscles in her arms clenched. I noted the toned shape and was glad of her fitness.

"Sorry I'm late, really, I don't mean to be." I permitted a weak smile. "Good to see you." The frigid metal chair seared the skin on my legs.

"It's been a while. You don't even talk to me online." Her eyebrows drew toward the bridge of her nose, and I tried not to feel the sting of her accusation. For the most part, I succeeded. In our past friendship, we had reached the point at which at her emotional manipulation became a topic of our inside jokes. But those jokes don't exist anymore.

I saw traces of a smile flit across her face. "Why didn't you order anything?" She looked down at her mocha. "This is really fattening, you know. It probably has hundreds of calories. You're just going to watch me drink it, right?"

"I have to leave soon. I've got plans in a bit."

She waited approximately ten seconds before she asked me what plans I had. During this time, I thought about Yumi Kotaro. For stretches of time she existed only in my dreams, where our relationship flourished. But the encounters varied there. Sometimes we did magic. Other times, she made me feel less than human. You used to make me so angry, and now all my judgments color you negatively.

"With Andrew," I said. "He says hi. He says to message him."

"Maybe I will." The thoughtfulness in her voice caught my attention, and she looked at me. "I miss you both." The note of remorse accented her tone, which usually sounded prideful, defensive, or defiant. She exhaled with the kind of habitual purpose that I know drives her to recklessness. "Lately everything feels like a punch in the chest. I'm stumbling a lot." Her hands splayed flat in the air and lent emphasis to the word "stumbling." She had been staring at the table's surface.

I told her to wait while I ordered cake. Through the glass case I had seen a large slice of chocolate cake, which glistened down an entire edge. There had been a few powdery-looking raspberries on top. I returned to the table with the plate and two forks, said "Go ahead," and took the first bite. Abundant richness exacerbated the taste, but the cake compensated with moisture and mushiness. Yumi eyed the other fork. She had never looked so defeated. "Eat some," I said before I feared she would begin to sob.

Through chewing mouth and teeth caked in muck, I spoke further: "You should not have told Andy. Shouldn't have told him I'm positive."

"I know."

"Wasn't your place."

"I'm sorry."

"After I had sex with him, I came to you. I trusted you..." The cake slid down my throat like a shake.

"I understand now that I should have just comforted you and left it at that." Sunlight shone through Yumi's red hair. Her eyes lingered on my mouth before they shifted to our plate. "And I shouldn't have said those things to you. You're not a bad person. Not a horrible person. I just didn't want to see him go through what you did."

"...But you didn't trust that I would tell him myself. You were ridiculous." I shoveled another bite into my mouth and thought she looked insignificant. "It's you he has a grudge against. It's you he's angry with."

She took the other fork and removed a morsel of cake. Her jaws moved imperceptibly while she chewed, but her eyes widened in pleasure. "I know he hates me. I'll leave him alone." The next piece Yumi took fell from her fork onto the table before she went for another. "You know..."

Again, she caught my attention. I stopped chewing.

"...I was just going through my phone before you showed up. I deleted a lot of guys."

"Why?" I was desperate with thirst. There was the water.

"I didn't want them around anymore. Didn't need to be reminded of them all."

"'Out of sight, out of mind,'" and I cringed at the cliché, but Yumi was busy removing the paper wrapping from her straw. She hit the tip vertically on the table so that when the casing broke, the paper could be pushed down into a scrunch. She smiled involuntarily when her few drops of water expanded the scrunch into a quenched, strangled cylinder.

I thought about Yumi's irresponsibility, particularly with regard to her body. I thought the only thing guys wanted to know beforehand was whether or not she was on the pill. Most people have something these days. "You better have been protecting yourself."

"I'm not great at it." She looked into her lap, back straight against the cold metal.

"I hope you mean emotionally. Emotionally, you're not good at protecting yourself."

Goosebumps spread over the length of her arms. When Yumi started to shiver, I thought she looked irradiant. Lusterless. But she never asked for lower worth. It was probably just something she felt somewhere in that towering tangle of ginger.

"I do protect myself, John." She scooped a large chunk of the chocolate icing, which I had been avoiding. The consistency of frosting, its exaggerated viscosity and sweetness, had always convinced me that it stayed forever in the crowns of my teeth. Her eyes returned to mine. "So how are you and Andy?"

"Fantastic." I took the penultimate bite and experienced an influx of heat that filled through my face. "I love him. He's the only one it's felt this right with." My fork speared the last piece, and I reflected upon chewing. Only Andy had ever been able to convince me that I was worth something. Only he, health at risk, knew what I was capable of. Yet, frequently, I wondered how I would hurt him again.

"That's that best thing I've heard..." The mistful quality of her smile flattered me, but I was ready to leave.

We rose to our feet, and Yumi deposited our dish in the dirty bin by the condiments. After her clatter, we parted ways, and I left Café Brazil. Andy was waiting.

DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38

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