“I guess I would say, seeing the Pacific Ocean.” Paul said picking up the paper menu on the table. He raised his head and glanced across the diner at the attractive redhead staring out the window, “Yes, definitely. The Pacific.” He returned his attention to the menu, folding its edges, flipping it over and folding it in half.
The man across the table from him regarded Paul and his dexterity. He curled his lower lip and nodded. “Interesting. Why Pacific?”
“First time we saw it, it was a summer day. We had just driven across the country from Boston to LA.” He folded the paper into a triangle, “We were tired, almost broke, and really scared. Then we topped this hill and there it was. God it looked so beautiful. Glistening, vast – a metaphor for all our hopes and dreams.”
“That’s very poetic Paul, worthy of Kerouac.” The man said. Then leaning forward, “Most people say their first kiss, or when their children were born.”
“Don’t have kids” Paul said without looking up.
“Never will.” The man added.
Paul paused mid-fold and looked up at the man. “Made you look.” The man added playfully.
Paul did look, he looked at this smug man (if he can be so called) sitting across from him, wearing a grey pin stripe suit that fit seamlessly, creaseless on his broad frame. A beige shirt stuck out right under his neck and a pink pocket square brought it all together. Paul felt like he was sitting across from Al Capone, “would have had a better chance of living if I had,” he quietly mused. “Do you always make light of these situations?” Paul asked the man with no name.
The man grinned, revealing his row of crest-white teeth. “No,” he said “You interest me.”
Paul let out a small scoff, “Me? Give me a break.” He returned to his paper which had been folded to half its size.
“No, I’m serious.” The man removed a cigarette and lit it up “Most men don’t go so easy. They kick up a fuss, scream, shout, bargain – you name it.” He took a deep puff and let it out “Some even trade to save themselves.” Then looking at Paul, “But not you, no, very few people trade the way you do.”
Paul looked over at the redhead by the window again. She was staring outside at the fire and white smoke that was being dowsed by the jets of water. She looked over at Paul and he immediately averted his gaze.
“Don’t worry,” the man said “she can’t see us, look all you want.”
Paul readily returned his gaze to the woman. She was stunning - green eyes, small button nose, sun freckled cheeks, lips gently parted in the middle. “How could I not trade?” He said without taking his eyes off her.
The man turned in the direction of Paul’s gaze and looked at the woman. “She is a stunner.” The man agreed. “But is she worth it Paul? It’s not every day you get the gift of life.”
“She’s worth it.” Paul answered and went back to the paper, making a final few folds to bring it to its final form.
The man watched him with amusement, then turned back at the red head. “Paul, what if I told you that I made Renee over there the same offer I made you.” Paul stopped and looked up. “And what if I told you, she refused, didn’t think you were worth it. What then?”
Paul studied the man with no name, noticed for the first time that despite his expensive suit, chiseled features and cleft chin – he was terribly ugly. “It doesn’t matter. I’ll stick with my original offer.”
The man laughed, then prodded on “And what if I told you she cheated on you when you were on assignment in Nairobi? Cheated with that Stuart guy. What then Paul? Would you still make the trade? Give that undeserving harlot a second chance? Because I’ll tell you, she doesn’t deserve it. She’s better of burning---“
The man could not complete his sentence because in the next instant Paul was on top of him, his one hand on the man’s collar and the other punching the burning cigarette from his mouth. “Liar. You fuckin’ liar.” Paul screamed. “I’ll be damned before I hear another word from your mouth.”
“Excellent choice of words Paul.” The man replied and began cackling wildly. In that instant, poised over him, ready to deliver a second punch, and watching the man cackle wildly, Paul saw the true face of the man with no name, the face of the entity in guise of a man, the face of what lay in store for him. It froze him, fist still cocked in the air, the monumental dread settling on him. Paul let go of the man’s collar and retreated. His back found the diner wall and he sunk against it, tears choking out of him.
The man got up straightened his suit, checked his teeth in the window of the diner. Outside, the smoke had cleared and EMT’s were approaching the car wreck. The man turned back to Paul, “No one’s punched me like that since Sinatra. Bravo Paul, those kiddie Muy Thai lessons have definitely paid off.” He approached the distraught Paul slumped against the wall and looked him over, “There’s the reaction I usually get.”
Paul looked up at the man and slowly brought himself under control, “I won’t give you the pleasure.” He said wiping away the tears. “Take me, I’m ready.”
The man smiled and offered Paul a hand, he got a glare in response. The man insisted “Relax Paul, she was never unfaithful.”
A spark of relief popped into Paul’s eye then quickly retreated, “How can I trust you?”
The man smiled, “I just wanted to see if you would still go through with it.”
“Isn’t it your job to fuck with me? Eternal torment and all that?”
The man laughed and leaned in, “I’m not the devil Paul,” he smiled and offered the hand again, “Come. Let’s go.” Paul took a moment, then nodded, took it and got up. He walked over and picked up his origami swan off the floor. As they were at the door of the diner, Paul turned around and looked at Renee still standing at the window of the diner.
“She’s still there.” He told the man.
“Not for long.” The man responded without turning around.
They made their way outside. The EMTs had pulled the bodies from the wreck and placed Paul on a stretcher, Renee lay on an identical one beside him. The medics were working hard on both of them compressing their chests, a defibrillator was being used on Renee. Paul and the man stood off to the side, watching.
Paul held up his origami swan to the man, “May I” he asked.
“It’ll haunt her.” The man warned.
Paul nodded and walked over to the wreck, he drifted into dispersing smoke, through a dying fire, past scrambling medics and firemen and reached Renee’s body. He tucked the swan into her coat pocket, stood back and looked over her. Then turned and returned to the man. As he did, a jolt of the defibrillator brought Renee back to life with a gasp. The medics immediately strapped on the oxygen mask. Renee looked around in confusion until her eyes fell on the lifeless body of Paul beside her. The medics loaded her up into the ambulance, her hand still stretched out towards her dead husband.
Paul and the man watched as the ambulance door shut, then turned. They began walking down the street, fading gradually.
“First time I’ve heard some say looking at an ocean is their favorite memory.” Confessed the man with no name.
“It was with her, that’s the difference. Every memory is about who you share it with. A kiss is but a kiss.” Paul replied
“Paolo Nutini?” the man asked and Paul nodded. He laughed and before they completely vanished, added “It’s going to be fun getting to know you Paul.”
When you first shake hands with Karan Mummigatti you would think "How do I pronounce his name again?" It's simple, Cur-run Mum-e-gut-tee, there easy right. Once you're past that you'd find a guy who loves the outdoors, guitar solos, beer on a hot day and of course - reading. Karan lives in San Jose with his extremely affable wife and hopes to one day own Kurt Cobain's Fender Stratocaster.
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