Tips from the Karma Jar
Birds are chirping—it sounds like a beautiful day, but I hold my eyes shut. What exactly did he look like? A creamy, featureless head under dark chocolate flowing hair materializes in my mind and then dissipates leaving me flooded with warmth, like I’ve just swallowed red wine.
Birds are chirping—it sounds like a beautiful day, but I hold my eyes shut. What exactly did he look like? A creamy, featureless head under dark chocolate flowing hair materializes in my mind and then dissipates leaving me flooded with warmth, like I’ve just swallowed red wine. I inhale deeply. Cold air fills my lungs. I open my eyes. I’m smiling. Even the dust particles dancing in the buttery white light streaming in through my little apartment window look like they’re living their best lives.
I dress in my jogging leggings and tank on autopilot. The rest of me is living 12 hours in the past. Antonio’s is a typical fine dining steakhouse with a dark Cherrywood bar that overlooks a Wine Spectator-award winning wine collection. The bottles sparkle under spotlights. Those spotlights and some recess lighting are the only other electronic sources of illumination in the restaurant. The remaining ambiance is provided by drippy wax candles atop white-clothed tables. A live pianist plays a baby grand in the corner. It’s very Casablanca, and it’s the perfect place for a date except I haven’t got a date. I’m single, but it’s been so long since I’ve had a proper date, I’ve decided to take myself out. So, maybe it’s a date.
It’s my way of celebrating that I’m ready to start dating again. I’m well over the break-up with Marcus. I’ve stopped checking his Facebook. I deleted his phone number (after changing it from Marcus Fiancé to The Cheating Ass to Don’t Answer to Stop! Don’t Text Me). Don’t think about that.Be in the moment. Live now. I take a centering breath. I’ve mourned my past. Tonight isn’t about looking backward. It’s about moving forward.
I slide onto the firm wooden barstool placing my clutch to my right. “What’ll it be, pretty lady?” the decaying bartender asks shakily by way of greeting. Gnarled, wrinkled hands slide a drinks menu in front of me.
I scan the menu and point to a Bordeaux sold for $10 a glass. Marcus used to grumble about wine prices in restaurants, griping about the markup, calling it robbery. “It’s about the experience,” I’d tell him. And you’re ruining it. Why did I stay for him for so long? The thought swirls in my head in tandem to my swirling the wine in its bulbous glass.
Another body sits down at the bar. It’s annoying because they take the seat right next to me even though the bar is almost completely empty. But then I glance at the newcomer and my ire evaporates. His form fills the space next to me. He has a classic Greek profile. He’s not just a person sitting at the bar--he’s a presence.
“Is this seat taken?” he asks, looking at me.
“Apparently,” I reply.
“Do you mind if I sit beside you?”
“No, you’re welcome to sit wherever you like.” What would I say anyway? No, please sit somewhere else. I’m here with myself this evening. It’s true, but¾another side glance¾he’s not wearing a ring. Live now.
And so I do.
A round of truffle fries, a filet, and two more glasses of Bordeaux later¾chardonnay, Chilean sea bass, and cognac for him¾and I realize that Jeff, his name is Jeff, and I spent the entire evening talking. Not only that, but Jeff is so disarming that I’m not conscious about eating in front of him and because it isn’t a date (at least not with him), I don’t censor my conversation.
The venerable bartender brings the bill giving Jeff the tab for us both. “Oh, no,” I stammer, “I’m not with him.” The bartender’s light green eyes widen and his wrinkled lips forms a perfect O-shape. He must think we’re some ridiculous modern couple where I’m too proud to let a man pay for me.
My mouth opens to explain, but Jeff snaps his card onto the bill and slides it to the bartender. “I’ve got it.”
The bartender leaves. “Thank you, but you shouldn’t do that. Let me pay you back.”
“Don’t be absurd.” Jeff finishes his cognac.
“I didn’t realize I’d be such a cheap date,” I muse.
“Maybe cheap to you. This is the most expensive non-date I’ve ever been on.”
“You really should let me pay you for dinner.”
“How about this? How about you pay me back by letting me take you on a realdate? Unless you’ve decided to commit to yourself.” Jeff winks, a stupidly adorable gesture.
I laugh. “That sounds nice.”
Jeff pulls out a $2 bill and writes his name and number. “You call me. If you want. No pressure.”
I tuck the bill into my wallet. My hand fits nicely into Jeff’s large warm one as he helps me off my stool. At the door, he opens his arms wide, and I step into him, wrapping my arms around his waist. His hug envelops me, and I remember how nice it is to be held.
I replay the scene on my three-block stroll past rows of cozy Italianate cottages to Cuppa Jo-Jos, the neighborhood’s coffee dive run by a one-eyed Vietnam vet named Lucifer and his 36-year-old girlfriend, Luna.
The wood door swings open, and a bell tinkles overhead. Luna lifts her head to glance at me through cat-eyed glasses. She does a double take, her do-ragged head bobbing. “Hey, Piper,” she greets. “What canary ate your cat last night?”
“Hah. The cat purred alone last night.”
Lucifer barks a laugh from behind the counter. He shoves a fresh batch of grinds into the Bunn coffee maker while giving me the good side-eye and saying, “By the look on your face, that won’t be the case for long.” The door bell tinkles behind me.
“The usual?” Luna asks punching in an order for a large coffee and biscuits and gravy to go.
“Sure,” I reply handing her my debit card.
Luna slides the coffee Lucifer’s passed to her across the counter then taps the “karma jar” with a glittery blue faux fingernail. I tuck my debit back into my wallet then pull out a bill and drop it into the clear plastic tip box. I step away from the counter, so the next customer can order.
A few minutes later, Lucifer gives me a Styrofoam clamshell made heavy with biscuits and gravy, and I step back out into the morning. It’s getting warmer, even here, under the shade of live oaks where sunlight filters in between the leaves.
“Excuse me!” an unattached woman’s voice shouts.
I jerk my head side to side. I’m the only person outside. I turn around. There’s a gamine woman trotting up the sidewalk behind me. “I think this is yours.” She hands me the $2 bill with Jeff’s number on it.
“Oh my gosh,” I gasp taking the bill. “I thought I’d grabbed a $5. I’d have cried real tears if I’d given this away.”
“Glad I could help.”
“You have no idea. I finally just got over my stupid, cheating ex, and I was out last night and met this most amazing man. We talked all through dinner, and he wants to meet for a real date.”
The woman grimaces. “I can relate to being with a man who cheats. I’m sorry you went through that. Good luck with this one.”
After breakfast, I text Jeff. “Hey, this is Piper from last night. I almost lost your number, so I thought I’d text to say I had a really great time with you.”
Jeff texts back, “It was a nice time, but I’d definitely like to get to know you better.”
“I’d like that. I’d like to get to know you better, too.”
“Wanna meet tonight? Same time? Same place?”
“Just tell me a time, and it’s a date.”
A honey-brown wave steams as it unspools from the curling iron. I wrap another strand of hair around the iron when my phone dings in the other room telling me that I’ve got a text message. I finish the curl and go to my phone. It’s a message from Jeff. “Sorry. Bad news. Got to cancel tonight. Change of plans. Reschedule?”
I sigh. “Of course. Just let me know when you’re free.”
I throw the phone at the pillow and then snatch the curling iron plug out of the wall. Stupid, stupid, stupid men.
It’s Sunday. Jeff texts to suggest we grab brunch. I agree, but I don’t bother getting dressed up. I wait until the last minute to leave. I don’t know if I’m going to be more surprised if he’s there or if he isn’t.
Even though all I can remember about him is his brown hair, I spot him immediately. He’s at a small farmhouse table in the corner. His back is turned, but I know it’s him. I recognize his presence right away.
As I walk toward the table, I’m nervous. I wish I’d dressed up a little, but then again, it’s brunch, and I don’t want him to know how much I’m feeling him, how much I want this to work.
“Hi, Jeff.” His name, Jeff drops out of my mouth like a verbal anvil.
“Piper,” Jeff exclaims. There’s a pitch in his voice, and it’s not a I’m so happy you’re herepitch. It’s a I’m so surprised to see you pitch.
I hover over him. “May I sit?”
“I…um, I’m, I wasn’t expecting you. I’m already here for a, um, meeting,” Jeff fumbles. In the raw light of day, I notice how wrinkled the leathery skin on his forehead is and how he almost has jowls at his jawbone.
“But, you invited me.” My voice is thick. My stomach hurts. I show him my phone, evidence that we had a date. His red, watery eyes dart back and forth as he skims the message thread. A mask of horror settles over his features. He’s heaving shallow breaths through his teeth.
Jeff looks over my shoulder, so I do, too. It’s the beautiful brunette, the Audrey Hepburn-looking woman who gave me the $2 with Jeff’s number back after I accidentally used it to tip Luna at Cuppa Jo-Jo’s.
“Piper,” she says, “so glad you could meet us. I’m Megan.” She holds out a hand, and I shake it dumbly. Something is happening. Something big is happening.
“Megan——” Jeff starts.
“I’m Jeff’s wife.” She steps around me and drops a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. I look at Jeff’s hand where two days ago, a wedding ring, wasn’t, but today, there is.
“How?” Jeff asks, his jaw slack.
“A little karma,” Megan says. “Oh, and, not that I need to write you a road map, but I maybechanged a few names in your phone.” Jeff seems to be about to have a heart attack. I know I should be concerned, then, I really don’t need the dissolution of a marriage and a man’s death on my plate before noon.
“I’m should go,” I mutter to no one and head toward the café’s exit. I’ve already lived this tableau once before, and I have no need to live it again. What luck. At least I didn’t get dressed up.
About the author
Wildly inappropriate woman writes satire, occassionally delving into strange places with feels and all. Semicolons are the best, but em dashes are pretty sweet, too. Widow. Mother. Yogi. Life is short & weird, so let's have fun.