A Quiet Spot in the Middle
A Quiet Spot in the Middle
“Piggy?” a woman asked as the door binged.
She was standing in the doorway, staring at Chad as he sat next to Robin at a hard steel table. They were about to eat lunch at the Big Noodle a few blocks from Robin’s house.
The woman had black hair, short, unlike Robin’s, and dark eyeliner; Robin preferred mascara.
This interloper was skinny, in a black T-shirt and black jeans. Robin was round, far rounder than she would have liked, and wearing a fairly normal summer dress, mostly black with nouveau-curls in honey beige. It was a difference between punk and Italian-style Gothic. Robin wasn’t a big fan of punk music.
“You are Piggy, right?” the woman asked again, glancing at a man standing beside her; he didn’t seem to get what she was talking about either.
He looked a little older than her, like the kind of guy who did day-labor, or had recently been in a car crash, from the bandages and brown patches covering his jeans and jacket, but those two weren’t mutually exclusive.
“…I think you’ve got me mistaken,” Chad said.
“No way. I saw you at the Dive,” the woman said.
Robin realized what the woman was talking about and felt jealousy burn in her stomach like a half-gallon of OJ.
Before they’d met, Chad had been in a band. Piggy seemed to have been his stage name. Now he tended to dress like an employee at the public-library, short button-ups and slacks, but Robin was sure in very recent history he’d had spiky black hair and eyeliner of his own.
“We only played for like a minute,” Chad said.
“It was about four minutes- See,” the woman said, turning to her boyfriend again, “I told you. Gadara was great- they lit the stage on fire-”
“That wasn’t us,” Chad said.
She looked like she was considering asking for an autograph, but her boyfriend walked past their table to the counter and the woman continued after him, giving Chad a nod.
“…I wish I could have heard you play,” Robin said. She hated crowds, and live music in general, but it would have been nice to be able to brag about her boyfriend honestly.
“We weren’t that great,” Chad said. And that was all he said; he never wanted to talk about his band.
They were supposed to be on a double date. Throne of Blood was playing at The Perenelle in their Friday afternoon esoteric-feature slot. Robin had mentioned it to Tobie on the phone, and it seemed Kurosawa adapting Shakespeare was academic enough to draw his interest.
He’d tried to invite himself as a third wheel, but she’d insisted he bring along his new boyfriend. She wanted to get a look at him.
“They’re late,” Robin said. She’d tried to eat a big breakfast so she could eat lightly in front of Chad, but the breakfast was wearing off.
It was getting late enough, not only would she want a full portion, she would have to eat it quickly. She remembered a macaroni noodle flying out of her mouth and hitting her kitchen table. It had been an unpleasant part of the evening when they’d first met.
Chad might not have noticed, or he might have just politely ignored the errant pasta. She shivered whenever she thought of it.
“Is that them?” Chad asked. “I thought you said he was gay.”
Remembering the macaroni, Robin hadn’t noticed the door chime. Tobie, dressed in his usual boy-reporter costume, was standing in the doorway, arm-in-arm with his date.
He’d told her the boy’s name was Jo, but he didn’t look like a boy; Robin didn’t believe it.
Jo was beautiful, if extremely strange, and very thin. She was wearing a red dress, a kimono, shiny silk in Chinese-restaurant-wall-color. Her face was painted stark white with strange round eyebrows in gray painted high on her forehead.
Jo smiled, and Robin shivered again, seeing her blackened teeth.
“Is there a costume party I haven’t heard about?” Robin asked.
“I always dress like this,” Jo said.
“He doesn’t. I told him it isn’t that kind of a movie,” Tobie said.
“I was talking to you too,” Robin said. “Who wears sleeve-garters?”
“I’m Chad,” Chad cut in as the pair of them sat down at their table.
“Tobie,” he said, holding out his hand.
Robin noticed Jo holding out her hand as well and a strange smile twitching on her lips.
Robin begrudgingly decided to shake, but Jo pulled her hand away, somehow making a whoop sound that didn’t seem to come from her mouth.
Jo smiled, first glancing at Tobie, who looked appropriately disapproving, and then at Robin, who was still confused, before turning back to Tobie again. “She didn’t laugh-”
“Stop it,” Tobie said, his eyes suddenly drawn to a table on the other side of the Big Noodle. “…Is that Jane?”
He was staring at the punk-girl from before, and Robin felt jealous again, but now for no justifiable reason.
“You know her?” Jo asked, sounding overtly incredulous.
“…Who is she?” Robin asked.
Jo leaned in, motioning Robin to get closer. Robin, very reluctantly, leaned across the table, followed by Chad and Tobie.
“…Jane,” Jo whispered.
“I heard that,” Robin said, sitting back in her seat.
“She’s the girlfriend of the Masked Killer,” Jo said.
Jane turned in her seat, glaring cold eyes over at their table. “Is there gonna be trouble?” she asked.
“Nah,” the man next to her said. “That’s Declan’s kid.”
“Really?” Jane asked, staring at Jo like she needed glasses.
“Hi,” Jo said, waving.
“…He’d better’ve drowned,” Jane said before turning back to her noodles.
“…What was that about?” Robin asked.
Jo smiled broadly and cracked her knuckles, leaning back in her seat. “I tripped this guy, and he fell in the river-”
“Have you eaten yet?” Tobie asked.
“No,” Robin said, remembering she was angry with him. “And you’re late.”
“A good makeup job takes time,” Jo said. Her smile appeared benign, but Robin felt vaguely insulted.
“What would you like?” Tobie asked.
“Inari-zushi!” Jo said, holding up her hand.
“I don’t think that’s on the menu….”
“No, you have to ask for it- I know the people here.” Jo waved happily to a confused looking Asian girl behind the counter.
“You want noodles?” Chad asked. Robin nodded, and he followed Tobie to the counter.
“So…” Jo said.
“You two used to go out.”
It took a moment, but then Robin realized Jo meant she and Tobie, and they had, for an uneventful month. “…Yeah?”
“…Lillian’s a nice old lady,” Jo said.
It took another moment for the right neuron to fire. Lillian was the name of Robin’s grandmother, the old woman who cooked her meals and cleaned up after her. “My grandmother?” she asked.
“We played bingo last week,” Jo said. “…And we shared a cup of tea.”
“You, and my grandma? What are you saying?” Something in Jo’s tone had made it feel like a none-too-subtle threat.
“We’re totally in love.”
“…You and my grandma?”
“No-” Jo said. She held her stomach like she had a sudden pain in her side as she curled over in giggles, her forehead leaving smear of white grease paint on the table. “I- I guess you’re alright.”
“Thanks…” Robin said. “Does Tobie know you’re in love?” From myriad phone calls, that wasn’t the impression she’d gotten; Tobie seemed more confused.
“No. I haven’t told him yet.”
Robin was pretty sure that wasn’t how it worked, but she wasn’t going to argue.
“Girl talk?” Chad asked, returning to their table with two bowls of shiny brown noodles on a plastic tray.
“You used to play backup for Gadara, yeah?” Jo asked.
“…Yeah,” Chad said.
“What’s that- You’re in a band?” Tobie asked, setting down his own platter, one bowl of noodles, and a Styrofoam plate set with a row of brown wrinkly lumps.
“I was,” Chad said.
“It’s good you broke up,” Jo said. “…They were catching up to you.”
Chad smiled, but it was more like the smile was frozen on his face. Jo snapped apart her chopsticks, the spell was broken and Chad dug into his noodles.
“…What are those?” Robin asked, staring at the food Jo had ordered.
“You said that.”
“Fried, boiled, tofu, stuffed with rice. It’s sorta like a sponge boiled in soy sauce and mirin- But they’re kinda… anatomical,” she said, sliding two of the wrinkled lumps together on her plate. “Don’t you think?”
“I mean, like testi-”
“Stop it,” Tobie said.