He is there first, unquiet, rolling and unrolling
a paper napkin, eyes fixed on an image
on the inside of his skull.
She enters on puppet limbs, sits down too sharply,
folds herself up like a tripod, telescoping, knees jutting.
Adjusting and readjusting. Twisting away,
neck sinews writhing,
she tries to smile. Her teeth are daggers.
Thanks for coming, he says, I know you weren't sure.
Her head shakes machine-like, denying she's here.
Two black coffees, he says to the waitress. Listen, he says,
I'm so, so sorry. I'm a dickhead, he says – he's smiling.
Yes you are you are you are you are, say the neck sinews.
I'm a complete idiot, he says. Her mouth opens. O.
The sound that comes out is: Don’t worry about it
but her eyes teem with something.
The coffees appear, and he sets about using
the heavy metal spoon to tear the smooth caramel foam
from the surface, exposing the darkness beneath.
She crosses her legs so tightly they hurt, not trying out
any of the phrases she rehearsed on the train.
Now she is here, and he is opposite, she sees
that dark, bitter observations wouldn't work,
that he'd only agree with her, smiling, and that, anyway,
none of it matters. All her angles are pointing
in different directions, her face and all its features
are the colour of milk. He says, I'm glad we're cool.
He says, maybe we'll laugh about it one day.
He laughs today. He spreads out.
The sinews spasm.
The coffee bites her tongue.
Mary Ford Neal is a writer and academic currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Her poetry is recently published/forthcoming in Ink, Sweat & Tears, perhappened, Capsule Stories, Dust Poetry Magazine, The Winnow, Twist in Time, Ice Floe Press, Marble, and Dodging The Rain, and her debut collection will be published by Indigo Dreams Press in 2021. She tweets about poetry and other things here: @maryfordneal.