two bitter men and an equally bitter pitcher of iced teaPosted: May 28, 2010
“I regret not telling women when they’re beautiful.” One says, the cadence in his voice revealing a watered-down Scottish accent, acquired from a parent but beaten to a slight pulp by years in the United States. That tends to happen.
“Now what exactly do you mean by that, Albert?” The other asks him, pouring some iced tea from a battered plastic pitcher to an equally battered glass, leaving the pitcher half-filled with nothing. The table the pair is sitting at is slightly slanted, enough to cause the water line to skew. One end pointed to recently mopped ceramic tile, the other towards a silently spinning fan. The sunlight refracts into the eye of a waiter currently taking the order of a noisy family. He glances over to the table, on one end a hunched over man tapping his fingers on the condensation forming on the side of his glass, the other setting down the iced tea next to a neatly arranged box of artificial sweetener. The waiter decides to refill their pitcher in a few minutes, as soon as he brings out the family’s order. Those two men do this almost every other week.
“What I mean by that, Bastien my old friend,” he replies, straightening his posture before leaning back into a groaning metal chair, “Is that ever since I was transitioning from an awkward teenage boy to something remotely resembling a gentleman,” he pauses, clearing his throat, “No, not even a gentleman, just a man in general…” He trails off, taking a sip of the iced tea. The liquid washes onto his tongue, an unstoppable army making its way towards the stomach. The taste produced is the blood-stained dirt of the liquid’s war with his taste buds. He takes another sip, neglecting the artificial sweetener and giving a passing glance to the real thing. I like my tea bitter, he always told people, even though he liked it with two packs of sugar refined in God Knows Where. It got to the point where the lie became a half-truth. “What I mean by that is that ever since my mind was catching up to my body’s maturation into something resembling a gentleman, I seldom told women when the light hits their eyes in that particular way, or when the folds of their dress float elegantly along their figure, or…” He trails off again.
“I get it, you regret not being more of a pervert.” Bastien slams his plastic cup on the table. On cue, the waiter brings them another pitcher. “Anything else?” he would always ask. Albert and Bastien would take turns shaking their head no.
“That’s not what I mean at all, you daft old idiot.” Bastien was born in late 1969. Albert’s nearly forty-two years old. “What I mean by that is if there’s one thing I regret, and there’s so many things I regret, it’s the fact that I realized the trick behind getting closer to someone, particularly, you know, someone of the fairer sex,” he pauses, to recall a very specific example. “I realized the trick behind it far too late.”
“You’re as bitter as the tea you’re drinking, aren’t you?” Three inches away from Bastien’s hand, currently resting on the table, were four packs of artificial sweetener haphazardly ripped but neatly stacked. He takes a sip from the leafy water. Too sweet. “Pray tell, what is your big secret?”
“She was a Quebecois, I remember that much, she was part French, part Canadian, a hint of English and the one person who I saw and immediately thought to myself, I want to marry that girl one day.” Albert takes a second to remember her face. He takes another second to remember her curves. He takes five to remember the words they shared. “So what stopped you?” Bastien asks, tapping his finger on the table somewhat listlessly. Albert continues. “I was given all of the opportunities. To say hello. To start a conversation. To tell her just how enthralling I find her. How beautiful she looks. And I wasted all of them, to the point where what courage I managed to accumulate was shipped alongside her to whichever part of our planet she journeyed to after she left from just outside my grasp.” Something clicks in Bastien’s mind. He opens his mouth. “So that’s why…”
“So that’s why I regret not telling women when they’re beautiful. Because of her, I realized how many opportunities I wasted holding back what I genuinely felt because I was being dumb enough to consider how they’d react.” A set of chimes smacks across the side of a glass door, signaling the exit of some other customer. Bastien pours some tea into his glass. He offers some to Albert, who ignores him. The pitcher, more full than empty, had become more empty than full. “How did you think they’d react?” Bastien asks.
“In a way that makes no sense now.” “I always figured they’d brush me off, or slap me in the face, or absent-mindedly accept the compliment.” Albert picks up the pitcher of bitter iced tea and lets some into his plastic vessel, along with a pack of sugar. The grains settle at the bottom. “But now, now I know that’s almost never true.”
“Figures.” Bastien sighs.