He didn't say a word. He just sat there on his side of the table, chewing his wad of steak. I felt I knew exactly how that steak felt, being turning over and over inside his cheek, repeatedly crushed by molars plugged with silver, tongue casually flipping me to the other side of his mouth, where another row of relentless molars had their turn, the periodic acid wash of saliva; softened, mashed, weeping, enough already, enough, I was that piece of meat thinking, I must be nothing more than a gluey gray paste by now, swallow me, swallow me, make an end to it already, spit me out or make me part of you, put me out of my misery one way or another!
When he did speak, I still wasn't sure he had swallowed.
I couldn't help asking, "Have you swallowed that piece of meat you've been worrying the last ten minutes or what?"
He looked at me oddly. "What?"
Then he resumed chewing. I knew it! I knew it, I thought to myself, triumphantly. But what had I won, really?
The moment was an insignificant blip in an inevitable script. He said, "But I've seen you do things…like pick up the salt cellar, for instance. You do it the exact same way every single time. Or when you got up to use the ladies room a few minutes ago. You did a pirouette, three of them, in fact, a series of three pirouettes, one series on your way to the bathroom, a second series on your way back. That was six pirouettes in all. People were noticing. They were looking up from their soup to watch. They're still glancing this way, just to see what you might do. They aren't watching me, that much I know. No one ever does. Unless I'm with you."
"So don't be with me, if that's how you feel," I said, my blood rising, feeling self-justified in my own defense. "If you don't like an audience, maybe I'm not the girl for you. I'm a dancer. I make a study of movement. Everything I do is choreographed. My life is a dance."
"What I think is that you're maybe just a little obsessive-compulsive."
Now I felt a thundering anger rising inside me. I reached for the salt cellar (christ, who actually calls it a salt cellar, anyway? What kind of man had I gotten myself involved with this time?!), tracing graceful arabesques with my arm as I did so. I would not be shamed; I would not be intimidated. Ridicule was what the defenders of the quotidian used to poison the marvelous. Did Breton say that? Why couldn't he have? Was someone there recording his every utterance? Surely he didn't write every thought down. He might have said it to himself one morning, said it in his head, while shaving the soft place under his chin. My food—some sort of spinachy dish—was already over-salted. But for the sake of my art, I sprinkled on more. I hated a man who used words to break everything down, to reduce everything to root forms, to the lowest common denominator. I know…I shouldn't have begun dating a linguist if that was the case. But I thought he'd be good with his tongue in all the right places. It was a misguided notion, that was clear to me now. It was clear to me then, too, if only I'd glanced over in that direction. Our entire relationship, in other words, was based on a lot of oblique thinking of the wishful variety, as well as a good deal of not-looking, and out-and-out desperation. I told him as much. I was fearless now in the face of his rejection. I was a girl, I had to remind myself, and him, as well, who stole onions, and, what's more, onions she didn't want. I was the rabbit, the White Rabbit, and I could turn reality on its head. Well, maybe I couldn't turn it completely on its head, but I could shake it around a little. I could throttle it, like a little girl with a worn rabbit doll.
"You know," he said, "don't take this the wrong way, but you're maybe just a tad bit paranoid. The whole world isn't out to get you, you know. I'm not some kind of agent sent to spy on you. There isn't a secret government directive to implant chips inside our brains that will tell us what to do and what not to do. JFK may have been the victim of a conspiracy, but that doesn't mean everyone else was, too. Elvis isn't roaming the deep south in a Cadillac. Hitler, to everyone's satisfaction but those selling tabloids, died in the bunker."
"Have you proof of any of this," I answered, eyeing the path to the ladies room, three pirouettes away.
"Your hopeless," he said, grinning like an alligator and sawing through another piece of meat.
I walked right out of the store with those onions. I remember this as if it were yesterday. And it did me good to remember it. Like it was medicine. It was my finest moment. Straight out the door, under everyone's noses. I didn't even have to hide the bag in the big pouch at the front of my rabbit suit. No one made so much as a move to stop me. I had dazzled them, that's what I had done. They'd never seen anything like it; they'd never see anything like it again. They had no frame of reference. The frame was missing. They didn't know what they were seeing. Maybe they hadn't seen anything at all.
And Elvis isn't dead.