Natalie Lind Writes It All Down For Posterity #14

By Anna Chastain

We sit in silence around the table as Jeff separates chunks of coarse-chopped garlic off his rice and the rest of us chew at our food.

Then Jeff says, “I’m getting interested in political absenteeism in art. Me and the band, we’ve been guilty of that but I’m trying to turn things around. Want to tell me the kind of things that get you excited?”

“The local school board,” Bernadette says. She looks at Kesia significantly.

Kesia says, “Look I can pitch in on the big picture too but not all of us think the way to build a better world is to pull out your index on J. Edgar or make up shit about European Prime Ministers.” She’s looking at me now and I shrug unhelpfully. She keeps staring.

I say, “I do that?”

She says, “You told me Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson had a thing.”

“I didn’t.”

“How do you think I even know who Peter Mandelson is?” she snaps.

Jeff says, “Who is he?”

I ignore that.

“Jeff, you should talk about addiction,” Bernadette says. “That’s very punk rock. And you can interview Nat: she and nicotine definitely had a thing going until she left it for the coffee.”

I quit smoking for real over the break. I’m compensating with caffeine and I’m not ready to estimate where that leaves my heart rate. Though I don’t understand why I still feel lethargic after my fifth caffeinated drink. I put both hands around the mug of coffee and say, “You should talk about class, Jeff.”

“What?”

“I said you should talk about class: as in working-class, as in middle-class.” I wonder if they’ve ever considered maybe I stick to one-liners about Berlusconi because they get that confused look when I bring up anything else. I wonder if it’s ever occurred to me I spend too much time saying sarcastic things in my head to form a substantial argument about anything.

Toby plays with the straw he filched on his way into the cafeteria and says, “My dad’s being laid off next week.”

“What does that mean for you?” Bernadette asks.

“It means my dad’s being laid off next week.”

“Can you afford to be here?”

“Shut up. Can you afford to high-step it to The Hague?”

“That doesn’t even mean anything,” Bernadette says. “I’m trying to be concerned. Should I try and be concerned somewhere less public?”

Warren says, “There’s financial aid. He’ll be fine.”

Kesia says, “How is your dad?”

“He keeps telling me to relax about everything and just relish the day,” Toby says. “But relishing the day is not really my kind of thing.”

“Is it his kind of thing?” Warren asks. “I thought you Jews played it tight with anxiety.”

Toby narrows his eyes. “Don’t talk to me like that right now. I think this isn’t a joke with you, you really think I’ve got a death grip on every penny I’ve ever picked up off the cold hard ground. Want to talk about where your money came from?”

“It’s my parents’ money and I don’t know where it came from.”

“You could take a wild guess. One hundred years ago your family segues to NYC from Georgia and they already had the money.”

Bernadette says, “Want to talk about why there’s nothing but chocolate soft serve?”

Jeff says, “Want to talk about it in my room?”

They lock eyes but they don’t leave the table. Jeff is finishing his lentil soup and makes additional noises about getting a cup of tea. I fight the urge to wander off for more coffee. Kesia starts making a crater in the center of her mashed potatoes.

Warren says, “Toby, don’t be so hostile.”

Toby sinks back in his chair with his bottom lip pouted and focuses his glare at the saltshaker. He says, “Never mind.”

Warren says, “Don’t sulk.”

Toby says, “Shut up. You don’t understand my problems you rich little racist schmuck goy.”

Warren says, “I’ve said this before: I’ll start dealing again if my allowance isn’t enough for you.”

Toby says, “I don’t like it when you sound that stupid. I said shut up.”

Bernadette says, “Jesus. I just realized: you two are doing it.”

Bernadette turns to me. “You need to tell me these things. I need to be in some kind of a loop.”

Kesia growls, “Fuck it, I’m going to drink some soda,” and walks off to get a cup.