Short Story by Ninda Daianti (The Jakarta Post, March 27, 2017)
Ray, always hot tempered, tapped his fingers every three seconds on the table. He hated waiting. Lola, as usual, hadn’t arrived just yet; Ray looked at his watch. They’ve been coming here for the past twenty years, nobody bothered to do any renovation. Even the kitchen was filthy. The place was rotting, just like their marriage.
Lola walked in and smiled at Ray. Reflected by the sun, her brown hair shone brighter than usual. “Did you get a haircut?” he asked. “I made you an appointment with the chiropractor,” Lola kissed his lips. “Never done it, don’t need it.” The waitress approached them. “Two coffees. Black. One with brown sugar on the side, please,” Lola smiled at her. “Oh, and can I have a slice of that lemonade cake?” “We’re out.” “Is this for the dog?” Ray asked. “Why yes, darling, I couldn’t walk with him this morning…” Lola said, looking at the waitress, “you know what, I’ll take the carrot cake to go then.”
“Don’t ‘darling’ me,” Ray grunted. “I’m not one of your assistants.”
“Sorry, darling,” she opened her purse, taking out her pocket mirror.
She put on her maroon lipstick. Looking closer at the mirror, she turned sideways from left to right, making sure her foundation was alleven. She smacked her lips and closed the mirror. Ray was staring at her, waiting for her to end the ritual.
They met at a funeral. Her grandfather’s. Ray had tuned his piano for ten years. Lola was twenty-three, Ray thirty-one. This was the time when Ray had a six-pack and only a few strands of white hair. He expressed his condolences and Lola asked him to come to her office the week after, saying she wanted him to look at her new piano.
Indeed, there was no piano. Lola had just finished her degree in Music Engineering and returned to Jakarta. Surrounded by intelligent men in her class at the University of Michigan, she never knew there was an unadorned man like Ray. Ray, mesmerized by her knowledge and confidence, decided to take a leap of faith.
“Do you remember my friend Anton?” she crossed her hands. The coffees arrived and Ray drank it right away, looking straight at her.
“Oh, f**k,” he spat out dark water onto his hand, then his pants. “F***ing shit!”
Lola mouthed to the waitress to bring them some napkins. “Did you burn your tongue, honey?”
“What do you think?” he stood up and went to the bathroom.
When Ray sat back down, Lola was on the phone. She said her goodbyes. “So, honey,” she reached out for his hand. “Ray.”
“Anton. You were telling me about him.”
“Yes,” she squeezed his fingers. “He has recently opened a newly renovated museum in the Old Town. There’s this hall.” “No. The answer is no.” “Just take a look at his space. We’ll set up a meeting. You can have the show in March. You’ll have more than six months to compose and practice.”
“Lola,” he chugged his coffee. “You never listen. I am not a pianist.”
“Oh, but you are, darling,” she got up and sat next to him. “Can you just please think about it?”
“When do you have to let him know?”
“I booked the hall for the last week of March,” she put her hands around his stomach, feeling a glimpse of excess skin. “Paid the down payment?” “None of it is important, darling,” she kissed his cheek. “He owed me a favor.”
He played with the hemline of Lola’s black dress. Ray pulled Lola’s face towards him. “I told you.”
Lola reached for his lips. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, you told me.” “I told you not to do this.” “But it’s for your birthday,” she grabbed his face.
“I don’t want it,” he let his face go from her. “For a change, don’t do me any favors.”
Lola moved back to her seat and buried her face in her hands. She started crying. Although her face had changed throughout the years, her cry was still the same, almost-silent pauses followed by deep hiccup sounds.
The first time they had sex, it was in the back of his Camry. It was parked in front of her house, from which her brother was probably spying on the momentous occasion. It was their fifth official date, whatever that meant. Lola had kissed him and told him he could do whatever he wanted. He didn’t want to do anything. In fact, he was going to go to another girl’s place after he dropped Lola off.
She cried after they finished; he laughed. Lola was not as pretty as Ray. Ray knew this; he had always known this. He knew that Lola knew this, too. Of course, he knew Lola was a virgin, though she never admitted it.
A month later, Lola bought him the newer version of his Camry, also in black. She told him to give his old car to a recycling company. He sold it to his cousin. They got married five months later.
Lola sobbed louder. The waitress put down more napkins on the table. She cleared out the coffees.
“Can I have another piece of that cake, please?” he winked at the waitress. “Extra whipped cream, on the side?” “You know me too well, Irene,” he smiled and turned to Lola, who was still hiding her face.
Ray stood up and sat next to Lola. “Lola, look at me.”
She slowly showed her face. Her pupils dilated as she focused on his crooked nose.
“Darling,” Ray rolled his eyes, chuckling. “What is it that you want?” Lola sighed, wiping her tears. “I can’t give you what you want.” “How do you know what I want?” Irene put down two forks and a white round plate in between them. Ray slid the plate closer and grabbed his fork. He dipped the white cream and cut the tip of the cake. “What I don’t want is for you to give the dog my cake.”
He chewed with his mouth open. Lola looked at the plate. “This place, this place has the best carrot cake.”
He chewed and smacked his lips. “They don’t have much, but they survived.”
Lola pulled the plate. “I’ve never tasted it.” She grabbed her fork and took a bite.
“Not too sweet,” she looked around the restaurant and spotted three other customers in there with them.
She never did understand why Ray likes the place so much. “It’s off. Forget it. Forget I said anything.”
“Shall we get the check?” Ray motioned to Irene to ring him up.
“You know, I created the whole system for Anton,” Lola took another bite and lowered her voice, “in one month.” “You never told me that.” Irene walked towards the table. When she got to the table, she put down the brown bag and the bill.
“Oh, no, darling.” Ray got up. “Let me get that.”
Ninda Daianti is an Indonesian short story writer, scriptwriter, and copywriter. She also teaches creative writing at The Jakarta Post Writing Center.