no reward

Posted on: February 11, 2013

The pretty coffee shop girl looked at me with horror. “You know dogs are allergic to chocolate right?” she said. She was reading the poster I asked her to put up.

          Lost dog, answers to Daisy, loves chocolate. No reward.

A photograph of my ugly pug accompanied the short message.

“Sure, but only in large quantities. I only give them to her as a rare treat.”

I always kept a handful of bite-sized chocolate bars in my coat pocket for her, but with Daisy missing I’d been eating them instead. The only problem is now I couldn’t stop. I blame it on the stress—I really missed Daisy. This is it, this is the last one, I would say to myself. Before I knew it, my pocket would be full of empty wrappers.

The pretty coffee shop girl was still looking at the poster with doubt, skeptical of my explanation. Her dark hair was pulled back in a loose bun exposing her lightly freckled face, her brow furrowed as she studied the poster. Small coffee stains were liberally splattered on her white t-shirt—a poor choice for her line of work. Her trimmed, unpainted fingernails drew my attention as they lightly gripped the poster. I’m not sure a girl’s hands had ever drawn my attention before. Anyway, she was charmingly unkempt and I couldn’t stop staring at her.

The next day I met with Harry for coffee, as I did every week.

“I’m in love,” I proclaimed.

Without even looking up from his cup, Harry replied, “Again?”

I wasn’t sure if he meant to offend me with the offhand response. He was aimlessly stirring his coffee, which he took black.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. But listen, I can’t stop thinking about this girl. It’s distracting. I can’t write.”

Harry set his spoon down and looked up at me.

After he took a sip of his coffee, he said, “Well that’s dramatic. Who is this woman you’ve fallen so mightily for?” He said this with a smirk I didn’t much appreciate. I nodded, and Harry turned around. Angela, the pretty coffee shop girl, was behind the counter preparing an espresso drink for a Wall Street suit.

Harry turned back around and said, “Didn’t that girl start here two weeks ago? How could you have fallen love with her already?”

I shrugged. Harry shook his head and said “I don’t even know why I bother asking you these questions anymore.”

I admit, we’d had similar conversations before, at that very same table. Harry’s look of dismay was so predictable at this point that it should not have irritated me anymore—and yet, I continued to feebly justify myself to him.

“I’m an artist Harry, it’s in my nature to see the beauty in everything, including women. I’m an unapologetic romantic.” I tried to say this with as little irony as possible, realizing I probably sounded pretentious.

Harry rolled his eyes. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? Romantics desperately hope that love is fleeting because there’s no poetry in linear relationships. And what you want is poetry, so you go from woman-to-woman looking for your next poetic moment. There’s another word for people like that, addicts. You’re an addict.”

Harry was right, but I didn’t agree with his characterization. That’s how I felt about most of his opinions. “Why is that a problem? I say it makes love worthwhile. To say that love’s raison d’etre is permanence is old-fashioned—permanence is only a side effect. Just because it has a long shelf life doesn’t meant it’s love.”

“Your vice isn’t love, my friend. That wouldn’t be a problem. Your vice is the promise of love.”

Harry was a lawyer—a litigator to be exact. He was an expert at parsing words and usually ended up having the last one in any conversation. As infuriating as it was, there were few people I enjoyed chatting with more. It had always been that way.

Harry added, “You’re too much of an artist for your own good.”

I replied, “And you’ve forgotten how to disengage from your lawyer’s objectivity.” We silently agreed with each other’s assessments.

I finished off the rest of my coffee in a single, deep swallow. It was gritty and bitter— I must’ve gotten the last of the pot. I contemplated going up to the counter for a second cup, but my conversation with Harry made me tentative about approaching Angela. I reached into my pocket for a chocolate bar instead. This one had bits of puffed rice in it. I preferred the ones with the chopped almonds, but the variety suited me. I stuffed the empty wrapper back into my pocket.

Angela came around from behind the counter and began clearing off the table opposite ours. She smiled with acknowledgment as we made eye contact. Her casual affection reminded me why I had brought her up with Harry to begin with. Any uncertainty he had infected me with melted away.

Harry looked at me wide-eyed, teasing me for my fatuous expression. “Maybe it is love after all,” he said, laughing. I ignored him.

I went for another chocolate. It was one with almonds.

“No, maybe you’re right about me,” I said with my mouth full. “But, I just don’t see anything wrong with pursuing a woman, or women, if what I’m looking for is love. It’s not like I’m just in it for the sex. Love isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because you fall in love once doesn’t mean you become incapable of loving someone else.”

Harry sighed, “It’s not a matter of being incapable. In any case, most addicts can’t see their own follies.”

In a typical fashion, Harry grew bored of our endless debate on romance, so he changed the subject. “Any luck finding Daisy?”

I shook my head, really wishing I had more coffee, “Not yet.”

I reached into my pocket again, rummaging around for one last piece of chocolate, but only pulled out an empty wrapper.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: James Mo

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