Let’s face it: if you go to a coffee shop to study, you’re really just looking to overhear some good gossip.
I sit by the window at Booktrader, drinking coffee too fast. I’m trying to read Hannah Arendt, but I’m distracted by the nasal male voice over my shoulder.
“Shakespeare surfaced for the first time just after Marlow’s death. Marlow had been a spy, he was really just this fascinating, fascinating man — and then supposedly he died in some brawl, stabbed in the eye? It’s absurd. What people are saying — and it seems to be the only possibility — is that Marlow faked his death to get out of England — he was a Catholic, you know — and then sent his plays back to this actor, Shakespeare. Marlow would have been in Italy at just the time when Shakespeare was supposedly writing his Italian plays. When he was writing about Verona, Marlow was in Verona.”
I turn around, pretending to be checking the time on an imaginary clock, and see that the man speaking has taken a triumphant sip of coffee.
“Well you’ve convinced me,” says another man, one of the six.
“There have always been vast inconsistencies in his biography,” agrees a woman.
“Marlow went to Cambridge, you know. Corpus Christi.”
“Well that explains it.”
“Milton was a Cambridge man, of course. They all were.”
“Of course. Wordsworth drank in Milton’s room.”
“Never before nor since.”
One of them has to go and they all rise.
“When shall we six meet again?” a man asks. They all titter with laughter and I instinctively gather my books together and stand. Doing work is bad, but how much four-hundred-year-old gossip can someone take? I head to Koffee Too?.
At Koffee Too?, I find out that my neighbor is sleeping with a girl in my history section, that one of my professors is getting a divorce and that someone getting tapped by Manuscript has a crush on my best friend. This is before I have gotten my coffee.
“No,” a girl says about the guy who likes my friend, “this is like some kind of weird S&M thing.” Tugging on the scarf in her hair, she whispers, “He’s a philosophy major.” The girl she’s talking to, also wearing a scarf in her hair, nods knowingly.
I run into a kid from my political science class and pretend that I’ve read the Hannah Arendt. After about 45 minutes of nonsense, the truth is starting to come out.
“I just think it’s very uplifting,” I say.
“But it’s about totalitarianism,” he says.
“Anyway,” I say, looking at my watch, “I’ve really got to meet a friend in Starbucks.”
I’ve only been to this Starbucks once before, but I recommended it because the tables are far apart and people I know don’t seem to go here. My “friend” is really my ex-roommate and we’ve gotten together to pretend that we still like each other.
“It’s nice to see my floor again,” she says. She says she’s glad we’re getting together. She wants to tell me something.
“Vin Diesel’s in a new movie?’
“Seriously.” She takes a deep breath. Okay, she says, she’s been sleeping with my ex-boyfriend.
“Don’t pretend to be mad.”
“It just happened.”
“Your room is like my junkyard.”
“Um, he dumped you.”
“I dumped him!”
It is starting to become a scene so we decide to calm down and play a game of chess on the board that covers our table. As we play (I take her queen, she take my bishops), I begin coloring in the black squares with my ballpoint pen.
Suddenly one of the old men playing chess behind us sees me drawing on the board and flips out. “That’s my board!” he says.
“Oh, I’m sorry I was just — “
“That’s enough!” He pulls the board out from under us, scoffing at our positioning while he snatches up the pieces.
“Hey,” my roommate says,”I was going to win!”
“You were not!” I say.
Just as the man is throwing the last rook into his bag, he glares at us. “You should really have this conversation over wine and dinner somewhere. Everyone doesn’t have to know how obnoxious you both are.” As he walks off, people at all the tables around us begin to snicker.
We look at each other in horror. All these people. Listening to our conversation. We bolt for the door, united for a moment.
Outside it is raining. She turns toward her dorm. “Serves you right,” she says, “you gossip-mongering bitch.”
The world is Lucy Teitler’s junkyard.