“What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you?” he asked, drawing his chair a little closer to the table.
“I thought you didn’t use that word,” I said, nudging his foot a little, to show I meant it in a friendly way.
“What event is the most standard deviations away from your normal range of experience,” he corrected.
Of course at that moment I couldn’t think of a single abnormal thing that had ever happened to me, although if he hadn’t asked me, I’d have been able to cover the tablecloth with my list.
“I’ve never gotten over the sheer improbability that I was ever born,” I said, stalling. Ben’s hands were stacked in front of him on the table, and his chin was resting on top of his hands, so that when he spoke, his head went up and down rather than his jawbone.
“I’m afraid that won’t do, Kim,” he said.
I glanced around the restaurant. At the front, two men were player klezmer music, one on the clarinet and the other on a cimbalom. The room smelled faintly of cloves and rosemary, and the red-hued lighting was low and easy on the eyes. In the far corner a Sephardic woman was seated at a table covered with a black velvet tablecloth. In front of her sat a crystal ball, and beside it was a sign that said, Readings by Renata.
“I once had my palm read, on Venice Beach, and the woman said, ‘You are going to be famous, but not in the way you imagine.’ Does that count?”
“What do you think she meant?”
“I have no idea. That’s what makes it weird.” I gestured in the direction of Renata. “Do you think she got her crystal ball off the Internet?”
“Do you think you’re going to be famous?”
“Odds are against it. Besides, I feel bad for famous people. They can never enjoy their smoothies in peace.”
“Fame as inconvenience.”
“Yeah. Something like that.” We were both silent. “What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you?” I asked, feeling ingenious. When I’m in the hot seat I always forget that it’s possible to turn the tables.
“The strangest thing that has ever happened to me is still happening,” Ben said, in a low voice. When I was twelve I spent an entire summer vacation learning to raise one eyebrow; it was a skill I was very happy to be able to be able to employ at that moment.
~This story may be read in its entirety in the Summer/Fall 2008 issue of The Saint Ann's Review.~