The man said something. The woman nodded and looked down rather than back at him.
First date, thought Lianne, and not going well. Two people in the process of calibrating flesh and blood reality around the fantasies they’d built around a few selfies on a dating app.
She noticed the table next to them had a socket next to it, which gave her the excuse she needed to take her latte to within eavesdropping distance. She plugged in her phone in case either of them suspected her, but the woman had her back to her and the man was focused on her.
Good boy, thought Lianne. Eyes on the prize.
Neither of them were speaking. Lianne guessed they’d run out of the where-are-you-from and what-do-you-do questions without having given each other a cue to expand the conversation.
“Do you like art?” asked the man.
“Not really,” said the woman.
Nice try, thought Lianne.
“Not at all?” asked the man. “Painting? Sculpture? Installation? Photography? Anything at all?”
Bad move, thought Lianne, she’s already shut you down on that one. Try something different.
“Don’t see the point of it,” said the woman.
“I see it like this,” said the man. “We live on a planet that seems vast to us, but it isn’t really.”
The back of the woman’s head tilted back as she looked at him. Lianne wished she could see the look on her face.
“Earth is tiny unless you happen to live on it. It would fit into Jupiter a thousand times over, and you can gather up Earth, Jupiter and everything else orbiting the sun and it would add up to less than one twentieth of the mass of the sun itself.”
Stop, you fool, thought Lianne. The woman’s a philistine. She’ll never follow this.
The man showed no sign of stopping. “And that’s just our solar system. Out there in the universe, the ever-expanding universe, are things beyond our ability to really conceive of even as we describe them. Neutron stars made of matter so dense that a teaspoonful weighs a billion tons. Red hypergiant stars that could swallow our sun a billion times over. Black holes where the laws of physics themselves break down.”
The woman pulled her phone out of her handbag and started scrolling.
The man’s voice adopted a note of desperation, but he kept going. “And in the entire universe, among the things we’re learning about it every day, we’ve only ever found true beauty in one place. We know of nowhere else that holds a concept of what beauty is. That’s the point of art.”
He stopped speaking. His smile looked like a bare-toothed rictus. The woman looked up from her phone.
“Oh,” she said. “Right.”
The man gave up on smiling and looked down.
Lianne wanted to kick her.
Neither of them spoke.
Lianne could stand no more. She scooped her phone and charger into her bag and scribbled her number on a napkin. She made sure that pushing her chair back made enough noise that they both looked at her, and she walked over to their table.
“You’re wasting your time with this one.” She handed the man her number. “But any time you’re up for talking hypergiants and van Gogh, try this.”
She turned her back and strode out of the café. Good job she’d just charged her phone.