the thought of a stranger.

i walked in and sat in a highback swivel armchair. i was there to read for a while, i guess, but my paper coffee cup said i was only staying long enough to finish half the cup. that translates to 17 pages in the book of short stories, "how to breathe underwater." later, she typed the title into her computer. or it looked like she typed it into her computer.



she had been stealing long glances at me the entire time i was there. page 3, page 6. at page 15, she got up to go to the bathroom and i watched her carry her laptop with her. she was still only a distant sight. the details of her face were unclear. i didn't get very far while she was gone. i read with focus while she was there in plain sight, across the cafe right down the isle. i was satisfied with the fact that she could see me reading, and i forgot about her for moments while i read the story. but when she got up, i began thinking about her again and staring blankly around the room at the paintings on the walls. she returned to her seat, but sat further down on the couch in a spot where i was invisible. did she want to avoid our glances? i convinced myself that she was only nervous and feeling awkward in direct sight. i read a couple pages and noticed my coffee cup. time to go home.

while putting on my coat, i remembered my package on the other side of the swivel chair. there was a new couple on the couch near my seat. the chatty girls with too much makeup had been replaced by a quiet couple with dark clothes. i grabbed my canvas bag and package and looked over towards her direction as i turned. she was looking at me while i walked into sight. her new position gave plain view of the exit and i paused behind a wall by the sugar and cream counter to breathe. i stuffed a matchbook in my pocket to make myself look occupied. move. i walked out the door without looking at her.

i know she was watching. no, i don't know. but i would have looked if i were her sitting there and she were walking out. AND i would have wanted her to look at me. but that's so cliche and furthermore, lame. so i didn't look, but instead stood outside like a fool, acting like i was waiting for the bus, but really hoping she could see me through the large windows of the cafe. she could, because i could see her in my casual glance. perfect.

all at once, i walked back in and carried my body straight for that couch. she saw me and when i sat down, she looked in some direction that was not mine, down i think, but for a second i swear she had a small smile on her lips. her computer was on her lap. i was shuffling through my canvas bag. "do you like short stories?"

"short stories?......... yeah..."

"you should read this. they are short stories. really good." i was talking in extremely tight sentences. i can think of a million better things to say now, after the fact. "i've been reading it. i read the first one. you should read the..."

calmly looking at the inside pages, "do you want me to read it now?"

"no, no.... i'll loan it to you and you can read the first story. if you like it, you can keep reading it. if you don't like it... um. but yeah, you can borrow it."

she was flipping though the pages, kind of paying attention to the words. "i think i've heard of this book." she said that again later, reminding herself. i don't know if i believe her.

i continued talking, "you can read it and let me know when you're done." she was looking at me. she was much prettier than i had imagined from across the room. "i can give you my email address."

she flipped through pages. "why would you let me borrow your book?" she asked quietly.

this question was very direct. i, however, was not. "because i have so many. i have a lot in here." fumbling through my bag, i looked at my junk mail and at two books, the unbearable lightness of being and another book still in the padded mailing envelope.

"i bet this is good." she had one final look. "i have a lot of work to do this week." she reminded me that we were strangers. she handed me the book. i clumsily put the book back into my canvas bag and she asked me my name.


i didn't get on the bus that was coming up milwaukee avenue. it was late and this bus is a rare sight at such an hour. instead, i crossed the street and headed towards the train station for reasons unexplained. i could feel the blood in my body pounding away at the skin. i walked up the stairs to the platform. she resumed typing on her computer and smiling at the thought of a stranger.



{29 april 2004 1:12am}
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