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.
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 the chatty girls with too much makeup had been replaced by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..."
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..."
looking at the inside pages, "do you want me to read it now?"
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.