Tonight I was at Barnes and Noble, having a dad's night out, and not enjoying myself as much as I would have even five years ago---browsing through the new fiction I kept coming across author biographies that began, "So and so was born in 1980..."
While I'm in the cafe drinking my coffee, a barely 20 something girl sits down at the table next to mine. A golden blonde, with languid, shy eyes and a determined chin. She wears a black tunic dress with spaghetti straps and a slit up to her thigh, a red cardigan over her shoulders (which she lets fall to her chair and onto the floor when she gets up to go to the counter later) and she stirs the ice in her iced latte a hundred times as she looks deeply into one of the books she has brought from home in a ragged canvass pouch. She reads with her lips slightly parted in a small, enigmatic smile.
My middle aged male vanity kicks in when I notice her. There are many empty tables all over the cafe, why pick the one next to mine? I get the answer when I go to get a refill on my coffee.
At the table behind mine, and so directly across from hers, sits a young hero, another 20 something, with a granite chin, dark wavy hair, blue eyes, broad chest, a three day stubble and black rimmed Ben Franklins on the end of his nose. On the table in front of him is an empty coffee cup and a large cup of Pepsi.
Remember these props. The coffee and the Pepsi. They're Chekhov's gun, the one he said that if you bring it on stage in Act One has to go off in Act Three.
The young hero appears to be making notes in a text book, but I recognize the motions of his pencil and catch the quick, assessing glances he's sneaking at her---he's sketching her on one of his 3 x 5 cards! I also know this: She knows what he's up to.
She never lifts her eyes, hardly moves her head. She's posing.
It's getting late and I'm getting tired of feeling old and past it. I get up to leave, but as I go out the door I looked back in at them through the window. It's closing time and I watch her start to pack up to get ready to go and I watch him trying to get up the nerve to show her his sketch. He has it in his hand, has turned toward her. He wears a look of panic and hope as he waits for her to look up and catch his eye.
She walks up to the counter to pay for a book.
He sits there chewing on the end of his pencil, smiling ruefully to himself. I can't leave it at this. I go back inside.
She's still at the cash register. He's still sitting at his table, regretting his lack of nerve. I walk by him and say, "You should show it to her."
He jumps. His eyes goggle at me. I'm the voice of God. But he doesn't move.
I shrug. I tried. I go back outside, and as I'm getting in my car I see her come out of the store. She stands out on the sidewalk for a full minute. She's waiting for him!
He doesn't show.
She begins to drift toward her car. Halfway across the lot she stops walking and turns around and looks back at the store. Still no sign of him. She waits right there for another minute. Finally continues on to her car.
But she doesn't climb in.
She waits besdie it. Another minute passes. By this time I'm pounding on my own steering wheel, yelling, "Come on, man! Get out here! She wants you to come find her!!"
Then I remember.
The coffee cup.
All that liquid! All that caffeine!
The poor schnook's in the bathroom!
I almost jump out of the car. I want to holler at her to be patient. But she gives up. She gets into her car. Takes her time starting it up though, and when she pulls out she makes a swing up toward the front doors and crawls by.
Then she drives off.
I wish we had a Miss Lonelyhearts column in our paper. I could write a letter addressed to both of them:
"To the pretty blonde reading The Good Black and the guy who was sketching her instead of studying, both of you should return to the cafe Saturday night, and this time don't be shy!"
Crossposted at newcritics.
Copyright 2007 by Lance Mannion.