I’m immersed in the world I am creating on my computer so it takes a moment to realize he is looking at me, to even notice him standing in the corner, but when I look up and my eyes meet his for the briefest of moments, I let my lids flicker quickly. It won’t do to let my instant admiration show. My back arches. I cross my legs and make circles with my head so when he comes over, there won’t be that awkward creaking my bones do sometimes when I’ve been sitting for a long time.
I go back to my writing but it takes on a different tone. Suddenly, my main character is a tamed shrew. She is being coquettish and is leaving Gretel-like trails for her love interest to find her. She giggles where she would have frowned, smiles at babies and imagines her hands being filled with her own bundle of joy. Joy, that’s the theme of my writing now and I realize I have many chapters to fill before my characters can make that leap but I don’t care. My story is now a romance and I want to write a happy ending. I want her to sing, like I would, except I am still in Starbucks and Jingle Bells is loud overhead but not so loud everyone wouldn’t turn around to gaze at the madwoman singing in the corner.
He’s tall and wearing a navy pea coat with brown leather shoes, the ones I used to obsess at when I bought men’s magazines like it was porn. His skin, the little of it that peeks out of his upturned collar, well I like the color I see when I steal glances in his direction. He’s waiting for a table to open up and I want to offer him a seat across from my laptop but it would be too forward so I only see him when he turns away.
Finally, the community table next to me frees up and he and his friends arrange their leather bound satchels and computer bags on the space they’ve claimed. He’s across from me, so now I sit and suck in my stomach, hoping when he looks at me, it’s not during one of those unfortunate periods where I need to exhale. And I wait. Wait for him to gaze at me long enough that when someone speaks and I look up, as though reacting to the interruption, I will find his eyes instead and we can share a smile. After that, it would be appropriate for him to say hello, ask to buy me a drink, ask me for my number, take me out on a few dates and then maybe next year, after enough time has passed, to ask me to spend the rest of my life with him. I’d probably say yes to all those things. I’ve already decided.
He unwinds the scarf from his neck and my heart beats faster. He sips from his cup and looks at me. I wonder what he’s thinking. Where he is in making his own list of questions he wants to ask me. His friend says something that I don’t think is funny and they all laugh. I bop my head along with the music overhead so I am constantly in motion. My fingers tap tap at the keys, writing the bridge to my character’s love story. Beside me, my phone vibrates and I ignore it, not wanting to be part of any reality other than what is flickering between his table and mine.
His phone vibrates, I suppose, and he walks outside to answer it, the Samsung device pasted to his ear and I shudder before I decide I won’t hold it against him. He walks past the window where I’m seated and I imagine he’ll do something I’ve never experienced before and ask me out through the window. To distract myself while I wait, I survey the area he’s abandoned, see Mike scrawled onto the side of his red cup in the barista’s familiar handwriting. It’s a solid name – short for Michael, I imagine. I start to pair it with mine, imagine invitations being extended with our joint monikers.
A woman I know from the neighborhood approaches him. Even without a sign or a word, you know she is a beggar. Sometimes she walks the streets alone, her calloused hand outstretched and even before she asks, I often line the hard skin of her horizontally placed palm with a dollar or whatever I have in my pocket. Today, she has a child in tow. It is almost Christmas, and her daughter might be one of the few children in the neighborhood who doesn’t have a surety of a gift under the tree. I don’t know if they have a place to put a tree.
She approaches Mike, hesitant in her walk, an expert perhaps in body language, can anticipate generosity or lack of it a mile off. On the phone, you can tell he spots her coming and he adjusts his stance, puts one hand in his pocket, perhaps as if to extract some blessing.
But then he turns, his back to her, and I witness the sneer of his mouth as he continues his phone conversation, ignoring her, the child that is now sullen, withering in the background. And then he spits. Hawks and spits on the flagstone just outside my window. And my heart breaks, its fragments buried under the fibers of phlegm. I could never care for a man who rejects the homeless and spits on the sidewalk with nary a care about the people on the other side of the window forced to stare at the rejected clump of matter from his body without losing their appetite. I couldn’t, right? He sees me, and turns to smile, I think. I look away. Free now of whatever must have been on his chest, he returns and takes back his position at the table, finally opening his bag and extricating his laptop and then I see it. The huge “Make America Great Again” sticker that hides the Apple logo but that glows as it is lit from behind.
Suddenly, the character I am writing is forced to become a shrew again, and rejects her potential suitor as she realizes she would rather be alone than unhappy. The romance becomes a tragedy.
Outside, someone else approaches the poor woman. He’s some kind of a utility worker, if his steel toed boots and hazard vest are any indication, and he’s tall but not so tall or wide that I can see much of him behind the woman and her child, stuffed as they are in their many layers of clothes. He hands her a paper bag with a supermarket logo emblazoned on it. I see her peer inside and smile with him before she walks away. Only when she moves do I notice the ring on his hand. Maybe all the good ones are indeed already taken.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events or people is completely coincidental.
Copyright © 2017, Karen Wright