You always worry, can they see? Is there something, maybe the way
you've let your hand relax or your wrist bend, despite all the times
you've caught yourself and clenched your fingers, straightened the
curve. Something -- the way you hold a hand to your mouth? Or tilt your
head? Why do you hook your knees together when you sit: ankle on
kneecap, remember? Yes they are thin arms; still why must you yank
twice, more sometimes, at a heavy door?
Try to catch yourself, but still you slip.
Am I hinting, somehow, that in the bottom of my bag, I have a half-slip
she doesn't know is missing. The bra she meant to go out with the
trash. The nightgown that I said I bought for her, but that she never
I'll lock the door of the hotel room, yank the curtains closed. Sit on
the edge of that giant bed, sybarite's bed, stare at the mirror.
My heart will thud.
I'll tell myself, not this time, no. You don't need to do this. You
don't want this.
Do they see that I really do?
Feeling almost disembodied, almost as if I'm watching from across the
room, I'll stand and take one step towards my bag. A second step, foot
right before the other, the only way I know to sway the way I need to
now. Third step; I know I'm like a caricature of a model on a runway --
some model, with that face -- trying to sashay.
So I'll put on the bra. Sometimes, I'll do it right, sometimes I'll
have to cheat and turn it back to front so clumsy fingers can get the
hook to catch the eye. I'll stuff some tissues in.
I'll tuck myself in. Think: That's what I would look like. Step into
the half slip, look once more in the mirror, hoping for the curve. I'm
thin enough to fool myself I see it, sometimes. When I lie down, let
eyes follow foreshortened curves, let dim light mask the edges of the
world, I think I catch a glimpse.
You're supposed to know to say something about the Kings, the Lakers.
Supposed to hold enough territory of your own in an empty bar. You're
not supposed to want to lie here, dressed like this. Did he see that I
It doesn't happen very often. But sometimes: yes, I do see that flash
of something in a stranger's eye, a momentary wrinkle of a lip. A
double take; hope? A flare of anger? I never know. Never will.
I've never let another see me. At home, when I'm alone, I'll snatch a
half an hour for me. Here, I can slip the nightgown on and spend all
Does he see this?
I'm always kind of itchy when I travel; up at dawn, if not before.
Can't sit still. What I'll tell you is this: A new world to explore,
new things to see, I never can resist. But really, it is this: by the
morning, the questions -- must you? Did you really need to? Do you want
this? -- Are just too much. I need to take my things off. Need to
bathe. Need daylight.
And so, to empty streets washed yellow in the morning sun, warm now,
promising hot. I ambled -- it was just the right mix of light and quiet
and warmth to amble -- by the tall, fat palms beside the Capitol,
exotic to me. I had to stop to feel that rough, prehistoric bark
beneath my hand, rubbing my palm on that strangeness. Still feeling
strange, estranged. I watched fronds sway in a breeze I couldn't feel,
felt the sun on my face.
Across the street, down just a bit, a kid pushed umbrellas open over
round white sidewalk tables. Another hosed the sidewalk clean. A snatch
of conversation, a laugh.
Coffee sounded fine.
It was the usual kind of place: a chalkboard with 30 different drinks,
- inos and -attos, hissing machines, too-sweet smell of vanilla and of
cinnamon. Too much. I just ordered coffee, snuck in too much sugar --
time enough as the day wears on for the bitter kick of black. I like my
first cup really sweet and always am embarrassed that anyone might see.
Sun, fresh coffee, the Times. Look up and see the palms. Perfect.
Then, there he was again.
This time, he kept quiet. I read -- an election in Italy, an army on
maneuvers, storms and wars and lawsuits filed -- trying, really, to
carefully avoid looking anywhere in his direction. He was at the next
table, it wasn't very easy. And since I somehow knew that he was
watching me, I'm not sure I was managing the not-looking at him very
But this was my time. Words that seem to matter, sweet-edged bite of
coffee; this was, this is how I assemble myself for the day. I hate to
plunge right into a sea of voices, the cheery babble of a weather girl,
the studied coziness of the latest morning star. I'm jealous of the
ritual some women have to prepare for the new day: standing before her
open closet, contemplating: this, today? That? How does this color suit
today, what will go with it? That curve of cloth, the way that hugs,
this flutters? The same pieces that waited for her yesterday, the day
before, today's silent ritual just as engaging as it ever was. An ad
catches my eye: that'd look nice hanging in the closet, to be
considered in the morning. And then I turn the page.
He was smart enough to simply wait. The early morning gives you time to
do that -- hours of time before the commuters' cars would jam the
street, exhaust farting in the air where now I smelled the coffee
burbling in a pot behind my back, a spicy hint of, is that sagebrush?
The strange pines across the way?
So I read and sipped, slipped myself into another day. He sipped and
watched. A small success: final taste of sweetness, the last page
"You want?" I nodded at the paper, pretending to be casual.
"Sure," he replied. He reached across, straightened my badly-folded
pages, slowly creased the paper into thirds, just like a paperboy would
have learned to do, and set them by his cup.
And then just looked at me.
What did he see? I tried to slouch back, ignoring the way the chair
back's curlicues of wrought iron nipped, hoped that arms lay,
appropriately heavy, as clumsily as they were supposed to, on chair
arms, or glass tabletop, or maybe just hanging down. Ankle on knee,
What did I see? The quickest flash of almost smile, there or not? It
lingered, if such a thing can linger, around eyes not quite so narrowed
now against the sun. I saw thick fingers curled on a cup, relaxed curve
of arm to shoulder. A stillness lying comfortably across broad
"You don't have to try so hard," a quiet voice.
"You don't have to, you know," he said.
"I'm not," a sort of croak.
"Of course not." Another, slow sip. Eyes remain fixed.
"Still," he resumed. "Still, don't worry quite so much. You'll find
"How do you know..." I started.
"We're all of us looking, sport," he cut me off. "It just depends on
what we're looking for." He glanced down at his cup: "Want another?"
"No obligations," he said. "Just a cup of coffee. Beautiful morning. A
bit of time before the rush. How do you like it?"
"Cream," I said. "Cream and sugar." A pause. "I like it kind of sweet."
He had sense enough to know when to be quiet, when to nod. He brought
the coffee back, walking in that stiff, uncomfortable way that says I
don't want to spill a drop. Without quite asking, he set both down on
my table. Without quite asking, he pulled out a chair. He sat not quite
opposite, not quite next to me.
And so we had another cup, we watched palms sway, smelt sage or pine,
felt the sun.
"Look," he said, when it was time to say it. "I know this town quite
well. I got a place, next block. The corner. I own that store, they
know how to track me down if I'm not there. Feel free, if you need to.
Then he stood.
I could have said something, I guess.
I watched him start off down the street. Started off myself.
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