Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Harper's bizarre afternoon

Since the divorce Harper spent her spare time reading magazines in the cafe at Border's. Initially, her visits to the bookstore were for self-help books. She bought a few and bought some novels, too, but settling down at home to read them was another story. Maybe in a few months her attention span would calibrate itself to adjust for such changes that came, that kept on coming, but now she sought refuge in the shallow company of glossy periodicals. She had, after all, been named for Harper's Bazaar and not for Harper Lee, as the bearded English teacher at Friday's speeddating event had hoped. He didn't impress her either.

The cafe was small, an intimate section tucked against the north wall of the big building. It "proudly" featured Seattle's Best coffee that gave the whole bookstore an intoxicating smell. A few years before the cafe had served comforting soups and spicy, herb stew but now only deli items were available. And sweet pastries she never tried. There was a lack of variety offered on the shelves inside the glass display, but Harper dutifully selected something in order to feel she was not taking advantage of table space in the dining area.

She carried the tray with her food, Vanity Fair tucked flat-not-folded under her arm in case she decided not to purchase it after lunch, and found a table in the center of the room. Although she felt somewhat on display out there in the open Harper preferred to leave the booths along the back wall for those using computers.

From her vantage point Harper noticed that teens and twentysomethings brazenly produced their own fare from their backpacks, purchasing only coffee from the cafe. The wanton disregard for what surely was Border's policy shocked, yet intrigued, her. There must be rules against bringing food into the cafe. What were the consequences if noticed? Should she ask the girl at the counter? .....She decided it really wasn't her business and should not be her concern. It was time to get over the fact that not everyone in this world respected boundaries and societal rules the way she did.

A group of seven mixed race, mixed sex, mixed-up sex kids were talking in the corner. Harper wasn't watching them, wouldn't even have paid attention to them if it had not been for their occasional eruptions of booming laughter. Where do they find all that black clothing?-she wondered, because she didn't see those clothes in any stores where she shopped. Harper thought they looked morbid with their hair dyed to match the black swatches of cloth and leather draped on the guys and seemingly taped onto the girls. The only color among them was an elaborate tatooed dragon on the arm of one of the boys. Oh, they all had tattoos but the rest were all inky black. Their interests and their humor are dark -- it doesn't seem they have much soul and certainly little awareness of anything but themselves.....but it wasn't any of her business and they weren't seeking her concern.

Harper retreated back into the unreal glitz of the magazine, and almost immediately began comparing her 37-year-old body with the images on the pages before her. She took a bite of her dry croissant, a too-large bite as it turned out, because in that moment when her mouth was full of a fat flaky triangle she became aware of a breech of her temporary private space and, glancing over her right shoulder, she found Nick looming there - all bronzed 6' 5" of him wearing one of his signature Tommy Bahama long-sleeve shirts and light linen pants.

This wasn't supposed to happen, should not be happening, not even in a public place. Faced for the first time in six months with actual contact with her ex, and realizing her purse copy of the restraining order was of little protection at this point, she swallowed a chunk of her food and sputtered the remainder as her mind raced, her dark eyes darted frantically around the room for non-existent security staff, and her body froze.
Nick moved directly to her side and stared down at her. What is he up to? What is he going to do next? He did not speak. Without turning her head Harper moved her eyes to the side to gauge the angle of a possible jab where the defense class had practiced. But she couldn't move. She thought, Scream! - but her throat closed around words, muting her.

Before her next shallow breath was fully exhaled in staccato whimpers she had company at the table. Two loping youth were close behind the one who got to the empty metal chair first. One, in a long black cotton coat, stood behind his friend. The other stood at the left between them and Harper. They greeted Harper as if they were more-than-casual acquaintances, asking if she wanted another latte because she bought the last round as they squared their shoulders in unison and all three stared at Nick.

You finished here, Man. It was not a question, but a statement of utter fact spoken by the black kid to a slumping Nick, who amazingly retreated quickly afterward.

The boys comforted Harper as she shakily accepted their offers to move over to their booth in the corner. She whispered Thank You dozens of times while crossing the room and again to each as they introduced themselves once all were seated. The boy with the dragon tattoo set her bent Vanity Fair in front of her. A girl named Shanti, who had the blackest of eyes, plucked an apple from a pouch in her pack and placed it on top of the magazine. Harper took a bite out of the beautiful thing then began answering their questions.

MLydiaM, September, 2010

To read over a hundred (!) more vignettes and poems resulting from this week's Magpie Tales prompt click here



the watercats said...

VERY NICE!.. I've always have a theory that it's the normal looking people that are the most weird :-)

Kittie Howard said...

Super! Love how Harper processes what's going on around her. And, yes, I too think the most normal looking people can be weird.

Fireblossom said...

Oh, I just love what you did here. I was thinking, boy, this woman sure is all about surface appearance and minor breaches of etiquette (mom???), but in the end those very people save the day. I loved how you worked the Haper's into the story and the touch about the speed dating. You rock.

I have posted my Old Postcard Wednesday post today. I hope you won't mind. I am not calendar-challenged, but I have One Shot on wedenesday and Magpie on thursday, so I did OPW today. Thanks so much for letting me share your marvelous idea, Lydia. I hope I've done it justice! :-)

Anonymous said...

Lovely story - her ex was obviously the spooky one!

willow said...

Great read! You know, the name Harper runs in my family. I now wish I had used it when naming my children.

Anonymous said...

I love your story! Very interesting and realistic, like you really were there. Favorite line was about the mixed-up kids.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

RNSANE said...

Excellent job with this magpie. I was captured to the very end. Who would have thought her knights in shining armor would have been these youngsters!

At 65, I've done it! My poetry book - Life's Journey by Carmen Henesy - is out on Amazon!
( Poems about the things that have been important to me in my journey through life, some humorous, some sad, some that may have meaning to you as well )
( Visit the Amazon site and read reviews of my
book! )

kathew said...

I so enjoyed this piece! Well done- and will there be more please?

Darlene said...

A great human interest story filled with suspense. I loved the subtle way you used fiction to point out how prejudging is wrong.

Tumblewords: said...

I can imagine this happening in a Borders cafe. Nicely written!

Lydia said...

the watercats~ Thanks much! I agree with you about appearance being misleading.:)

Kittie~ We are in agreement about normals, and I thank you for your comment about the post.

Fireblossom~ I so appreciate your comments about the vignette, really!
Of course I don't mind about you posting OPW and I will be by to see it in a bit. Not sure what you mean by one shot so I guess I'll figure that out later! (I still have not yet picked out which card is for this Wednesday, but the post will be short because I am exhausted!)

madamebutterfly~ Thank you! And I found the ex to be spooky too. Honestly, one of the most terrifying things I can imagine would be a situation where a restraining order was necessary...they make very flimsy shields.

willow~ Thank you so much. Wow, if the name Harper had been in my family I'd have named one of my kids Harper. But wait. I didn't have any kids. Oh well, the woman in the story had better do justice to the great name. :)

ocdbloggergirl~ Visiting your blog was my pleasure and I hope you stick with Magpies! Thank you for your comments about my story; they made me feel good. :)

RNSANE~ I appreciate your comments and certainly appreciate the information about your book. Honestly, that is a marvelous accomplishment. Congrats are in order!

kathew~ Aw, your comment/question made me smile! Yes, I will do more and need to work out a better schedule to ensure that. I'm behind on my regular Wednesday post, so intend on reading Magpies, including yours, when it is finished (as late as tomorrow, sorry). :)

Darlene~ You said it! Prejudging is wrong and seems to be at epidemic levels. As to that old blessing: May you live in interesting times...we got interesting now let's try open-minded!

Tumblewords~ Thank you for your kind words. I have always loved the kids who work at Border's, and would be pleased to know any of them. Border's employees were the stencil for the story. :)

Helen said...

I really enjoyed reading your Magpie ... you brought the characters and setting to life. 'boy with the dragon tattoo, girl with those black eyes, their clothing, her ex ...' wonderful!

Thanks for visiting me ... that lovely lass is actually my granddaughter, Jennifer.

Abhilasha-The Desire said...

Super super story.. I could almost imagine sitting there with Harper.. as they say looks are decieving.. great magpie !!

Angie Muresan said...

This is a marvelous story, Lydia. I, too, can imagine this happening in a Border's cafe.

Lydia said...

Helen~ Thanks much for your comments about the magpie. And it is fun to learn that she is your granddaughter and not your daughter. Shows how young you look and seem!

Abhilasha-The Desire~ I can't wait to visit your blog because your name is so mysterious and lovely. I really really appreciated your comments. :)

Angie~ Thank you so much. I am getting around to reading as many magpies as possible this evening (there are so so many...such talent!).

Stafford Ray said...

Lydia, that story pinned me to the screen. I don't know how you did it, but but I hope you do, because the gift you have needs to be repeated! Absolutely amazing writing!

Jingle said...

awesome magpie!

Lydia said...

Stafford~ Okay...you officially made my day! I am humbled by those comments of yours.

Jingle~ Many thanks for your comment!

Mark David said...

I enjoyed your story :) You have a very good sense of place. Is that based on a real Border's store in your town? We have Seattle's Best coffee shops here in the Philippines, though I imagined they're more commercialized than the ones you have there.

Lydia said...

Mark David~ Thank you for saying I have a good sense of place. I do sense I'm stronger there than with dialogue and other aspects. Yes, it is based on the Border's in Salem near my town. They really do have a sign that says: "Proudly Serving Seattle's Best Coffee." We don't have any Seattle's Best shops per se in our area. Starbucks is the Big Daddy of coffee shops in the Pacific Northwest, but it's good to see competitors.



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