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.