Thursday, October 29, 2009

Paper Rose

Another gem from English 160. Now I'm experimenting with the idea of the first-person observer, that is, the person who watches the action, sees all but experiences none of it.


The girl sat alone in a corner of the coffee shop. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I collected my low-fat Americano from the barista, saw her bury her face in her hands as I slipped a dollar in the change jar, then straighten up and tuck her hair behind her ears as I walked back to my table. She had long brown hair, almost black, that fell in front of her eyes when she shook her head. A full cup of coffee, an old-fashioned white china mug, rested on the table in front of her, spent sugar packets surrounding it like a battered halo.


The girl rummaged through her purse and took out her cell phone, stabbing fingers into the buttons before holding the device to her ear. She waited, drumming on the table with her other hand, before swearing softly and hanging up. The phone skittered across the table and fell on the empty bench beside her as she flung it on the table, and swearing more volubly now, leaned over to retrieve it. As she straightened up, fixing her hair again, I caught a glimpse of her face in the light of the afternoon sun piercing through the window of the shop. She had deep blue eyes, the color of some tropical ocean. You could look into those eyes and imagine lying on some beach together with a drink at your elbow, listening to birds chittering from the bushes as you watched the sun set.

She was watching the door. I blew on my Americano and turned towards the door as well, sipping my coffee as I did so. The box full of used cups and dishes jingled softly behind me as someone dropped a saucer in.

You should go over and talk to her.

The thought entered my head without so much as a ‘hello’ or a ‘how’s the weather’, blazing into my thoughts as only an inspiration can. I took a deep breath.

Don’t be ridiculous. She’s probably waiting for someone.

So what? They’re not here, are they?

They could be. Any minute now.

Look at her, man. She’s cute, she’s here by herself and so are you. You should go over and talk to her! She’s probably thinking right now “Why doesn’t that cute guy come over here and have a seat?”

Or she isn’t. And then-

And then what? What’s the worst that could happen?

She could say no. She could think I’m a freak for just asking, tell me to get out, tell me-
Spare me. Look, if you don’t take a chance, you’ll never win a penny.

Over in her corner, the girl shrugged her arms into her coat and picked up her china mug and saucer.

See? Now or never, man! Go talk to her! Just go do it! Come on!

I-- Oh, hell.

The inner debate ended as I pushed myself up from the wooden bench. I knocked my knee against the table, cursing as my drink twirled at the edge of the table and then, almost gracefully, dumped its contents all over my pants.

Had the girl seen me, my fears of looking like an idiot would have come entirely true; she, however, was busy hurling insults at the man with the black leather jacket who had just come through the glass door. “Bastard! Jerk! Where were you?” she fumed. “I’ve been sitting here all by myself for half an hour, looking like a complete idiot, and you’ve been—where? Where have you been?”

“Baby, I got caught up in traffic, simmer down! Simmer down!” His hands were drawn up in front of him as if to remove a steaming teakettle from a stove, but the teakettle would have none of it. “Simmer down? Simmer down! You were with her again, weren’t you! You were late for our date because you were with Jessica! I knew it!” She advanced, jabbing a finger into his chest and hissing like a viper.

While treating my soaked pants with napkins snatched from the rack behind me, I couldn’t help but watch the budding apocalypse in the middle of the shop. Conversations died like flowers in autumn as other patrons turned to stare, and even the barista put down the tip jar to see what was happening.

“I was caught up in traffic! There was some guy on the road, some guy in a Volvo that cut me off, every damn time he cut me off, I was on the highway for an hour and a half because of this sonuvabitch!” He didn’t back away from the charge, meeting her stare for angry stare. His hands tightened around a piece of white paper from his jacket pocket.

“You were with her again! God, can’t you at least tell the truth to my face?” Water began to fill the corners of her eyes. “I know you’re still in love with her, damn you! Just say it! Just say it and get it over with!”

“That is not true. That is not true!”

“I know it is, I know it, I know it…” Her anger was slowly dissolving. The man stepped hesitantly toward her and made as if to enfold her in his arms, but she planted a hand on his chest and backed away. “I love you. I love you, Marie”, came from him, but she turned away on high heels with a hand over her eyes. “Go. Just, go.”

“Marie-“

“Just go! GO!”

The man hesitated, half-stepped towards the door, then flung the piece of paper aside and practically bolted. The girl stood like that in the middle of the shop for a second, tears now streaming past her hand and dropping off her chin. The cup fell from her other hand, rebounding from the floor and spilling coffee everywhere. A sliver of white china fell away from the mug. She swore again, mopping at her eyes with a napkin, then walked towards my table and the box of china behind me. She thrust the mug into the box. I couldn’t help looking up into her eyes, her deep blue eyes, as she paused for a moment over me. She glanced down at me sitting there, me with my soaking wet pants and grande Americano, and paused for just a moment. Tears fell from her eyes onto my table. I opened my mouth to say something, I don’t know what, but she was already striding out through the open door.

As I looked around, trying to make sense of the suddenly empty scene, my eyes fastened on the paper the man had thrown aside. It lay on the floor near my table, drowning in a puddle of coffee. I picked it up and unwrapped the outer coating. Inside was a single paper rose.

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