Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Missed Connection

Today at a local cafe, I rode up to find a lovely young woman sitting at an outside table in a narrow strip of shade. She was pretty enough that, although I probably looked fine, I felt that I was impossibly awkward with the rote task of securing my bike. I was all too conscious of her behind me, dressed modishly in unseasonable black, her flawless skin milk chocolate and honey, as I fumbled all thumbs.

I wanted to sit at the remaining outside table beside her, in hope that some random event on the street would provide an opportunity for impromptu conversation. Or seemingly impromptu conversation. Something I could say other than: "This is doomed to accomplish nothing but embarrass us both, but I simply cannot not say that you are so astoundingly beautiful and elegant and appealing that if I could come up with a way I would do nothing but sit here and admire you chastely, earnestly, without tiring or growing bored."

But it was hot; I was craven; I had my Sunday Times in my bag and I feared my capacity for abject folly. In a span of the minute or so it took me to dismount and lock up, I had rehearsed and discarded several candidate embarrassments, determining at the last that I lacked the stomach for any of them.

I went inside.

I sat in the smoking section. Awaited my bagel, muffin, and latte. Opened and slowly unpacked my Times in a ritual as old as my majority. She followed a few moments later, the sun perhaps finally warming her glamorous tangle of black curls pulled up to expose her neck, and sat across the aisle and catacorner to me, no farther from me than she had been outside, facing me. I felt a blush creeping out of the collar of my shirt. When she removed her over-sized sunglasses I felt faint.

I glanced her way as infrequently as my faltering discipline allowed, still too frequently. Sometimes I sensed her eyeing me over my paper out of the tops of her eyes, a subtle shift of her head in my peripheral vision, but my disabling insecurity only permitted me to imagine her glances aimed to chastise my own, a composed woman's way of signaling displeasure with unsought attention. Or . . .

She lit a cigarette. Perfect. It's not that I want a smoker, but I want someone who doesn't mind that I smoke, at least for now.

We sat that way for an hour or more. I screwed down my resolve to attend my paper, and for the most part did so. She took a phone call; her voice was pitched perfectly, even her idle friend banter gently mellifluous.

She shifted, pulled her knees to her chest in an unusually un-self-conscious gesture, shins pressed to the table, bare heels resting on the edge of her chair. Her posture, her expression, intent on a magazine that appeared to contain type too dense to be anything fluffy or vapid, suggested a precocious teen at the breakfast table studiously ignoring her family in favor of an expose about unsanitary nail parlors.

If one could raise words to their exponents, I would describe my state, in that moment, as smitten^3.

Finally, after a long time, she stood to leave. As she turned away from me, my mind emptied; I could no more look away than I could formulate a coherent thought. If she had turned and addressed me in that moment I would been no better than a shy todler, hiding behind the hem of his mother's skirt.

She glissaded to the front of the cafe as though to go, arch perfection in silhouette receding into the bright sunshine flooding the front of the cafe. Then she turned on some inconceivable errand and sashayed back my way, passing within arm's length, as though to retrieve something from a table behind me. I imagined whispered breath on my neck, a suggestion of requital, an invitation to walk, a name proferred, something sibilant and poetic. Almost immediately, she glided back toward the front again, tarrying not for my regard.

Mind ticking slowly back into motion, I weighed rationalizations: too young; too pretty; too aware of her prettiness; too erudite, obsessed with theory; not erudite enough, put off by my waves at literacy; wasted effort, for any of a thousand reasons, each one more conjectural, more divorced from any tangible reality, than the one it followed.

In her absence, the air thickened but the sun dimmed.


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