Arts & Culture

Solitary Pleasures

The woman in the black &white photograph was leaning forward, smiling, as if offering to the camera, or the photographer, the whole of who she was, the whole of who she thought she was, or wanted you to think she … Read More

By / April 28, 2009

The woman in the black &white photograph was leaning forward, smiling, as if offering to the camera, or the photographer, the whole of who she was, the whole of who she thought she was, or wanted you to think she was. She seemed open, friendly, like someone who wouldn’t think of hiding anything from you, someone, in fact, who had nothing to hide. And yet, something in her posture, in her shoulders – slanted in a diagonal – suggested to the female viewer that the stranger in the photograph was very much like her: coquettish, apologetic, and with something to hide. Apologetic in the sense of aware, aware that she was posing and putting on her best face, while thoughts of concealment ran through her head. All women, the viewer believed, had something to hide. Most men, she equally believed, were often too brazenly, impetuously, action- and forward-minded to bother. Of course, she could be wrong about this. By nature, she was inclined to generalize, but was also willing to admit that her perceptions, in general, were possibly skewed. This was the dilemma of women who thought too much, the viewer thought. Her name was Eve, the mother of all females, and of all males, too, come to think of it, but males, for the most part, forgot, or did their best to forget, that they came from Eve. The Bible confirmed their instincts, stressing the import of loins rather than wombs, as in: "and kings shall come out of thy loins." In those olden days, a man needed do nothing more than place his hand on his muscular right thigh when making a vow. As a child, beginning to grasp the adult world and its dissimulations, Eve had been titillated when encountering "loins" in Bible class. She sensed the supremacy in the word, its sexual potency, and while the instructor, a gaunt, gentle man with thin, pale hands and a tangled red beard, belabored the holiness of the text, she gave herself over to the odd and wondrous sensations that began in her mind and traveled down her spine, stirring her small and healthy vagina. A vague sense of shame – and yes, concealment – also stirred in her, but not as powerfully. There was a lot to be confused about while growing up, and Eve, intelligent without knowing herself to be intelligent, accepted this state of confusion with equanimity.  She looked up to the adults around her, she obeyed them, but more as a strategy than true belief and conviction. In the tender tissues of her evolving personality, she felt sorry for them, which made it easier to deceive them. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, she heard them say again and again, and she took it to heart.  This was how children did not learn from the mistakes of their elders, Eve thought. She put away the magazine with the smiling woman in it, and consulted the small digital clock on the bedside table. Seven o’clock. In the morning. It was Sunday, and her Sunday routine demanded only that she get the paper and have coffee in the small bakery-café on the avenue. Christmas was done and over with and, next week, New Year’s and its upbeat hysteria was to be upon them, after which the creaky rotation of week after week would resume, and the new year would be new no longer.  There was no cat or dog she needed to feed or to walk, and yet she rose early, if with difficulty. She loved sleep, but also wished to be awake for as many hours as was humanly practical. She wasn’t an optimist, but being awake and active gave her the illusion of hope, of things yet to come. She lived in the apartment her grandparents, Leon and Sarah, had lived and died in, a two-bedroom co-op in the East Thirties, and, working part-time for a travel agency, she made enough to subsist. When she needed something extra, like paying her dentist for a cleaning, she dug into her grandparents’ savings. She had a degree in Comparative Literature, which Leon and Sarah had paid for, and just when it was time for her to prove herself, Sarah got sick, and then Leon, as if in sympathy, also got sick, and she moved back in with them to nurse and watch them die. It was her first full-time job, filling out the medical forms, talking to the doctors, taking the one, then the other, to the various clinics and hospitals for tests and treatments. Not to mention shopping, cooking, cleaning. At twenty-eight, she mused, she had become the mother of her grandparents, instilling a sense of urgency in the doctors and nurses to do all they could, just as Leon and Sarah had done for her when she had been sick. The elderly neighbors praised her, her devotion, so rare these days, children are born ungrateful, and so on. "It’s the European way," they murmured, meaning that Eve’s grandparents, being Europeans, had given Eve a European education. No! – her mind processed a mute reply, while she nodded and smiled politely as the situation demanded. They had given a European education, if that’s what it was, to my mother as well, and she turned out to be wild and unmanageable, and the complications she died of had to do with drugs, so there! But, of course, she never disabused the kind, elderly neighbors, they were family of a sort, and often borrowed her "young" eyes to thread a needle, or to read the small print of a newspaper ad. So, she let them stop her on the street, in the hallways, in the mailroom, and watched as they shook their heads sorrowfully and asked if there was something they could do to help. She always said, No, all is under control, actually embarrassed by their offers. Why she was embarrassed she wasn’t sure and hadn’t had the time to ponder, but now, seven months after Sarah’s passing, and four months after Leon’s, she concluded she must have sensed or understood that Leon and Sarah, shamed by their illness, and knowing that the end was near, had wanted no one but her. Working for the travel agency was soothing. The people who came to see her, or called on the telephone, were a happy, carefree bunch, booking a flight, a package deal, the ideal vacation. It was around the corner from her home, and Sybil, the woman she worked for, had known her grandparents, was aware of Eve’s sacrifice, and was therefore civil in a way she might not have been under the normal circumstance of employer/employee. And yet, both women knew that one day soon, Eve would have to leave and start pursuing a real career. With a degree in Comparative Literature her options were limited, and therefore wide open. She would have to specialize in something, although she wasn’t yet sure what form that specialization would take. Before Leon and Sarah got sick, she considered going for her PhD and then teaching in some university, but those plans were scratched, perhaps for good. Now that she no longer had to prove herself, nothing seemed that important, or terribly pressing. Sybil, an attractive brunette who favored mini dresses, high heels, and false eyelashes, said that Eve should take her time and not push herself too hard; after all, she was still in shock, she was still mourning, and, she wasn’t even thirty, so what was the hurry? And Eve had to agree: Yes, she was still in shock, she was still mourning, and not even thirty. Still, she did have to contend with the reality that she lived in a heady age of accelerated expectations – everyone around her, young and old, seemed to be rushing somewhere, purposefully. All her friends had already established their place in life, or, at least, knew where they were headed. And, Sybil herself, was not only a mother of three grown children, which was an achievement in itself, but also the founder and president of her own successful business. Some women just had the knack for it, for all of it. They had strong, sure voices; there was never as much as a quaver of hesitation in Sybil’s voice, and Eve wondered if Sybil ever stopped to question herself, if she ever had a moment of doubt, or if everything indeed was so clear in her mind. She liked to imagine Sybil’s bathroom countertops, the abundance of expensive brushes and combs and creams and colognes. She liked the way Sybil let her heels drag a little across the floor, generating a captivating echoing sound, a kind of ricochet that, Eve imagined, accompanied and enhanced Sybil’s sense of importance and nonchalance. Eve found Sybil, and women like Sybil, sexy, if in a slightly vulgar way. She had held the vague notion that such women always married men who were aggressive and assertive like them, but Lucas, Sybil’s husband, was delicate and soft-spoken; he seemed to be in awe of Sybil. He wasn’t handsome in the conventional sense, but he was slender, about six feet tall, and stooping a little – aristocratically, Eve thought – his blondish, graying hair cropped short above his pale, high forehead. Once, when Eve caught him looking at Sybil with a hidden smile on his face, a smile that suggested wonder and admiration for his wife who was out there, engaged and thriving in the chaos of people’s unpredictable ways, Eve became aware that she liked him, from a distance, she liked his gentleness, which she perceived as the core and at the root of his intelligence. It was during one of his rare visits to Travel Light, and he stood at the door to Sybil’s office, like a supplicant, waiting for her to get off the phone. Sybil had acknowledged him with a wave of her hand, but continued her conversation, sounding more effusive than usual, possibly because of his presence. Then Sybil got off the phone and, standing up, pulled down her tight-fitting dress, wiggling her hips and smiling at Lucas with pure, child-like delight. He went to her and they exchanged a quick kiss, murmuring a few words, then Lucas helped Sybil into her coat and the two of them left for lunch, and Eve thought how romantic it was that a husband and wife, married for so many years, went out to lunch together. He was some kind of writer, Eve knew. Philosophical stuff, Sybil had said, and Eve asked – out of politeness, but curiosity as well – if she could read something of his, and Sybil said that Lucas was very private about his work and showed it only to a very select group of friends. "Doesn’t he want to publish?" Eve had asked, and Sybil said yes, but not during his lifetime. "Posthumously, you mean?" Eve said, and Sybil gave her a look the meaning of which Eve could not decipher, before replying, with a shrug, "I guess so."   One day – Eve thought bravely – I will be like Sybil. No longer a girl, but a hundred percent woman, fully formed. I will have life experiences, maybe a business, a husband, even kids of my own. I won’t be timid or passive about it, I’ll work toward it, after this period of mourning and adjusting is over and done with. She wasn’t a mourner by nature, she didn’t think, she didn’t feel as though she were actively mourning her grandparents, but she accepted it as a possibility, for she was feeling sort of numb these past few months. Of course, it wasn’t necessarily their deaths that made her feel numb, it could be her own life, her own future, her own uncertainty. But, it was also true that when Leon and Sarah were living, it was easier for her to focus on plans for the future. Perhaps it was their immigrant story that had focused her, their steadfast optimistic outlook, their Yiddish, their broken English, the fact that, from an early age, she had been their mouth and ears. Until age five or so, Eve, too, spoke Yiddish, but, as she acquired the English she lost the Yiddish, even though Leon had tried to keep it alive in their home, battling Sarah who had insisted they speak English. At the time Eve didn’t give it much thought, she was actually happy and eager to lose the immigrant Yiddish, but now regretted no longer having that juicy tongue in her mouth. They, Leon and Sarah, were not remarkable in any obvious way. Two people, uprooted, dislocated, survivors of the vilest premeditated calamity in history. A chance meeting in a store, a marriage, a life resumed with apprehension, but resumed all the same. A baby, a beautiful firstborn daughter, hope personified, and then a calamity, nearly as traumatic, or perhaps even more traumatic than the earlier one, the beautiful firstborn, a daughter, Rivkale, personifying hope, dies of pneumonia at the age of five. Five years later another daughter came, Rika, who, unmarried and rebellious, had given birth to Eve and died shortly after of complications. Complications – Eve’s stomach contracted in a knot. Her life was a complicated muddle before it even began, and every time she thought about the people missing from her life, a potential mother, a potential aunt, an unknown father, her stomach knotted. You would think that with the years the hurt would diminish, but it didn’t; she couldn’t even begin to fathom how Leon and Sarah had withstood all that they did, and continued to live. In a way, it was inhuman, even crude. Or maybe noble – she couldn’t or wouldn’t decide. Snow was falling outside her window, soft, ethereal.  She felt romantic, a state she lapsed into when she came to an impasse – it was easy, comforting, and it seduced her. Women, she had read, were, by nature, prone to idle romantic musing. So be it. Her brain was a mass of flitting thoughts, flitting, but durable enough to bring about conflicting insights and emotions. An hour later, sitting in the bakery, she read the paper and slowly sipped the strong and hot coffee, greedily devouring a buttered poppy seed roll. Poppy and sesame seeds were a favorite with Leon and Sarah, and with her as well. Jews, Leon liked to joke, were fond consumers of seeds, from time immemorial seeking to strike roots. Jews, even before they signed an exclusivity pact with God, were a marginal, persecuted tribe of undesirables, poor and living off the land. "Must be something in our genes, we’re always the foreigner, thank God for Israel," Leon would conclude, and Sarah and Eve would accept it as fact. She became aware of the guy behind the counter, who began humming a tune, and she wondered if he was humming to get her attention, or was totally oblivious of her; once he had served her coffee, he forgot she was there. She knew him by sight and, she guessed, he probably knew her, she came here nearly every weekend, but he never let on that he recognized her, so she didn’t either. He was young, in his thirties, and she thought he might be the owner, or the owner’s son, he had the caring, responsible air of a proprietor. At this early hour, she was the only customer, and, once in a while, she raised her eyes from the paper and gazed out the floor-to-ceiling window, as if to remind herself of where she was. A light but persistent drizzle was falling, and except for an occasional passing car, and a couple of men walking their dogs, the street was deserted. There was no trace of the snow that had fallen earlier – had she dreamt it? "How was your Christmas?" "Oh, good." She looked up, blushing a little, surprised that he finally addressed her when he didn’t have to. "How was yours?" "Thank God it’s over, that’s all I can say." He cackled and made a swipe at the counter with the dishrag, as if suddenly discomfited for having spoken. "Yeah," Eve said, attempting a cackle of her own, but it came out wrong, more like a croak. "Was it snowing earlier?" she added, as cover-up. "I don’t know, I was inside." He gestured toward the back. "Oh." She nodded, with intent, since she couldn’t think what else to say. She noted the tattoos on his forearms, which reminded her of Leon and Sarah, as tattooed arms usually did. She was about four years old when she first noticed the blue crooked numbers on their arms and asked how they had gotten them, and they told her. Did it hurt? she had asked, and they said they couldn’t remember anymore, but that yes, it probably hurt. When she grasped that the Nazis had done this to many people, she tried to figure out how long it took them to tattoo so many people, so many arms, and, years later, it amazed her to realize that the one thing Leon and Sarah had never tried to protect her from was their awful past, always answering her questions directly, without any attempt at camouflage. "It’s supposed to snow later," he added, helpfully. "Hu-hum." Again she nodded, sniffling. There were a couple of tables outside under the awning, and she considered moving there, but worried that he might think she was moving outside because she didn’t want to talk to him. "You know," she said, "I think I’ll try sitting outside, get some fresh air?" "Sure, why not, it’s not too cold." Once outside, she took out her journal and pen and wrote down the date and hour. Across the street, where a line of thin bare trees marked the median strip, a man stood under his umbrella, waiting for his dog to finish its business. When the dog was done, the man pulled a plastic bag from his pocket and bent down, trying to keep his umbrella steady while holding onto the leashed golden retriever. It was interesting, Eve thought, how most people, herself included, would flinch and balk at picking up the excrement of another human being, but thought nothing of cleaning up after a dog. Once, talking to her friend Diana – the proud owner of two Chihuahuas – Eve said she had thought of a new, money-making venture, a home for the aged dog, and Diana said dog owners would never put their dog in a home. "Why not?" Eve asked. "Because dog owners love their dogs." Diana had emphasized "love," perhaps to imply that Eve would know nothing about such love since Eve didn’t have a dog. "But they put their parents in a home," Eve said. "That’s true." Diana laughed her charming helpless laugh. "Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?" Looking down at the white page, Eve thought she might write about the guy behind the counter finally talking to her, just mention him in passing as she had done a few weekends ago when she heard him talk to another man, perhaps a regular customer like herself; she had liked his voice, and what he had said, something about his cat coughing up his carpet in small balls of hair. But, if he never spoke to her again, what was the use, why give him an importance he didn’t deserve? She was new at this journal writing business, and was still unsure about what she wanted it to be. She told herself that she could and should allow herself more spontaneity, but hadn’t gotten to that stage yet. She had bought the notebook a few months into Sarah’s and Leon’s ailments, intending it to be a ledger where she would record what the doctors had said. But then, almost imperceptibly, her thoughts and feelings began to filter in, and she found that it comforted her, writing down her worries, her hopes, her frustrations. She waited for another concrete thought. The rain intensified, playing its steady splattering music on the pavement. Everything turned gray, nearly dark, even the occasional passing car was gray, but, as she sat and watched the rain, translucently white against the gray, a sudden feeling washed over her, a feeling of wholeness, a sudden elation, as if, for a moment, her spirit, her soul, had taken over, as if, for a moment, something elemental had taken over, obliterating everyday concerns and worries, obliterating selfhood and ego, allowing her the brief but heightened recognition that even for this moment, of sitting and watching the rain, holding a cup of coffee in her hand and feeling the cold breeze on her cheeks, life was worth living. The man had finished cleaning after his dog and dumped the plastic bag in the trashcan. He then stood a moment and contemplated the street before pulling on the leash and going back the way he came; home, Eve supposed. Toward the end, when Leon was transferred to a hospice, when his mind, in spurts of lucidity, was still there, when Eve, not a hundred percent sure that he knew who she was, when a nurse had failed to come quickly enough to his bed after he had shat, the girl Eve, unable to bear the thought that her grandfather was lying in his own excrement, pulled down the pants of his pajamas, then his underwear, and began to wipe away the brownish liquid, raising his balls and penis, the involuntary realization crossing her mind that that was where her mother had originated, from these balls, shrunken and withered, from this penis that had given her grandmother pleasure, and she looked up from her task, briefly, and saw Leon’s fierce brown eyes watching her with the confused recognition that someone, a female, was touching his private parts, recognizing perhaps that it was she, Eve, his granddaughter, touching him where it was forbidden, but also perhaps grasping that it was necessary, that he had just shat and someone was cleaning him, someone familiar, perhaps his granddaughter, perhaps his daughter, and the nurse arrived and admonished, gently, "You shouldn’t be doing this," as she pulled the privacy curtain around the bed and told Eve to go and wash her hands. "Hello there, mind if I join you?" The counter guy materialized before her, startling her, a huge Mickey Mouse coffee mug in his hand. He had put on a leather jacket over his white apron and t-shirt, but didn’t bother to zip it up. "Sorry I gave you a scare." He pulled a chair and sat down, smiling at her, and she smiled back, recovering, shutting the notebook and putting her hands in her lap, just in case they began to shake. "Interesting," he continued, "that we’re so easily startled, must be an instinctual remnant from our past." "Yeah." Eve cleared her throat. "Are you okay?" "Mickey Mouse," she said, pointing at his cup. He had strong hands, she noted, and wore no rings. "Indeed. A birthday gift, from my nephew. You a writer?" He motioned the notebook with a subtle chin movement. "No, it’s just…" She waved her hand, not intending to complete the sentence. She hadn’t actually given him permission to join her, and yet, here he was, obviously assuming, or pretending to assume, she wanted his company. "Many writers in the neighborhood, you know. They’re all my customers. We have a cool thing going on here." "Cool – how?" "Oh, just talking and stuff. They let me read their stories, they think I’m a good judge, like, a good reader or something, a regular guy sort of thing." "Are you?" she asked. "A regular guy?" "Sort of. We all are, aren’t we, regular guys, except for those moments when we aren’t?"            "Ah."  Eve nodded thoughtfully as if deeply absorbed in what he had just said. It was quite banal, actually, but, for now, she was willing to give him the benefit of doubt and listen to what else he had to say. He had a promising physique, the kind of male physique that conjured images of comfort and security in certain female minds, her mind. Ah, to lay her head and rest a while; she wondered if he had a smooth or hairy chest. A man and a woman hurried past their table and entered the bakery, the man holding the door for the woman and glancing toward them before going in. He looked familiar, though Eve couldn’t place him. "Don’t you have to-?" She gestured toward the café.   "No, my brother’s inside. The father of my nephew." "Oh." She laughed, suddenly feeling light and oddly happy. "We’re partners. He’s the money man, I’m the baker." "A baker." She took time to digest. "I’ve never met a baker before." "There are quite a few of us around." "I’m sure. Do you mind if I smoke?" "No, go ahead." She offered him a cigarette, which he shook off with a hint of reproach in his eyes. Please, not a health freak, she thought and lit one, blowing the smoke away from him. "Kent," he said. "Kind of old-fashioned." She smiled. "My grandma used to smoke them, so I smoke them too, they’re a kind of bridge, connecting me to her." "You were close?" "Yes, very." "Well, I’m sure she’d rather you didn’t smoke at all. Cigarettes are bad for you, you know." "I know." She pursed her lips. "I don’t smoke much, and I do plan to quit, eventually." He nodded and looked out to the street, so she did, too. The rain had stopped, and there was more traffic on the road. She tried to think of something interesting to say, something that would capture their imaginations and get them going, but nothing came. It never did, not when she tried and needed it most. "So," he said after a while. "So," she echoed. "How are we doing?" "All right, I think," she said, hating her frozen passivity. "I’ve been watching you for the past few weeks. You strike me as someone whose pleasures are solitary." Wow, she thought, looking at him. Her mind flashed on "been watching you,"  then dwelled on "solitary" and "pleasures" as she tried to determine if he was aware of what he was insinuating, or if the words simply flew out of his mouth before he had time to rethink their double-entendre. His face was square and hard, but his eyes were deep brown, like Leon’s, and heavy-lidded, also like Leon’s. A friend had once told her that heavy-liddedness was a sign of a strong libido. She asked herself if this was his way of flirting with her, and if she might want to encourage him. "You’re very direct," she finally said, slowly and deliberately. "Maybe a touch too direct?" She smiled to show him she didn’t mean to criticize, just state a fact. "Maybe that’s your way of taking control of the situation?" "What situation?" "Whatever situation you find yourself in, or initiate." "Could be." His face revealed nothing, she couldn’t tell if he agreed with her, or had taken offense. Her usual impulse was to retreat, to say something cheery and mollifying, but this morning she went against it, keeping quiet, waiting for him to say more. "I’m Aaron," he said, extending his hand. "Eve." She put her hand in his; his was large and warm, hers was small and cold; she wondered if he was Jewish. "Eve," he said, "I like Eve, I don’t know anyone named Eve." "I like Aaron," she reciprocated. "I don’t know anyone named Aaron, although"-She paused a moment. Leon’s younger brother, Aaron, had perished in the camps. And, it came to her in a flash, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, coming home from synagogue, Leon would place his large hand on her head, reciting the blessing of Moses and Aaron, a blessing normally reserved for boys. This past Yom Kippur had been the first she had spent without Leon and Sarah, and on the eve of Yom Kippur she lit Yahrzeit candles for them, saying a short and improvised prayer, asking God to guard and bless their souls, and the next morning, in synagogue for the Yizkor service, was terribly embarrassed and self-conscious when she had to rise with those who had lost a family member during the past year, while the rest of the congregation remained seated, watching her, she felt, with a thousand pitying eyes.  "We did have an Aaron in the family." "What happened to him?" "He died," she said in as neutral a tone as she could summon. She looked into her cup – it was empty. "I like Aaron, it’s like primal, biblical." "And you wonder if I’m a Jew or a Lutheran." He threw his head back and laughed, and she, amused, observed his smooth and strong throat, glad to note that his Adam’s apple didn’t show. "Not at all." She gave him a wry, sophisticated look. His mouth, too, was just right, his lips not too thick and not too thin, and his teeth were clean and even. "But, since you brought it up, which is it?" "Neither." She nodded, hiding her disappointment. "I know who Eve was, but who was Aaron?" he asked. "Moses’ brother." "Moses, hmmm, I didn’t know that. Was he a good man?" "Oh, yes, a very good man, actually." She came alive. "He was a man of peace. Legend has it that he hated arguments, and always made peace between rivals, even if he had to deceive them both to achieve it. I like to think of him as my model." "Really." He rubbed his cheek, calling her attention to his pale skin – he had shaved this morning, and possibly every morning. "Why did he have to deceive them?" "It was his strategy. He would go to X and say, Y really wants to make peace with you, but doesn’t know how. Then he would go to Y and say the same about X, then X and Y would fall into each other’s arms, friends forever." She laughed, uneasily, as she thought that maybe she had gone on too long and was boring him. "How come you know so much about the Bible?" he asked. "My grandparents. They wanted me to have a traditional Jewish education, so they sent me to Hebrew school." "Interesting." He drank the last of his coffee. "Ready for a refill? On the house." She nodded, smiling a small, impish smile, feeling warm and cozy inside, as if he had offered to protect her, to take her under the proverbial male wing. He went in, and she put away her journal and pen. What now, she wondered. She was sitting with her back to the café and itched to turn around and look inside, get a better look at the brother and watch Aaron as he poured her coffee. Maybe pouring his heart into it as well, she mused further, wallowing in her own silliness. How eager, how easily seduced. "I only have a minute." Aaron reappeared, putting her coffee before her; she was now among the privileged, steaming coffee in a yellow mug, rather than a Styrofoam cup. "My brother needs me inside, but I wanted to ask you…" Eve looked up at him. He remained standing, and didn’t have his coffee with him. "What?" she asked, knowing what was coming, she was used to it. "Why is it, you know, your grandparents. Why were they in charge of your education?" Eve licked her lips and made a matter-of-fact smacking sound. "Well, they raised me. My mother died when I was very young, and my father, well, we don’t know who my father was, is." As she spoke, she could see his brain clicking a check mark in the fitting box: not an orphan exactly, but an orphan all the same. "You’re kidding," he said slowly, then stuck his hands in the pockets of his apron and leaned forward on his toes. "I mean, no, of course you’re not kidding. It’s, well, amazing to me, but not to you, I don’t think." "No, it’s amazing to me, too." "You’ll have to tell me the rest of it some time. Come and see us more often, all right?" He gave her a broad smile, and she responded with a vague, confused one as he turned and strode back inside. Solitary pleasures, indeed! Eve thought. So, not quite an auspicious beginning, and maybe not a beginning at all, just a friendly chat with a regular customer. No matter. She had a fresh cup of coffee before her, and the morning still felt crisp and new.  Maybe it would have been better if he had continued to ignore her, so she could continue to come here, solitary and anonymous. And yet, maybe not. Maybe it was good that he spoke to her. Maybe it was good to look forward to something, keeping in mind that assuming too much or expecting too much wouldn’t be wise.

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