We are warming ourselves from the “cold enough to snow minus the beauty of the flakes temperatures” outside. There are seven of us in this portion of the coffee shop. Faded red brick walls and passageways, like a labyrinth divide the shop. One room features the counter – serving coffee, wine, pastries and sometimes an antidote for your day. It opens up to two seating areas; one more like a living room and the other resembles a study. Lastly, a hallway leads some place I’ve never been before.
Just left of the center of this room are three people, entwined in their own world. They are dressed for a dinner or an event like an art gallery opening, a different occasion than the rest of us, as we are dressed more like the starving artist. These three are enjoying a bottle of Cabernet and are the only ones in conversation, the rest are silent. Along the walls, three of us are each working on something, one with a book and two others, including myself, on laptops. Fingers dancing quickly over keys and pens over paper, serve as proof of life. That’s six of the seven. Then there is someone else. His lack of life sets him apart from anyone else in the shop.
For approximately the last half-hour he has sat upright, staring; the Thinker incarnate. He does not fidget with a phone; there is no laptop on his square wooden table; not even a notepad to write in or a book to read. With careful observation, I notice on the wall directly in front of him is a small 5 x 5 placard, with the number 31. It is not artwork, so there is nothing to study or understand or even appreciate about the object. He is motionless, lifeless. I doubt he would be moved to learn that I am watching him. I’m almost curious why no one else seems to be concerned. This is the type of person that airports broadcast as suspicious or out-of–the ordinary. His wax-canvas messenger bag on the back of his chair is big enough to hold any number of items that we, as an American people, have grown to fear. One would suggest that he is waiting for something. One would hope that he is waiting for some one.
His gaze moves to the door when a tall, graceful blonde steps inside. She takes in some warm air just as those in the shop seem to take her in. Others then resume their tasks or talks, while the stranger and I continue to give her our attention; mine maybe less obviously. She sees him and smiles apologetically. He rises lethargically.
There was an awkward moment of what looked like one of those – do we hug or handshake or something?
“Have you just been sitting here for a really long time?”
“Well, I knew you were waiting but I figured you’d be doing something.”
“No, it’s been good; I’m fine.”
“But you’ve just been sitting here for the past two hours.”
“More like an hour and a half.”
Her posture sighs.
“No, it’s been good,” he repeats. “I’ve had some time to work through some things.” He points to his bag.
She smiles, but seems unconvinced. Then points to the counter. “You getting anything?”
“I’ve had a couple cups and a scone.”
She sets her purse on the table; the handles fold over the top, almost closing the bag. She then proceeds through a doorway toward the counter.
His perfect posture slouches forward, creepily, sneakily – with one exacting finger he taps the top of each handle of the purse. The interior of the bag is now exposed. Leaning in, he peers the insides of the bag. Is there something he is looking for in particular? Does he fear that she possesses the thing, something that brings death or pain, which I’ve come to wonder if he had in his bag?
I overhear her from the other room. “Thank you! But I’ll actually be 31 in May.”
After a couple of precise circles with his head and a few dozen more with his eyes, he nods. Then takes the pointer finger of his other hand, taps each handle and closes the purse to give it back its strong, guarded shape.
She comes back and in the same motion sets her coffee down and removes her purse from the table. Her coffee sends up steam like smoke signals. She then drapes her puffy down jacket on the back of her chair.
Maybe it is my desire for adventure or a hope for a surprising thrill but I think I wanted him to not be waiting for someone. I may have just not wanted him to be waiting for her specifically. This odd couple goes beyond their appearance, their level of attractiveness; there is something deeply different in their attitudes almost.
Right before the point that I would have considered awkward silence, she starts, “What are we going to do about this?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out; I think I know how to handle it.”
Handle – the word itself causes her to swallow heavily.
“Oh ya?” she asks.
“I’m not sure we should keep it.”
Again, he sends another blow with his words. I can tell that she wishes she was wearing some sunglasses, to hide the tears that were starting to swell.
He must have noticed too and starts, “Well unless-“
“No you’re right.” She cuts him off. It is clear that he doesn’t want this baby. She is apparently hurt by his disdain. He has chosen; he has spoken. She continues, “Maybe more at this moment than any prior, I think I really do want this child. But that said, you were right with what you say about us keeping it.”
He questions, “I am?”
“Sure, WE shouldn’t –“
Like his body before, when he had peered into her bag, his face now slouches forward.
She continues – “we shouldn’t keep a child. WE shouldn’t keep anything.”
“Listen, I think you think you want this baby but – “
“That’s all!” she says, as she stands up, lifts her purse from the floor and reaches inside. She hands him a small piece of paper and says, “goodbye Tom.”
As she walks away, Tom resumes his initial pose. Though his posture is tall and his eyes stare forward at the numbered placard on the wall, those eyes are no longer filled with anticipation, with strength. They now drown in disappointment. As the door closes behind her, her untouched coffee lets off its last bit of steam.
Through the windows, I can see the woman throw something away before heading to her car. Once safely inside her car, she takes a moment to gather herself. She takes deep breaths. Her breaths relax me, I count – one, two, three. She smiles and looks fine. Maybe she feels as free as I thought she would be only moments ago.
Tom then turns his gaze from the 31 and looks down at the folded piece of paper. He didn’t want this; maybe he wanted something else. Something I cannot name, something that may not even have a name; apparently not this though. Leaving the paper folded, he places it in the now cold coffee and watches it sink. He then gets up, grabs his bag and reaches inside.
He pulls out three books: The Expectant Father, The New Dad’s Survival Guide and The Best Baby Name Book – sets them on the table and walks away.
I head over to his table and lift the piece of paper from the coffee. It is a blank check. Her name is Kelly. Which reminds me to see what she threw away, I step outside and glance inside the bin. Snowflakes begin to cover the abortion pamphlet that sits on top.