Cafe – 2 of 4

A narrow, terraced bed of soil rose to Alain’s left, at once a garden box and retaining wall built up by a rising, staggered stack of three, four, then five rail beams which defined the outer parameter of the café’s patio area. Alain sat with hot coffee, waiting. At this time of year the small garden contained only the remains of last season’s shrub grass, cut off low and tied with twine. Later these clumps would be split with a sharp shovel and redistributed among an arrangement of iris, wildflowers, and young sunflowers that would reach eight feet in height by August.

It wouldn’t be long before the inscrutable arousal of plant metabolism would be initiated throughout this corner of the world. The effects would not be seen for a time, but up and down the three valleys the seed-forms of the region’s flora were already stirring, their soft nuclei dividing, dormant, closed pathways warming into proper shape under the beat of the nearing sun. All would turn outward and grow.

On his way to the café, Alain had been pleased to see that many things held the aspect of spring. The trolley of used books outside of Three Penny, for instance, where he had been briefly tempted to buy Barrons “Dictionary of Mathematics Terms” for a dollar. It was a small paperback with a red cover and would fit perfectly into his pocket, but besides that he couldn’t understand why it should appeal to him at all. He picked up “Film: an Anthology” instead. It was then that he noticed the woman standing inside the bookstore. Alain half smiled, immediately realizing why he had stopped at the trolley in the first place.

He glanced through the window again. She was at least ten years his senior, but distinguished and softened by her long white dress. She was at the register, holding her purchase in a brown bag and speaking to the proprietor. Alain went through an all-too-familiar and embarrassing pattern of self-conscious postures, one of which was to hold the book in front of him, pretending to read, facing the opposite direction, which in this case was across the street. There he saw a group of three teenaged girls walking in shorts and tank tops. By the time the woman in the store came to the door Alain was blushing, unable to raise his eyes from the anthology of film he had begun to mindlessly flip through. As she passed he forced himself to settle on a page and read:

“Television… far more stereoscopic… medium for poetry or rhetoric… in the shape of a stereoscopic screen projector, one shot could be held much longer… screen technique would have to be scrapped entirely… start all over again. The eye would become quite dizzy… saw all those scenes in the round… based on the fact… a number of objects can be shown to people in rapid succession.”

Alain was struck by the thought of ‘scenes in the round’ and the particular phrase ‘a number of objects can be shown to people in rapid succession,’ but, he thought, the passage as a whole wasn’t enough to warrant a dollar.

He looked up. The woman wasn’t to be seen. He decided he would try to remember the specific terminology ‘objects in rapid succession’ and use it in conversation later. Buoyant and relieved, Alain progressed down the avenue towards the café.

At eight the day was already blazing bright, fighting to take back the hour stolen from it earlier that morning, as was the custom on this date, the start of Daylight Savings time. This was something Alain was as yet unaware of. He was fully assured of the fact that he struck out at an early hour.

From the moment he awoke that morning, there had been the clearest air and light streaming through his bedroom windows, the alternating warm and cool drafts of an elevated vernal barometer. The damp breath of a final winter night, a long, moist sigh fell on Alain’s face. It was air that had been condensed on every blade in every lawn, millions of droplets gathering and rolling towards the pulpy earth, drunk in and exhaled by the great oak trees outside the windows of his room.

Brought to by these magnanimous forces, Alain was convinced that the day was going to go well, despite everything. We can admire him for his eagerness to make the most of it, for he was not a man prone to waking earlier than he had to. A mere ten minutes past the time that his alarm would have gone off Alain was leaving the house, showered and dressed, folder in hand.

This initial rush through the ostensible good fortune of extra time, the meteorological metamorphosis from lion to lamb, combined with his lingering gratitude towards sidewalk book trolleys and spring fashions all accounted for Alain’s revived spirits. Earlier misgivings faded into the scenery.

Alain sat very still, closing and opening his eyes slowly, and saw that there were many things about the café patio worth taking pleasure in. He breathed normally, even a bit more deeply than usual for his sooty lungs. The pack of cigarettes he had bought before coming to the café was left in his pocket, unopened. The thought crossed his mind that he could quit, if so inclined. It wasn’t a serious thought, no more realistic an idea than if he had decided to not drink the coffee he had just paid for. He smiled at this, and sank further back into his chair, thinking to himself.

“Everything is as it should be. On a nice day, with coffee, cigarettes and time, I could be content. That is, everything is perfect except this… torture. Regardless, I could stick around for a bit, go, then return later. I will cover this street, which shouldn’t take long. Still… never mind. Just this one thing, a hour or two, then home free. You never know. I could get lucky. Things always work out, and easier than you ever thought possible. I will return to this chair… but not yet. There is time. All day, in fact. Truthfully, if not for this stupid business I could sit here and think nothing of thinking of nothing at all.”

 

SM

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