02 November 2010

before dinner

The sky was the strangest shade of purplish grey. They sat at a café table, enjoying one of the last days of the year warm enough to sit outside. As the sun snuck into hiding over the horizon a breeze, like tiny fingers, nipped at ears and bare ankles. 

"I'm trying to live in the moment" she said to him. She immediately put her hand to her lips, as if she wanted to push the cliché back into her throat. "Well, you know, I mean..."

Her name was Lita and her hair was a short crop, decorated by a tiny white bow on the right side. She was pretty, though her face had become rounder in the past few months. When she wasn't speaking she was peeling the polish from her fingernails or toying with a stray yarn on her multicolored, thick scarf. She wore no makeup other than mascara and magenta lipstick, which transferred itself slowly from her lips to her wine glass every time she raised it for a sip.

"I just want to feel like what I am doing is worthwhile. I want to be proud of something. I want to be in love with someone who makes me a better person, not a distorted version of myself. I want to start sculpting again, and watercolor." She looked up at Paul to see how he was reacting to her confessions. 

Paul had green eyes and thick black eyelashes. He sat slouched in his café chair, one leg outstretched into the sidewalk, the other slightly bouncing under the table. His apparent apathy gave him a youthful aura, though he was older than Lita. 

The waitress passed by and the two ordered another carafe of wine. The waitress gave them a quick glance, acknowledging the request, then disappeared inside. She probably thought they were a couple. They seemed to be. Lita, fidgeting and wide-eyed, seemed a good match for Paul's laid back vibe. But they weren't a couple. In fact, they were hardly even friends. They had met by chance at the park two weeks ago, when Paul's friends had forgotten to bring a corkscrew, so they requested one from nearby Lita and company. The two picnics then converged and Lita and Paul found that they lived in the same neighborhood.

The first time they had seen each other after that day was when they ran into each other at the weekend market, and sat down for a cup of coffee afterwards. Lita thought Paul was a bit of a bore, in a way that she couldn't quite explain. Paul found Lita amusing in a condescending fashion. Yet they found themselves together again, drinking red wine on the banks of the Seine, filling their bellies with Bordeaux and fresh air. 

The waitress returned with the carafe and set it down sloppily on the small, worn; wooden table. "Voila" she said. 

"Well?" implored Lita. "What do you think? What makes you feel like what you are doing is worthwhile?"

"To tell you the truth, I don't really think too much about that kind of thing," said Paul. "I mean, I work, I make money, I find pretty girls to kiss... That all seems worthwhile to me. I'm pretty alright happy."

"Pretty alright happy?" asked Lita. "Don't you want to be really happy?"

"Of course I do. It happens in moments, not large spaces of time." 

Lita paused, looked down at the newly refilled glass of wine marked by magenta smudges, and sighed. She ran her finger over the rough tabletop, noting its dips and curves. She saw the light from the inside of the café bounce off of the rounded sides of the carafe. The air smelled like leaves, and tobacco, and river water. The sun was now completely hidden and small groups of people were huddling around the posted menu of the café, pondering dinner. 

Her mind felt still, her body relaxed. She turned toward the city and the ornate stone buildings lining the streets.  The trees were gradually dropping their now yellow leaves, creating piles of crunchy fragile stepping stones down the sidewalk. 

If time could be stopped, she thought, this time would be wonderful. She took the dusk, wrapped it carefully in fallen leaves, placed it in her skirt pocket. 

She looked towards Paul who was following a woman in a purple pea coat with his eyes. 

"I guess I'll take what I can get," Lita said, discovering a new stray yarn on her over-picked scarf. And the clock kept ticking, and the metros kept running, and the waitress stepped outside to smoke. 

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