“That sounds horrible!” She exclaimed, leaning an elbow on the counter as if it were second nature. “Yes, it is. That’s why I try to keep my mind off it.” She nodded. “No wonder! The strain you’re under must be incredible!” I nodded, pressed my lips together. “Hey – ” she shifted forward. “Your eyes look so sad. Since when are your eyes so sad?”
“Oh, I don’t know, since it all started I suppose. Yes, everyone has commented.”
“So it’s not just me that has noticed. Oh, what will you do?”
I glared at her, said very slowly, “I’m trying not to talk about it, at all. I came here to relax. And let my mind feed on other things.” She nodded, and I turned back to what was in front of me. In a minute she will go away, I told myself. I am going to browse the fuck out of these friendship bracelets and I will forget all else.
“Are you going to get one for a friend?” She asked, lifting herself off the counter. “I might,” I answered, beginning to feel the absorption in the incredible shininess in front of me take hold. “You’re going to give it to her tonight?” She asked softly. “Maybe tomorrow,” I murmured. Purple is a colour very easily done wrong, I thought. There’s good purple and then there’re the purple dolphins at Walmart and that’s another thing entirely.
“So you’re still going out with friends?” I made a noise of assent. “Where are you going to go?” I shrugged. “We usually just eat and talk or coffee and talk. No big deal.”
“What are the names of the restaurants you go to? Like the names and the neighborhood.” Suddenly I felt a little cold, and turned to look her full in the face. “Why do you ask that?” I asked her quietly. She jumped back. “Well fine, I mean if you’re embarrassed to let me know how you spend your time then well whatever.”
The next day, over coffee I told Vicki what had happened. “What a weirdo. Don’t go back there,” she told me, removing two unground coffee beans from her drink with a shrug. “I don’t know dude,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “Maybe like, when she’s not there?” She set the beans down gently on a napkin, as if they were set aside for later use. Then she looked up at me and shook her head. “This is the same woman who wanted to know if your hair was naturally that colour and what brand of mascara you used and where you lived and if you had seen that boy you mentioned was hot one day and she’s never forgotten a single detail of your life, has she?”
“No. She remembers as if she were keeping notes.”
“So no, I don’t care what the prices are like, she’s the owner, never go back.”
“Do you ever wonder how many people we know are just, like, drifters? Not completely sane and with all sorts of horrible back stories but you can hide it in a big city, and they do, and we never know, unless our lives intersect too deeply and then very suddenly we’re in what feels like a parallel world?”
She pursed her lips to answer, but we simulataneously caught sight of a little girl running seemingly towards us in a frilly little dress, with a perfect little bob, running and dancing and twirling. She couldn’t have been over four. I began to smile until I saw her face.
It was red and crumpled in tears, even as her tiny body kept moving cheerfully.