February 15, 2011
A Less Pithy Valentine
The sun had just set, but there was still residual warmth in the air, now mingling with a tame bite. She approached the cafe, the usual assortment of punks, hipsters, hippies, philosophers, musicians, poets, etc., smoking out front, legs crossed, dimly aware grins decorating their faces.
She looked through the window, saw him walking around from behind the counter. He wore thin jeans, a long sleeved shirt with horizontal stripes, and cowboy boots. There was a smile on his face, a gleam behind the black rims of his glasses. There was confidence in the way he stood, left leg cocked, like some emaciated Marlboro man.
A deep breath. She inhaled, looked at the sidewalk, and her feet, which should have been taking her to the door. But there was no movement. They were content to stand, to honor that swirling angst in her gut. And what of those shoes? The toes looked pointy now, and the buckle lavish, perhaps a bit much.
She exhaled. It was 8 pm; she always visited around this time. She told herself that this was a day like any other, that some illusory corporate invention need not throw her. She looked in the window again, saw that he was behind the counter now, dusting grounds from a portafilter.
She slipped in through the curtain of smoke, slid to a table in the corner. She slung her bag to the floor, reached in and grabbed Three Plays for Puritans. Shaw made for acerbic company, however, and was quickly retired to the bag.
"Fuck," she said, standing with enough force to knock her chair in to the person behind her. "Sorry."
She began to walk towards the counter, each footfall an imagined declaration of her nerves. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. A series of resonant thuds, a poem of romance and hate and feelings and society and stuff and dammit.
He finished wiping the portafilter clean, shoved the towel in his back pocket, a consummate coffee monkey. There was only that space of the counter now, a half full tip jar and rice flour, vegan brownies separating her from him. He leaned on that counter as he always did, turning his head slightly, his hips more. She pictured him, cowboy boots with spurs now, doing the same pose at a saloon.
"Hi," she said.
"Angie," he nodded.
She pictured him tipping the hat he wasn't wearing, saying howdy, ma'am, wondered if perhaps last night had been a bad time to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. No, there was never a bad time for Robert Redford.
"No plans?" he asked.
And there it was. Straight to the point. She could say it now, ask away; he had opened the door, she need only walk through it. It would just be good manners, really. She gestured to her bag, slumped against the table. "GBS and I."
"Boo," he said, furling his brow with mock indignation. "So." He stood up, turned with relish to the espresso grinder.
The whir and the click spoke to her, telling her that this was just another day, which she had known it was, had told herself it was, but still. The near omnipresent disingenuity on his face vanished as he ground, brushed, tamped, twisted, brushed again, flicked.
He turned his head to her, as he lifted milk from the fridge, poured it in the pitcher. "I've been working on something." He smiled.
As quickly, he was back to work, steaming, stretching, swirling, hissing, then cutting, pounding, swirling again. He grabbed the portafilter, locked it in, pulled the shots in to a 12 oz mug, still working with the milk pitcher.
She noticed that his concentration had been infectious, that her jitters had dissipated, then noted the irony in that, surrounded by caffeine.
"Okay," he said, exhaling sharply. "Let's see if I can get this. You know how I can get like a decent rosetta? Well I actually never learned this one, but, you know, today."
He poured, more quickly, and with less flicking from side to side. He struck through the middle at finish, exhaled again. "Okay. Wow. That sucks."
She laughed. "Let me see."
"Uh, no. Let me try again."
"Oh stop. What did you try, like a polar bear or something. I saw that online once."
"What? Oh, the blog. Yeah. Maybe."
"But whatever. No, this is, well."
He walked to the counter, set the mug down. The crema cast a caramel outline around what might, from just the right angle, have been a heart.
"So it's what?" she asked, smiling now, butterflies netted, killed.
"It's free, for one," he said, pulling a handful of coins from his tip jar, counting them, then grabbing a couple more. "It's also better tasting than a rose."