The Old Woman

27 Jan

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…some brain away time…

***

There’s this old woman.

…She looks a little like me, and she spends a lot of time at this book cafe, sipping at endless cups of coffee, leaving large red slash-stains along the porcelain lip.

…She doesn’t talk to people, mostly remains consumed in her books and papers, only sometimes, will sit back…take off her reading glasses, put a perfectly manicured hand to the back of her neck, and ease out a kink of stiffness settled in there, from too many hours of bowing over her work.

…And she is working…always…on something. Her interests are totally eclectic, but somehow themed across pockets of time, which only the wait staff will notice, because she has come here…for years…doing the very same thing. Alone at her table.

…But never, “lonely.”

…When not absorbed in her studies, she does manage to recognize the human beings all round her. She watches them, in fact. Rather closely.

…The students taking up multiple tables together, books, laptops, and papers everywhere. The quiet and comfortable husband and wife settled in, consumed in their newspaper and magazine, as they prob’ly have, in exactly the same way, over Saturday morning breakfast for the past however many years. There are the young people gabbing back and forth “at” one another (rather than “to”)…as one cannot hold actual conversation with a person, burried in their cellphone news and social  feeds.

…Sometimes, there are the awkward couples on first dates, the families with little people and their weary parents,  focused on the coffee reader board ahead and the promise of help that it will bring to their harried day.

…Sometime, it’s a man or a woman, alone. Some used to it, some visibly uncomfortable, as if wearing a new skin.

…She imagines their fuller selves as she watches, these pairings and singles…what they stepped out of to come here today…what awaits when they get home. What is their work? How do they play? Is the marriage one of old friends? Will there be a second date?

…The old woman watches all of this. But not with longing, or necessarily a sense of disconnect.

…She knows these stories. Well. In some way, you could say that she has lived all these lives, parading around her, and even holds special memories of the minutest degree, about them…from when it was her time…her sister, her son, her lover, her friend… “her,” thirty-five years ago, sitting alone like that one there…fully confident, hard at work, totally at ease…being the single, solitary lady at a table, in public, consumed in whatever the hell she was doing.

…But the secret she holds, sitting at her far end table, is one that no one in the cafe would ever imagine, or believe… to just look at her…even if they did.

…Which, they rarely do. Because why should they? To the eye, she is just an old woman, sitting in a cafe. Alone. So: a “spinster” or a “widow”…but of nothing any more complex or engaging to the curiosity.

To the young: she’s nonexistent. To the couples, perhaps a lonely peek at their one day inevitable future, to the singles…a potent gut kick of panic, “Dear God, what if someday, that is me? Alone. At a table. Just the same as I am now?”

…And every once in a while, because the old woman is keenly observant, she can feel these thoughts actually eeking out from the looks and gestures of those who are thinking them. For she is quite good at interpreting these even slightest of facial hints.

…After all, it is her profession.

…And I say, “is” not “was,” because she has been lucky with a job description one cannot age out of. In fact she is working, even now…at that table, as she has been for years on end. She is at study, waiting for a peek of something curious and extraordinary, blended into the everyday average of the average person’s busy day.

…She studies them like a scientist, interprets as an analyst, clicks in with their emotions, builds them in her mind as characters in say…a book.

Of course this doesn’t mean she knows the answers, that isn’t the point. It’s the art form of “what if” that she is after. Because life has so much endless possibility in even the most mundane of appearances.

…For instance, just looking at her…this old woman, alone at a table…could you imagine her true actual self? That she’s been a high end prostitute, a nun, an inventor, was once mostly blind, had been stabbed and shot a good many times, and had done her fair share of brutality, up to murder…several times. She was a lesbian with many male lovers, and a mistress…but also a spinster, with countless marriages, and children now dotting the globe in all ages, races, and colors.

…As well, as can toss back a neat double of whiskey as swift as any burley biker, holds more secrets than a government official at voting time, and has plans to meet up later with a gob of people twenty or more years her junior, where she will have love affairs, in public, and then go out drinking afterwards…just for the fucking fun of it.

Not for a moment, would this occur to any of the occupants at the other tables, nor the wait staff she’s known by sight for a decade or more. For despite her volcanic and tumultuous past, she is an introvert, and had always preferred to be the keeper of the secrets, than “out” them. It’s always been more fun, that way.

…Except sometimes…

…When she takes a look round a crowded cafe and spots a woman, alone, also sitting back and taking in the room. Their eyes meet. Across time and space, a connection is formed lasting perhaps only a beat.

Maybe the younger woman nods her head slightly. Maybe the old one winks. A smile begins on both mouths…saying nothing and everything. Kindred spirits: a meeting.

The younger woman holds the glance as if to say, “I see you, I know you, I will be you someday. And I’m pretty damn cool with that, actually. ”

…To which the old woman manages an actual chuckle and tilt of her head, as if to say: “Honey, are you in for a hell of a treat…”

~D

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