I am three weeks into my new city, my first geographic relocation in nearly
thirty years, and my husband's arrival has been delayed by a month. So
far, my face-to-face conversations have been mostly with our real estate
agent, with Mohammed, the doorman in the building where I have an office,
and, if I would admit it, the cat. This has been another day of long distance
phone calls to the East Coast interpersed with wondering what I'm doing
here without friends or clients.
To put off returning to our cramped and noisy temporary apartment, I wander
into Café de la Presse at the corner of Grant and Bush. It has none
of the generic quality of Starbucks. In fact, the authentic Frenchness
of it--the rack of foreign language newspapers, the efficiency and mild
disdain of the waiters, the wire-backed chairs that are neither comfortable
nor uncomfortable--might actually be soothing. I lean my elbows on the
chilly marble tabletop and watch the people in conversation. How civilized,
people sitting around talking. Around me they bend over notebooks, read
newspapers, laugh. In the window, a bone thin woman with black hair cut
into geometric planes flirts with a man at the next table.
A tall waiter appears over me, pencil poised. His invitation to take my
order is signaled by lifting his eyebrows. "Madame?" he asks quietly. Cappuccino
arrives quickly and I sip the scalding liquid through the foam. I want
to feel the burn. Maybe it will shock me into clarity. I cannot read and
writing is out of the question. Suddenly, a seductively accented voice,
male, moving towards me, calls out, "Suzanne!"
For the briefest of seconds my heart leaps as I turn toward this invitation.
But in the next instant I register that I do not recognize his face, that
he is compact and appealing, his clothes are European cut and hang attractively
on his body, and he is not making eye contact with me. His arms come up
and his smile broadens as he steps past my table to embrace the woman at
the next one. Their conversation flies away in French, which I cannot follow.
I smile to myself, and suddenly know I am not so far away from becoming
one of those who sits alone, holding imaginary conversations in a café.
SUZANNE YOUNG lives and writes in San Francisco.
She is completing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Goucher College.