If it Fits

I have never looked at the world the same way since August the fourteenth, 2003. It was a Thursday, and I was sitting by myself at a tiny table outside the Eighth Note, a tiny little coffee bistro, on the corner of Lionel Street and Columbus. It was one of those high-top tables, you know, that only have two chairs? The kind that couples sit at and have to step up to sit down. 

Except I wasn't part of a couple that day. I was sitting, steaming styrofoam cup in one hand and the newest edition of Cosmopolitan in the other. I remember I had a job interview that day, but not until noon, so I was killing time over a frothy latte. 

I suppose I looked typical. Average citizen, part of the mid-morning rush, just enjoying my solitude the way thousands of Americans did every morning. Maybe that's why she picked me, maybe my normalcy made her zero in on me like a magnet.

"Do you always do that?"

I looked up from page forty five to see a young woman, about my age, step up onto the other chair at my table. Even though she was looking right at me, I turned and surveyed the area around me to make sure I was the one being addressed. Another typical move. "Excuse me? Do I always do what?"

"That." she waved one hand lazily at the magazine in my hand. She leaned forward and angled her head so she could read the page through her sunglasses, then sat back with a satisfied expression. "What is it, anyway? 'Make him crazy with just eight sure-fire moves'... nice. But that's what I mean. Do you always read about the world instead of live it?"

I wasn't sure I'd heard her correctly. I raised my eyebrows in confusion and perhaps a bit of defense. She looked like the one person in school who liked to push the rules... step outside the lines, dress in the dark, and call it a fashion statement. The kind of person who liked to ask questions that could very well be offensive.

She was in a jean skirt over black leggings, with a loose but lightweight yellow shirt the color of honeysuckle. Over the yellow blouse she wore a dark gray vest that looked like it once was part of an expensive business suit, and her shoes were ballet flats covered in shinning green glitter. Tiny silver chains with multi-colored sequins hung from her ears, and silver bracelets clinked on her wrists. Her hair was a deep, rich chocolate mess of curls and waves, and pinned up messily atop her head. Although her makeup was for the most part modest and her eyes were tinted with the same green on her shoes, her lips were the kind of bright red you only see on vintage girls from the fifties.

"I'm not sure what you mean." I said in reply, although it took me a long time to phrase the sentence. 

"I mean that you're sitting there reading about people instead of watching them. And more importantly, you're reading on how to be just like them." she leaned back in her high-top chair, watching me with the hint of a smile on her face. "What's your name, honey?"

Something in her tone, if not in her words, made me relax. Something told me that she wasn't dangerous, just weird. But somehow she was warm, and comfortable. 


"Jess, huh? You seem like a nice girl, Jess. I want you to look out there and tell me what you see." She tilted her head toward the street. I just looked at her for a moment, trying to figure out if there was a catch or a trick of if she was going to try something like stealing my purse and bolting with it. But she just sat there, hands folded across her belly, leaning backwards in her chair. "Go on. What do you see?"

I took a breath and let my eyes wander the scenery before me. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, I let a few minutes pass, then shook my head with a sigh. "Nothing. Just people."

"People are never just people." she said with a kind of laugh in her voice. "Go on, look. I mean really look. I'll tell you what I see." 

She set the chair on all four legs again, and this time leaned in close to me, arms folded on the tabletop like we were about to have an exciting, secret conversation. 

"See that old man over there? The one on the bus bench?" (I nodded) "He's sitting there waiting for his son to come spend his lunch hour with him. They're going to play chess in the park, like they always do, because if they didn't have at least an hour a day together than the son would put him in a nursing home."

I don't know what I was expecting her to say, but that certainly wasn't it. But before I could react, she spoke again. 

"And you see that girl on the red bike, coming around the corner? She's hurrying to class because if she's late one more time she won't know what's on the final, but she slept in because she spent the night with her boyfriend, and she hates getting up in mornings." 

The blonde girl on the bike sped by in a rattling blur, her canvas book bag looking ready to spill text books all over the pavement.

"How do you know all of this?" I asked, not quite sure what the point was.

"I don't." came the simple reply. "But I think." 

For a few moments, neither of us said anything. Then she pointed at a man in a beige suit coat, walking briskly down the street with a laptop bag slung over his shoulder, a phone headset in one ear and a palm pilot in his hand. "That man is a big business guru. Just landed a new job but has been cheating on his wife for six months. She doesn't know it yet though, because he meets the other woman during business hours and erases her calls." 

"How do you know all this?" I asked, and as soon as I realized I had already asked the question, I tried again. "Do you know these people? Have you met them?"

"Some of them." she smiled prettily, her bright red lipstick creating a perfect arc. "But the rest of them, I just watch. It's easy sometimes, and other times it's just fun. But either way, it gets you closer to them and more involved in the world than that little book you're reading." She tapped her fingers lightly on my arm. "Come on, Jess. You try. Pick a person, and try to read them. Look at them like a moving article."

I hesitated, took a breath, and decided to go with it. Maybe there was a point to this. Slowly my eyes scanned the street again, looking for a person to attach a story to. The coffee bistro was across from the central park on one corner, and the start of the shopping district on the other. There were plenty of people out and about, but I settled on  the black man getting out of his car parked on the street. I watched as he pulled a fresh cigarette from behind his ear, lit it, and took a deep drag before pulling his guitar out of the back seat and walking toward the park gate. 

"That man is scared of being alone but he likes his privacy... he writes songs to impress a girl he has a complicated history with, and drinks to forget it all."

I'm not sure where the words came from, or even if any of it was true, but for some reason I felt something shift inside of me, like I had done something some part of me was waiting for me to do. 

"Not bad." the girl next to me smiled. Perfect ruby lips spread evenly over white teeth. "I think you might just be getting the hang of this."

And with that she stood up, and hopped down from the raised stool. Her hand reached out toward me and tapped the page of my still-open magazine. "See you around, Jess. But more importantly, I hope you start seeing around."

And with a wink, she turned and left the fence-enclosed patio. 

"Wait!" I cried, as she started to turn the corner onto Lionel street. "What's your name?"

She paused in her path, turned to look at me, and smiled like she knew a secret. 

"Whatever you decide, honey. Whatever fits." 

bbaker   bbaker wrote
on 6/9/2009 11:56:08 PM
2/1 method: 2 things I liked, 1 suggestion. Liked: 1): your description of the strange woman was very well done...especially tying in the makeup color with her shoes. 2): beginning draws the reader into the story. My suggestion: something was missing from the ending...I almost feel like the main character should have wondered about or conjured a story for the strange woman that visited her...or maybe end the story with the main character using the technique on her interviewer later that day...I think that would wrap it up nicely.

StarPoet   StarPoet wrote
on 4/7/2009 12:23:02 AM
I like this for I do the same thing when I people watch. You made me think of something new here. Thanks!!!

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