right hand pointing



  Mary Lynn Reed

Out of Paper


I can't say I noticed her right away. I don't come to Dusty's Café to observe or connect. I come to eat and to write. Rice, chicken, savory sauce. Blue-lined paper and pen. Dusty's is a newly single writer's Friday night heaven, with fifteen kinds of homemade pie.

I was hot on a short story, consumed by the fiction of emotional rescue, and I'd just filled the last page of my notebook. I was fumbling in my knapsack when she first caught my eye. Sitting by the window with an old man I assumed was her father. Two sweeps through my bag and I wilted. Out of paper. I went back to my chicken, cursing, trying to hold onto my story.

Then she looked over.

The old man had finished a rant I barely realized I'd heard, and the two of them settled into that dead-marriage silence. Once I looked I knew the old man wasn't her father. By the way her jaw clenched, by the way she folded herself in, even as she straightened her spine in thwarted defiance. By the way he angled his bony old shoulders, determined still, to possess and protect her. It was instinct. I could read it.

A decade ago my partner and I made a game of spotting married couples in trouble at restaurants. Those who ate without speaking were the saddest to watch, the farthest from hope. Two-participant fighters we gave a 50/50 chance; they were normal. I wasn't proud to remember how my partner and I gloated over the game we created, smug in our love, until we became the pieces with nothing to say. And now I'm reminded how the angry ranters paired with quiet dreamers always depressed me. Made me fantasize myself a hero, sensitive and gentle. In life, doomed to failed rescue. In fiction, sometimes the lost girls turned into my lovers.

The old man shakes his fist at the newspaper as his wife has my eyes locked in her lonely dull gaze.

I could save you, I'm thinking, as the man yells "Are you deaf?" at the woman. I don't hear the rest of his scolding, his trivial anger. I just see her face retreat and release me. I grip my pen with no paper to write on, imagine the woman's face bright, her head thrown back in laughter. Imagine her smile, her long neck responding to pleasure, her hands open, reaching.

The man squeaks his chair over to block her straight gaze from passing beyond him, but she's no longer trying to see me.

I finish my dinner, pack up my bag, leave a large tip on the table. As I pass by their window, I look at the woman and she looks back at me, briefly, and I wish that she knew a failed hero had seen her. In my story, the new one I am already composing, she will.




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