No. 14 Alteration

I observe her, as I have observed her so many times before, from across the crowded café.

I cannot hear what she says from this distance, but I can admire the perfect curve of her lip, her sweet smile. Her scent, fondly remembered from chance moments of physical closeness, cannot bridge the void between us.  I taste hot dark coffee on my tongue, taken with one large Muscovado sugar cube, just as she takes it. I admire the way the curve of her tiny waist so closely matches the violin curve of her chair. I feel the hardness of the curved wooden chair beneath me, worn smooth by the passing of many strangers. I am a stranger to her and she to me, though we have shared these Tuesdays, this precious half hour, many times.

I should not come. I should stop coming. I should be resolute and firm with myself. I should move to the South as my brother keeps urging. Yet I stay, unable to approach, unable to speak, held at this exact distance Tuesday after Tuesday, time after time.

Abruptly, from nowhere, or perhaps, had I greater self-knowledge, from the fuming fire of need and desire fulminating within me, comes decision. This time it will be different. This time I will approach, I will speak!

No, not yet. I will follow, I will watch. She is wearing her primrose silk high heels. How perfectly they set off her shapely ankle!

At the allotted moment she pays the waiter and walks serenely from the café, eyes down, demure. As she leaves the café I see her put up her pale blue umbrella, the colour of childhood skies.

I pay too and leave hurriedly, knocking over my chair as I grab my coat. Fumbling, apologising. I see her turn left down the little lane, heading for the main road. An early autumn drizzle has started. I run to the corner struggling into my overcoat as I go. I do not see her as I enter the lane. Desperation drives me through the crowd. I push through them, noticing my unaccustomed discourtesy, shouting out uncomfortable apologies and pardons as I go.

At last I make it to the main road. She is standing, patiently at the front of a small group of people waiting to cross. I slow. I approach nonchalantly, weaving through the loose knot of people. Making my way to a point just behind her and to her right.

A taxi drives past, splashing a little water as it goes. An elderly lady is startled and slips on the wet paving stone. She stumbles. I see one primrose silk shoe slip off the curb and into the muddy slurry.

The girl turns, her face twisted and contorted by rage.

‘Watch what you’re doing you stupid, clumsy old bitch! You’ve ruined my fucking shoes. You should be in a home!’

The crowd pulls away from the altercation. The elderly lady mutters an apology. The crossing light turns green and my life walks away.

I stand in the early autumn drizzle, my world collapsed.

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