Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A woman of mystery at breakfast

January 23, 2008

She is the kind of woman of whom my mother would have asked: who is she, where is she from, what is she thinking.

I was sitting in a coffee shop on the Plaza, looking out at the snow drifting down on the street below, drinking a cup of coffee and eating a blueberry scone. It was one of those crisp, cold mornings when the air was clean and pure; the sunlight ricocheted off a store window opposite, casting all before me as shadowy cutouts against a white background.

I had walked a few blocks from my earlier destination; had noticed how good the cold air felt against my face, had wondered about other walkers, bundled against the cold, bent forward against the cold, hurrying toward their jobs or early morning shopping.

The energy emitted by the Plaza is a palpable feeling, though hard to describe. People bustle about with a sense of purpose; are however friendly and companionable even at a distance. Stores are welcoming; customers polite; the streets are filled, all day, with pedestrians and vehicles, both moving with equal purpose and interest in the day.

The coffee shops are without exception full of energy and purpose-minded people. Most coffee shops are Internet-connected so it is not unusual to find customers bent over a laptop, balanced on a table top where a coffee cup sits precariously on the edge. The ticky tacky sound of the lap top keys kept rhythm with the hissing of the latte machine, the rustle of morning newspapers. It's like listening to the percussion section of a symphony

I was looking over the top of my coffee cup, watching the snow through the steam from the coffee when I noticed her sitting between me and the window. She was dressed in a coat with a fur collar; a forest green hat like turban; pearl earrings; profiled against the window, so she gave the appearance of a statute. Her elegance, though simple, was profound.

The light from the window glistened like droplets on her darkened skin; her dark eyes cast a look far beyond the window where she was seated. She continued sitting, gaze fixed in the distance, sipping a red liquid from a plastic cup, it could well have been Dresden china. When finished, she drew a pair of red gloves from her purse, pulled them on and pressed down each individual finger of each glove, slowly and methodically.

Willa Cather's Lost Lady; Sherlock Holmes's Violet Hunter; African Queen; Egyptian goddess; Casablanca or Kansas City, it mattered little; she was an elegant, silhouetted figure of whom my mother would have asked: who is she, where is she from, where is she going? Another time and place perhaps; a woman of mystery certainly. On a cold winter day, the fire of imagination is stoked.

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