by Robert Aquino Dollesin
Three days of downpour has paused, although the wind still funnels down the boulevard. Noel makes his way along the sidewalk, his hands pocketed, his face damp from the warm drizzle, which trembles in the air like static on a screen. He’s been waiting for the weather to change, waiting for the skies to clear, so he can leave his apartment and visit her again.
The streets are filled with renewed activity. Shopkeepers once again tend to their shops, most of which have been shuttered during the storm.
Noel turns off the boulevard into a quiet alleyway. This is where he usually finds her. He steps over simmering puddles, his shoes scraping against wet gravel.
Halfway through the alley he spots her sitting at a table, shielded from the sprinkles by an awning, which writhes in the wind. This, Noel knows, is her favorite café. In fact, it’s the only café where Noel has ever seen her. His anxiety mounts; his shoes sink a little deeper into the ground as he increases his pace.
When he reaches the table, Noel slips into the chair opposite her. “Hello, you,” he says. “It’s been over a week since I’ve seen you.”
Of course she does not reply, but that doesn’t matter; Noel is still pleased to have found her again. “How is your day going?” he asks.
She stares across the table, fixing her gaze on something beyond where Noel sits with his back to the street. She tilts her head and manages a smile, although it’s there only for an instant.
“I knew I’d find you here,” Noel says. When she lowers her head, he pretends that her moist eyes, a deeper green than he remembers, simply can’t hold his gaze. While she looks down at her long fingers on the table, Noel wonders what thoughts dance through her mind, why it is she laments.
Noel leans forward, rests his elbows on the table, cups his chin in his hands. He wishes she could say something, anything.
“Last night,” Noel begins, “I couldn’t stop thinking of you while I listened to the rain.” When she doesn’t reply, Noel persuades himself his words are drowned, lost in the drizzle that raps against the awning, carried away by the sighing wind.
“I’m glad the rain stopped,” he says, reaching across the table, lightly brushing her hand with his. She sighs, a hush that slips from her throat. Her arms, Noel notices, begin to prickle. She closes her eyelids and pulls her hand out from under Noel’s, and then she slumps back in her chair.
Damp leaves skitter on the brick wall along the sidewalk behind her, becoming part of a whirling heap of orange gathering near the café entrance. Patrons push through the doors, in and out, their umbrellas rising, or collapsing. But they never pay attention to the couple seated out front in the rain. They never do.
From where he sits, Noel watches her open her eyes and gaze skyward where, for a long time, she searches for something Noel wishes he could identify . Finally, she straightens in her seat and lifts her glass to her lips. When she replaces the drink in front of her, Noel studies the smoothness of her fingers as they trace the rim of the glass. She raises a hand and runs a fingertip beneath her eyes. He can’t help wondering why she weeps.
Noel extends his arm to wipe her tears away and his fingers pass through her face, as through a vapor of breath.
“What happened?” he asks, settling back in his chair. “Why are you here?”
Of course she doesn’t answer.
Noel steeples his fingers in front of his face and tries to blow warmth onto his frigid hands. She reaches into her lap and raises her handbag onto the table. She snaps the bag open. Her hand disappears for an instant, before reappearing with a tissue. She uses the tissue to dab at the moisture beneath her eyes, smearing her mascara. She sniffs loudly and crumples the tissue, lets it fall onto the table next to her glass. Then, while she tries to force a smile, her thumb rises and brushes aside the loose strands of hair, which are pasted to her forehead.
After she finishes her drink, she stares through Noel and into the quiet street. He turns his head and follows her gaze. The rain begins to fall, again. Under the neon stabbing the street, puddles ripple and spill over onto the gravel alley.
When she buries her face in her hands, Noel says, “I have to go now, but I’ll be back. I promise I’ll be back.” He rises from his chair and moves past her to the café entrance. When he reaches the door, he stops to look at the reflections arrested in the plate glass window.
As is always the case, reflected in the glass there is only rain and an empty table, which shudders outside Café Lost.
Copyright © 2007 by Robert Aquino Dollesin