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By the Café

The following is an excerpt from a forthcoming novel by Amérique Nakamura

In the lobby of the old hotel was a fountain. Within it was a stone face. The face was the face of a young child, a girl, scrunched in concern of some very serious thought, surely. Her hair was tied on each side in braids and fell gently, though stone, atop each almost-bare shoulder as she wore a light sundress. She sat on her little island as if on the edge of something and about to fall in but in that something there was nothing—the water wouldn’t flow from the fountain until closer to the evening and it was only close to close to evening. He knew this. From where he sat in the hotel café he could see the fountain in the hotel lobby. The girl was but one part of a much grander design but ideology prevented him from seeing past the individual. He looked at the face long enough until it seemed to reflect him rather than some pale imitation.

He sipped his coffee. He asked it without cream. We’re all out of cream, they said, all we have is milk. He got it without milk.

He was nearly done until she arrived and took the seat opposite him. He looked from her stone face to her stone face.

She said, “Nick.”

“You really showed up.”

“You asked me.”

“I thought you asked me.”

“Excuse me?”

He said, “No, you know what, never mind that.”

To really understand why they are sitting here today, we must first consider how modern conditions of production have prevailed and how they are positioned within it. That he was an ass and she was merely entertaining him was neither here nor there.

She said, “So—”

“Have you eaten?”

“Nick—”

“They have good bœuf bourguignon here.”

“I know they do. I make sure they do.”

“Compliments to the, well, yeah.”

The woman Nick once knew as Leah—pronounced like Liar without the R, only because English was her mother’s second language, the first lost after a sudden move and a more sudden explosion somewhere in Eastern Europe—now re-presented to him as some other type of fiction, crossed her legs from under the table. She was taller than him in her Bruno Magli heels and older than him by simple virtue of having been thrown into the world first. Geworfenheit, as Heidegger would have put it.

“What is it you want, Nick?”

“I just want to know how you’ve been. Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“Well, what a first that is. You want to ask me how I have been.”

“Yes.”

“What a fucking world.”

A waitress came by and greeted Leah like one would a statesman or some other official. Leah attempted at some light humor but the waitress was too nervous to get it, her mind on auditions she had after work. Leah ordered bœuf bourguignon and let her leave.

Nick said, “They said they’re out of cream. They said that.”

Leah said, “I’ve been busy is how I’ve been.”

“You look it.”

“And you? I’m supposed to be polite here.”

“I’ve been okay.”

“Just okay?”

“Yes.”

Leah said to herself, “Busy,” and held for a beat. Then she said, “Just tell me what you’re doing here.”

“You look great.”

“That’s not—but thank you. And you look okay.”

“Thanks.”

“Hm.”

“How long’s it been?”

“What?”

“How long—”

“Eleven years.”

“Eleven…”

Leah said, “Yes.” Then she sat back and looked around here. The café was clean and well-lighted, as she made sure it was. There weren’t many people around as it was not close to evening but it would be very soon. At the front desk a family was checking in for their scheduled summer vacation but the father was more concerned how the stocks would look the next day.

Nick said, “And Friedrich? How’s he?”

Leah said, “What is it you want, Nick? Just tell me. Is it money? Yes, it must be. Money. Men want money and women want things to buy. Isn’t that it? Isn’t it?”

“Course not.”

“God, you kill me.”

Nick reached for a weathered attaché case resting along the leg of his chair and opened it. Inside was a typed manuscript. Nick set it on the table.

“I wrote a play.”

“You wrote a play.”

“Yes. Would you read it?”

“You want—that’s what you want. You want me to read it.”

“Yes.”

“Eleven—and then what? You want me to read it and then what?”

Nick said, “Just read it.”

Leah said, “Just read it.”

“Yes.”

“Knowing that my husband produces plays?”

“I asked how he was.”

Leah couldn’t believe it. She had said as much when she said, “I can’t believe this.”

“I’m only asking.”

“Opportunist. Opportun-Nick. Ha. Don’t make me laugh at my own fucking joke.”

“I’m only—yeah.”

Leah looked at Nick. Her attention was mostly toward some other business—very important business, mind you—but it was also on him. She leaned forward slightly—Nick glanced for the top of her blouse but it was buttoned up totally, how unfortunate—and took the manuscript.

“Your ever-thrilling vicissitudes never cease to screw me—screw me up. What’s the play about?”

“It’s about—well, all you have to do is read it. That’s—I don’t give a damn whether it gets produced or not.”

“Really now? Such tact you have. What’s the play about?”

Nick did not answer.

“You came to pitch me a play, haven’t you? Come on, now. Pitch it.”

Nick swallowed. Nick took another sip of his coffee without milk. Nick swallowed again.

“It’s—well—it’s about a reunion, of sorts, well its structure is structured by three—two love—friends really—they get together after, you know, after however many years and they spend the day talking.”

“Talking?”

“Just talking. Well, it’s punctuated—structured, really—by breakfast and lunch and—you—over a day’s course.”

“And they just, just talk?”

Nick swallowed and said, “Yes. Well. It’s more an exercise in Brechtian epic theatre.”

Leah flipped through some pages and said, “Hm. Big ideas for a small play.”

“It’s a rough draft.”

Leah said, “Aren’t we all,” and set the thing down. 

She stared at him, or rather they reflected themselves in each other, and stayed there for some time and in that time two-hundred and fifty children will have been thrown into the world, one hundred and thirteen of them thrown into poverty, sixty-five thousand barrels of oil fuck the Earth, eighty-three thousand people will make love, though not these two, about ten thousand Coke bottles will be consumed and the universe will have expanded by about four thousand five hundred kilometers.

Leah then said, “Nick.”

“Yeah.”

She flipped back, title page.

“‘Orchids Through the Day.’”

“Yeah.”

Lecanorchis nigricans.”

“They were your favourite.”

“Hm.”

Leah glanced the page again. She thought about some things, like, for example, for all the random trajectories of thrownness, why hers to his? And why then? She thought about that. Seriously and surely.

“Are.”

“What?”

“They are my favourite.”

Leah stood from the table.

“You’re a bastard, Nick. Get some rest. Good night.”

She took the manuscript with her and left.

Nick sat there. He went for his coffee without milk but the cup was without coffee without milk.

The waitress returned with a plate of bœuf bourguignon and set it in front of Nick. In fact, she had been passing enough times throughout that she could more or less narrate things herself.

The waitress said, “I’m sorry, but, are you a playwright?”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop.”

The waitress smiled.

Nick didn’t smile. He did think about it though, as Leah must have. He instead set some cash on the table for everything, though when the waitress would later count it he would be short some, said, “And now you’ve made it my problem,” and left.

It was now close to evening. If this were a short film perhaps funded in part by the Cinémathèque Française we would end on a shot of the fountain again, the young child sitting with that stony scrunched look, and as the people passed, right on schedule, right on spectacular time, the water would start and the shot would be framed so as the water fell it fell like tears.

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