He had been, but not in a perverse way. He liked how her thick hair fell around her face. The color of her dress matched her chair, though he was sure she had not gotten dressed this morning to match a chair.
He did not choose to share any of this with Miriam, who would shake her head and say, Hah.
He decided instead to lie. “I was admiring the flowers.”
“Close your eyes,” Miriam said.
“What color are those flowers?”
She loved doing this. Making him out to be an idiot, as if she were the only grownup in the room. He pictured the vase of flowers, trying to remember. “Pink?”
“Hah.” Miriam got up to refill her cup.
He took the opportunity to look at the girl. She gazed over her shoulder and he turned to see. A tired looking woman carrying a shopping bag squeezed her way to the girl’s table and sat down with a grunt.
“Want coffee, Mama?” the girl said.
The woman nodded and she got up.
They were hard up, he decided. The girl’s blue dress looked faded and the mother’s shopping bag worn. Maybe she’d been to the Food Bank, but would poor people be in here buying coffee?
In the midst of his imaginings, he recognized them. The woman, Martha, cleaned at the gym, so this must be her daughter—he couldn’t remember the girl’s name. She helped on weekends with her hair tied up in a scarf. That girl was what—thirteen, fourteen at the most?
Which meant Miriam was right. He’d been sitting here like Humbert Humbert ogling Lolita? Except he wasn’t. He was observing, imagining a stranger’s life, until Miriam made him feel guilty.
His wife returned. She said, “Women don’t do it, you know. Sit in cafes leering at men.”
“You’re right,” he said. “Consider me reprimanded.”
“I hate it when you answer that way .” She pushed her cup aside. “It’s so passive aggressive. And those flowers aren’t pink.”
Three of them are, he thought. He looked into the face he’d been married to for thirty-one years. “You know what I’ve just realized?” he said. “You don’t even like me.”
“Don’t be silly.” Miriam stood and pulled on her coat.
He drained his cup and rose to follow. Fifteen years to go before he croaked, They claimed time moved faster when you were old. Breakfast every other hour, one jokester said. The thought made him chuckle.
“What are you laughing at?” Miriam said.
“Nobody laughs at nothing.”
Unless someone invented mind reading, he was safe.
Shanti Benoit Sunday Morning oil on canvas
click image to enlarge
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