I cupped my fingers around the mug, as if huddling around a single fire for warmth, my shoulders slouched a bit. I love it when my coffee is too hot to drink. That way, I can get my face close to its heat and feel the pores in my cheeks and my forehead open up. This must be what a flower feels like when it blooms. My beat-up copy of Under the Tuscan Sun sat beside me on the table, another thing I was seeking warmth from, its corners dulled from my hankerings for Florentine ragù and sweet Italian words and that stickiness between the fingers, the strange combination of citrus and sweat on a hot morning. I felt a light touch on my right shoulder and drifted back to the coffee shop, suddenly craving a cappuccino.
“Hey,” I responded as he moved to sit across from me. As soon as he settled in his seat, his hands came up to hold his cheeks, elbows on the table.
“Hey.” His voice was shaky, film clipped at the edges. One rogue curl fell across his forehead.
“What is it?” I let go of my mug and reached across the table to touch his arm, which was all folded up, defensive. Fetus-like.
He looked up and to the left, as if doing so would prevent me from knowing what he was thinking. I imagined him validating the gesture in his brain: she can’t read my mind if I don’t look her in the eyes. Like when you’re a kid, squeezing your eyes shut in the hopes that the designated seeker can’t see you there, cross-legged, amidst the coats in the closet. Like I was some kind of Medusa. Somehow he’s safer, gated. As if looking at the poor man’s Rothko on the wall behind me would protect him.
“I found your essay online.” His gaze travelled down to my paperback companion, lingered there. “I read it.”
He wrapped his arms around himself, but his eyes met mine. The only barrier between us now was that little spiral, shivering in the middle of his forehead. And the words I had written, congealing in the air.
by Danielle Fusaro