” Excuse me?”
I look up. Next to me in the cake store is a woman, sliding into place on the wide bench next to me. “Do you mind if I sit next to you? That way I can put my feet up on that.” She points at a stool next to us that looks like a pastry, in a voice both remarkable and predictable. busy, overworked, pregnant manhattan has just landed. I move over and smile, and return to my newspaper. Madame, however, is not finished. She stares intently, and then snuffles loudly, warm-eyed and hook-nosed. ” I like your braid,” she says, rubbing at her nose with a tissue, and gestures and at the arrangement stretched diagonally across my head from right my temple to behind my left ear.
” thank you– its a bit odd, but I woke up this morning and just needed it anchored down, anyway that I could think of.” I laugh, in a way we usually refer to as a titter, exposing a lot of tooth while simultaneously keeping the rest of the face quiet, the standard of polite reserve. The anchoring bit is not strictly true. In actuality, braiding with deftness gives a thrill in the lower lumbar that make me hop around quietly pleased all day. (A mind this vast is wasted on education.)
” Well, it’s good,”she says curtly. “What are you reading?”
I fold my newspaper up, and set it aside. We are now clearly in a conversation.
“The World,” I say.
She narrows her eyes at me , and shovels another fork of cake in and chews quickly.
” no– you were reading ‘ Le Monds‘ she says, and points her fork at me. I am being accused, so I backpedal.
” Ah, yes. Sure, Le Monde.”
” Sure, my ass.” The woman in glasses splayed out on the cupcake chair readjusts her pants and comes in for the kill. ” Listen, I am old and pregnant as fack and you are clearly like twelve years old, but I’ve been you, so please, go ahead and tell things like they are, for your own sake. You’re reading a newspaper in French because you can, and if the person across from you doesn’t know it , you can tell them about it, but you do both me and you a disservice by putting reality through a filter. Don’t assume I’m anything at all. It’s a mistake.”
“Ah, I am sorry-” I begin, but behind the square dark-frame glasses, infernos are surging.
“Tell it like it is. Always tell it precisely as it is and it will always be the right amount to have said.” Fierce Maternity has erupted in the cupcake store and apparent woke up swinging.
“Well–It’s sort of repetitive this morning. Do you want it?” I offer it at her and she scrunches her face up again.
” Fack no, sweetheart. I can’t read French.”
She inches off the bench, one leg at a time and pushes herself upward. “Six weeks post-birth maternity leave,” she says, leaning down for her bags without bending over. She is stiff-backed and bent practically backwards when she says, “And guess what sweetheart. in this country? They legally refer to pregnancy as an ‘instability.’ ”
I hand her the last of her bags, and she shakes my hand and then sneezes on me.
” ah, fack,” she says. ” just fack it all. Laters, babes. Don’t get knocked up, cause the glow is a facking myth. Great to meet you.”
And like that–she is gone.