Get the fuck out of my life, she sang, and this time I almost sensed that she meant it. She sang it softly, and her fellow baristas didn’t seem to notice or care.
Today she seemed to sing it to some tune that might have been an old Ella Fitzgerald standard, well before her time but still played at some retro coffee shops. Usually she sang these same lyrics to some heavy metal tune, more appropriate to her own age, or a show tune or country song. Whatever the psycho manager’s music mood was, she always sang the same lyrics, so far as I know.
The other baristas were used to her singing those lyrics, or were in their own worlds, and the other caffeine addicts never seemed to notice. I was in my usual coffee shop in West Hollywood, so I knew most of the others were too intently writing screenplays to listen outside of their earbuds.
Thank you, I said, when she slid my double espresso to me. She did it slowly, with her hand shaped suggestively, a surprise, which I knew instantly was a flirtatious gesture, wild and impetuous. After all, she was a sometime actor, and actors like to practice nuanced close-up symbolic acts, as if being filmed. I might be unattractive, but some women find that attractive. I think she did, totally.
When I said thank you, she seemed to understand that I meant it at multiple levels from some deep place newly revealed to her alone. I could see her profound understanding in some micro-expression around her downcast eyes. All those months of wearing covid masks made me look hard for emotional tells in a person’s eyes, and in slight changes of tint in their ears.
I lifted my espresso with both hands, signaling Zen assurance with overtones of erotic response. Buddha meets Brando. That must have been subtext dynamite, as she seemed hot and bothered when she looked up over my shoulder to the next caffeine addict and sang, what, to the tune of I don’t know what.
Stephen Sossaman is the author of Writing Your First Play (Pearson), and his stories and poems have appeared in such journals as Paris Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Military Review. He is an emeritus professor at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, now living in Burbank, California.