THAW
Glen Pourciau

 

I’d walked by a café that looked promising to me. Not too many customers, and I could sit quietly at a window table and watch people go by, something I liked to do to relax. According to reviews I read online, the café’s service would be perfect for me. One of them said you could sit for half an hour without anyone coming near your table. At my old café I didn’t like the staff’s familiarity, always making assumptions about what I wanted to order and asking if I had plans for the weekend or any upcoming holidays. Worst of all, service improved to the point that I could hardly look out the window without being interrupted. They kept refilling my water glass, for example, at every opportunity pouring two or three inches to top it off, ice clattering and spinning, as if my water glass was under siege. I became reluctant to drink from it.

It was my first day at my new vantage point, at a safe distance from the people outside, and there were no customers within eyeshot to distract me. I began taking in the foot traffic. I noticed whether passersby looked around them or seemed absorbed with the voice inside their heads. I noticed their mouths and eyes and estimated their ability to sleep.

I’d been seated maybe ten minutes before I saw a server approaching, though while I’d stared out the window someone had put a glass of ice water on the table without making a sound. The server’s appearance struck me, a self-conscious woman, early twenties, somewhat uncomfortable in a snug-fitting polo shirt. She tugged at her shirttail, her shoulders pinched in, her eyes on my eyes. She didn’t seem to want me to look away.

“Do you know what you want to order?”

“I don’t have a menu, but it’s okay. I saw it online.”

I ordered an omelet. She didn’t ask if I wanted anything to drink and appeared hesitant to walk away. She sat in the chair across from me, about to speak. I’d once had a waiter take a seat across from me in a booth. He told me about a cable TV series he loved and wanted me to promise him I’d watch it. I didn’t make the promise and never went back to that restaurant, but in this case I wanted to hear what she’d say. She reminded me of someone I hadn’t seen in over twenty years, someone who’d tugged her shirttail and looked uncomfortable between her shoulders, which she pinched in and shifted as if to conceal and protect something inside her.

“Are you looking for me?” she asked.

“Why would I be?”

“You are looking, and I thought you could be looking for me.”

“You remind me of someone.”

“You remind me of someone. Some things about you resemble me–your complexion and the shape of your head maybe. I’m embarrassed to ask this, but were you thinking the same thing?”

I was surprised by how much she sounded like the way I thought. But did I want to tell her that?

“I’ve never met my father. I thought you could be him and that you’d come to look for me.”

“I can’t be him.”

“Are you sure? What’s your name then?”

“Your mother told you about your father?”

“She said he was crazy and we were better off without him.” Did I see doubt in her face? “My name’s Delia.”

I told her my last name, since that’s what I go by.

“Like what the ice is doing in that glass?”

I nodded, and she kept looking, unsure whether to believe me and yield to her disappointment.

“I’ll order that omelet for you.”

“Will it bother you if I stay or come back here again?”

She stood. “I’d rather you stay.”

I wanted to hug her but knew I couldn’t, not knowing what forces or thoughts I’d be stirring. I stood and gazed at her instead, leaning slightly toward her.

She took one long step and hugged me. I caught my breath and said what I’d been thinking.

“It’s good to see you.”

 

Glen Pourciau’s first collection of stories won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His second story collection is forthcoming from Four Way Books. His work has appeared in AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, New England Review, Paris Review, and elsewhere.