Biscuits and gravy, biscuits and gravy, biscuits and gravy.
“My past has become a bitter thing to me, and my present is something I never understand until it’s too late.”
This is what I scribbled in my notebook while I sat and waited. I had another backing board at the ready. “HOW ABOUT TODAY?” is all it said. Simple.
Simple, too, was my gambit. I wasn’t going to sit with the sign out, I wasn’t going to signal her, I was just going to be nonchalant, I was going to wait. If she happened to be on the path today, if she was at all intrigued by what had happened yesterday and interested in seeing where it could go, she would look. She wouldn’t necessarily come looking, but if she passed, if the thought struck her…
It’s amazing how on-the-spot I felt when she passed by. The moment I saw her, I got nervous and started sweating. My stomach went hollow and dry. That trick of time was happening, every step she took felt like the duration of ten steps. Would she keep going? Would she slow down? Would she look, much less stop?
Then it happened.
She turned her head. I saw her eyes, saw that mole, she was looking at me. My hands moved on their own, grabbed the card, held it up.
The woman read it. She placed a finger to her lips and tapped it, pantomiming that she was thinking, comically considering my query.
Then she laughed and she came inside.
I stood to greet her. I didn’t extend my hand. That’s proper etiquette, you know. A man shakes a lady’s hand if the lady holds it out, but it’s up to her to initiate, up to her to decide if she is to be touched. Just in case, though, as I rose, I quickly wiped my palm on my pants just to make sure it wasn’t clammy. Good thing, too, because she did put her hand out, and I took it lightly. She understood what was proper, too, and let me do the work. She wasn’t limp, the hand was firm, but once it’s initiated, that handshake is my test to fail.
“I’m Lance,” I said.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. May I buy you a cup of something?”
She sat down in the seat across from me. The booth suddenly seemed incredibly large. Oh, mistress, why so far away?
“Is the coffee good here?”
“The coffee is excellent here.”
We ordered her a cup of decaf. And we talked.
She opened by asking how I happened to be here every day, I told her a little bit about my life. Most people wonder how a musician can afford a life of leisure such as mine, but she was actually more curious about how I managed to be out of bed so early and so regularly. “Good genes,” I said.
I clarified the spelling of her name, which is how I know it is with an “I,” and I asked her how it is that some days she passes me going in one direction, and some days she passes me going in another.
“Geez, how did you know that? Are you spying on me?”
“Only in a small sense, in that way that once you notice someone, it suddenly seems like you see them all the time. For all I know, you passed me fifty times before I saw you last week, and I had no idea.”
That seemed like a fair enough explanation for Traci, and she told me it was because she worked different shifts, and sometimes I see her going to work and some days I see her going home.
“Which day is today?”
“Going home. That’s why I have time to stop and chat.”
“Then why couldn’t you stop yesterday?”
Traci laughed. “I wasn’t going to give in right away, Lance, I had to make you wait at least a day.”
Fair enough, that.
We talked for nearly forty-five minutes when she finally admitted she was crashing from having been up all night. That’s why she ordered the decaf, because she knew she’d have to head off to sleep--which is what it was time for her to do.
“Another morning, perhaps? I can be here earlier if it works for you when you’re going in the other direction.”
“We’ll see, Lance. Take it as a lesson of learning to live with mystery. Will she or won’t she?”
“The lady or the tiger. Or in this case both.”
“That’s your mystery to live with, Traci.”
Fair is fair.