The Backstory Cafe is freezing today. I’m perched over my laptop at a small table with a window-seat view of the blazing Arizona sunshine, but I’m directly under the world’s most powerful air conditioning vent. It’s over 100 degrees outside and I’m wearing a sweater buttoned up to my chin.
Resident coffee goddess Jane made vague promises to look into my goosebump situation and even brought me a second toasty hot vanilla latte to warm my hands, but I haven’t seen her check on anything mechanical. I suspect she doesn’t have any more ideas about it than I did. After tapping on the thermostat, whose display reports a comfortable 75 degree temperature, I could only shrug. I would move to another table if there was anything else open, but this place is packed.
I look around the crowded room and my eyes stop at the cozy couple in the corner, pushing the the etiquette boundaries of “public displays of affection.” I smile. Good for them. My hands may be chilly, but the pages they are typing here at TBC are generating some heat. I have my husband to thank.
My latest short story of the summer, “Canned Strawberries,” stars the amorous couple in the corner, Kim and Jake. Homesick Kim planned to bake her mother’s blue-ribbon winning pie recipe, but Jake, a grocer’s son with the deepest smile dimples imaginable, turned out to be the cure she’d been looking for.
Romantic stories aren’t my usual genre, but romance was in bloom at the Harris household last week and it tumbled onto the page. My husband of 19 years proposed to me at our anniversary dinner and, as a result, we’ll be spending our 20th somewhere tropical re-exchanging vows. I felt young and sappy, and it showed in my writing for the week.
But now It’s a new week and I’m sitting here freezing my plot off trying to start the next story. I look around the cafe and scan the other faces, mostly people from my stalker notebook. Um, I mean the notebook I keep in my handbag to write down memorable people I see during the day (I should probably rename that sometime).
I watch the girl from my dry cleaner, whose bare arms are covered in tattoo sleeves. She pokes at the little wheel on her iPod and her foot begins to tap. I wonder what she’s listening to, then imagine it’s an Italian opera. I picture her singing in her church choir as a young girl, the star of the congregation, but that was before her brother died.
Sitting across from her is the petite woman with braided blond hair who sat behind me at the movie theatre yesterday, still talking loudly on her phone. I wonder who is at the other end of her conversation, and how they can stand to have her yell each word. I watch her lips move as she talks and her smile when she’s listening. I think she’s talking to her boyfriend, who lost most of his hearing during his tour of duty in Iraq. He’s having a hard time finding a job.
Across the room, at a table big enough to seat four, a man sits alone with an open laptop and messy piles of paper that cover every inch of his workspace. I wonder if he’s here because his office internet is down, or if he has an office at all. I watch him check for messages on his phone, blow out a deep breath, and set the disappointing device back down. His wife still hasn’t called him back, and its been two days, I decide. He needs some of his files from the home office, but she’s changed the locks already.
I look back at my blank screen and wonder what new short story will evolve from all of this spying and pondering. I try to concentrate for a moment, but I have a tingly feeling, like I’m being watched. When I lift my head, their eyes meet mine. The singer, the loud talker, and the businessman are all watching me now. I receive a smile, a thumbs up, and a wave.
Maybe they can all share a story-line this week, I think as I wave back to them. I’m in the mood to write a mystery, and the thought of this group sitting together at a bus stop intrigues me.
I rub my hands together, blow hot breath on fingers, and begin to type.