At the Café by Dani Rado
The kids hover around the café, nursing their sugar-soaked, milk-dampened coffee while sitting on the bent metal frames of the chairs at the tables placed under the elongated legs of a woman who’s bending them up and behind her ears, exposing what should be supple flesh of the back of her thighs, and framing a green-tinted face while her arms dangle in front, propping her up on some imaginary object that the artist has forgotten to paint into the mural that takes up nearly this entire wall. An empty table is under the man riding a unicycle, holding his stick arms out and looking up in anticipation of catching the juggling balls which are also not painted on the wall. Other figures walk tight, unpainted ropes, or hoist disappeared dumbbells toward the sky.
I enter and head for the counter to place my order. There’s nothing appealing about this place except for that table outside close to the intersection, and an occasional patron.
Outside, at my table, I sip my coffee, and let my nose linger in the mug to fortify it against the smell of the chicken-processing plant hard at work down the road. The kids, teenagers really, at the nearby table are growing louder. I try to read my book but their conversation slips into the lines on the page, and so, without meaning to, I’m suddenly reading about boys teasing girls, taking their purses and holding them up high in their arms, causing the girls to stretch over the tabletop and, arms extended, reach for their purses. The boys smile, the girls’ bodies hovering just above their own. There’s giggling, screeching, and then somebody twists somebody’s arm just too hard, or pinches them too roughly, or holds the purse too high for too long, or uses one of the forbidden words that turns everything from fun to horror, and the girls scream, punch the boys’ arms as hard as they can, and stalk off down the street.
If you continue down this street, it opens up into a flat and straight highway that heads all the way to the chicken-processing plant. One day, while driving down that road, I saw a cage on the side of the road that had fallen off one of the trucks. The chicken inside wasn’t dead, though it lay on its side, its black speck of an eye winking at the sun. Since its beak had been cut, I couldn’t really tell the front of his head from the back. It breathed heavily, and occasionally its wing acted the weak motion of a whimper.
I mark the space in my book, putting the piece of paper below the paragraph I have just finished, the one I’ve hurried up and finished when I peripherally saw that she was walking away down the road alone, in order to let my future self know where I have left off, and also to let this self know that something important has happened because I didn’t leave off where I’d have liked to—at the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next—but in the middle somewhere, on a page with no break; and even if that future self doesn’t remember the reason for this interruption or the story up until that point, then it may at least recall the thrill of excitement I feel right now carrying this book down this street.
Dani Rado lives and works in Denver, Colorado. She divides her time unevenly between writing, the mountains, breweries and work. She’s has stories published in several journals, most recently Liars’ League NYC. Her partner continually asks her to write “normal” stories. She has no grand statement about it. She’s tried; it never works out.
(Front page image via)