|Photo Credit: Morguefile|
"I need to talk," said Lissandre, settling into a seat.
The old man shifted on his cafe chair, set down his newspaper, and looked at her, his merry eyes driving beams into her heart. He took a sip of his coffee.
"I need to know what to do," she began.
She heard stammering in her voice; the echoing back of a simpering female courting the wisdom of a patriarch. Momentarily, she was repelled by the whole scene. And yet...
"No one can ever tell you what to do," replied the old man, and his eyes twinkled.
He took another sip of coffee and, for a moment, beads of coffee pearled upon his mustache and his beard before he wiped them off.
"Here I am," Lissandre pronounced. She extended her arms wide to include the world beyond the tables outside Starbucks. "I feel stuck. In my marriage. Do I stay with Leo? Do I leave?"
She looked at the old man. He was watching her. His eyes twinkled merry; not unsympathetic, but still somehow amused.
"Leaving," she continued, "seems exhausting. Dividing up the house, the debt, the kids." On that last word, she stopped with a faint shudder. "But is it wrong to stay simply because it is too hard to leave?"
Behind the old man, a small phantom of wind grabbed a pile of fall leaves and lifted them up, lofting them skyward, like one-dimensional colored birds. The autumn played on the awnings of shops, made of them an instrument, grabbed flags and lashed the sky with them. A single red leaf landed on Lissandre's hand.
"There is no more joy to be found on the pavement than on a tree," the old man told Lissandre. "The trick," he continued, "is to remain whole."
With his booted foot, he gestured an inch to a leaf like a skeleton sewn of lace, a doily of a leaf, its architecture revealed. He crushed it into dust under the weight of a heavy heel.
Lissandre rose from the table, her heart alive in her chest. She was alert, full of adrenaline and, at the same time, calm. Her limbs knew what to do.
"Thank you," she told the old man. "Thank you so much."
He nodded, took a sip of coffee and lifted the newspaper again from the table. He began to read.
As Lisandre walked away from the table, Leo exited Starbucks, his long coat whipping behind him and two hot drinks clutched in his hands.
"That line must have been half a mile," he lamented. "But here is your skinny vanilla macchiato."
He handed her the drink. "I thought I saw you talking, but I couldn't see who you were talking to."
He looked around.
"I was talking to that old man," Lissandre told him. "The one who sits outside Starbucks every day. He's such a nice man. I feel I've known him all my life."
Leo looked around.
"Well, there's nobody there now, Lissa."
And nobody was. So she she simply gave Leo the red leaf.