"Just below the surface, the cold clean mirror surface, there lurked countless shadowy shapes. Occasionally a puff of air like a flick of a fine sable brush would send fanlike riffles skittering in the watery sunlight. When this happened, the shadows on the bottom would disappear as though a shutter had been drawn." The short fat girl read what she had written. She was sipping coffee as she skimmed the page which was typewritten, double-spaced, neat, but short. In fact, that phrase was the only thing that marred the stark beauty of white paper.
In spite of the No Smoking sign that hung just over her head, she lit another cigarette. Next to her chair was a large worn pigskin bag. The kind that is open at the top and has two loops of leather for carrying. It wasits stuffed out of shape. Rather similar to the girl herself.
Back to the Page
In front of her on the square cafeteria table were several plates which had obviously been used by someone who had occupied her place before her. A Puerto Rican bus boy stepped alongside the empty chair to her left and began to put the messy dishes in his battered metal cart. The girl glanced up at him and protectively picked up her half-empty cup of cold black coffee. As she sipped dutifully, her eyes went back to the page. He wiped the table In front of her with a grey damp cloth and moved on to the next clutter.
The Automat was not more than perhaps a quarter full. There was none of the busy bright burn of dinnertime here now, only the throb of talk that comes from the Regulars. The true Cafeteria Society. Elderly women wearing purple dresses who look as though they had been in some low-echelon branch of show business long ago, or perhaps had been beauty operators during the marcel days. Short florid men who just sit and stare, not even bothering to go through the motions of having an empty cup before them. They always wear grey felt hats and overcoats. Cafeteria people are winter people, and it is impossible to picture them in summer clothing such as sport shirts or printed dresses. There is a school of thought that they are the only mammal that hibernates during the warm months, but of course there is no conclusive evidence that this Is so. In addition, they seem to have no attachment whatsoever to anyone or anything except perhaps the Automat.
As if Invisible
The girl seemed to be at ease among them, and in fact acted as if they were completely invisible. She wore a soiled chino-colored raincoat that made her look even fatter than she actually was. Under this was a black jersey, rough brown tweed skirt. Her glasses seemed too small for her face and the plastic rims had discolored with age to a yellowish transparency. She habitually punched them back into place with her right hand as she read. It was an unconscious act that made the bridge of her nose eternally pink.
Her age was probably in the late 20's, but then it is hard to tell with overweight girls. She could have been younger. Reaching down into her bag, she fished out a spiral-bound shorthand notebook which had a short yellow stub of pencil stuck through the spirals. Drawing out the pencil, she made a few notes on one of the pages in the rear of the book. Closing the book, the girl stuffed it back into the bag, stubbed out her cigarette on a saucer, and crumpled up the sheet with the typewritten phrase, all In a single flurry of activity as though she had suddenly decided on a course of action. Arising, she buttoned up her raincoat, picked up her bag, and went out into 23rd Street.
A White Flower
Two tables away, one of the short behatted men arose and moved to her vacated chair and sat down. He had seen her half-filled cup of coffee, and knew no reason for such waste. As he swallowed the tepid fluid his eye fell upon the crumpled piece of paper which the girl had left on the table under the little revolving stand that held salt-and-pepper shakers, a smeared mustard pot, empty catsup bottle, and, oddly, a tall thin vase containing a single sad white flower.
The man put down the cup and carefully began to smooth out the wrinkles in the sheet of paper. He did so with the unhurried movements of a man who has absolutely nothing to do and who consequently milks the most out of the slightest activity. Slowly, and with difficulty, he read the typewritten lines on the sheet of battered paper. He read them again. Picking up the sheet in his left hand, he re-crumpled the paper thoroughly and tossed the thing onto the lower shelf of the Puerto Rican bus boy's cart, which was passing by at the time. It rolled among the dirty forks and greasy knives and disappeared.
Beat Him to It
The short man finished the cold coffee with a gulp, and noticing a half-eaten cheese bun which had been left on a table in the next aisle, hurriedly arose and beat the bus boy to it by not more than two strides. He sat down, picked up a fork and pitched in. The bus boy turned left and headed toward the section marked For Women and Escorts Only. It was 11:40 P.M.