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in midtown

The parking lot has a sign with pictures of employees who’ve worked there for 10,20,and 30 years. I’m trying to imagine what that’s like, when one of them gets out of a Range Rover and winks at me. I nod toward the sign. “Which one are you?

He points to a photo at the top of the sign. “Thirty  years, baby.”

“All that time,” I say.

“I like cars,” he shrugs. “And I get a no-show every other Friday.”

“A no-show. How do I get one those?”

“Stick around, baby. Stick around.”

I can’t quite parse the innuendo but it’s there in the low roll of his voice all the same.

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at the airport

I’m in a small southern city and my flight’s delayed. There is one other person at security when I’m going through. The metal-detector handler asks me how I am today. I was better, I tell her, until I found out my flight was delayed two hours. The woman at the end of the conveyor belt overhears me while she’s bent over putting on her shoes. She straightens up. “You going to New York too?” She’s the age of a young grandmother, with thick cornrows and librarian glasses. Her shoulders are rounding down, gravity weighs heavier on her flesh than on mine.

“Yeah, New York. Are you going home or visiting?”

“Oh I’m from here,” she says, “a real little town.” We go our separate ways, but a couple hours later I meet again near the gate. Without realizing it I’ve settled into a seat across from her.

I’ve got some chocolate, what else can you do with three hours in a tiny airport? I get halfway through it and she looks up. “Whatcha got?”

“Chocolate,” I say, holding it up.

“You wanna share that?” she asks me. It’s a game, not a demand, the way a child might approach another child.

I get up and hand her the rest of it. “Here save me from eating it all.”

She takes the candy happily and says, “I always do that. I mean to eat a little and then whoosh! It’s gone.”

“Me too,” I tell her.

“Well, you’re young,” she admonishes. I can’t tell if she means that I don’t yet know any better, or that I can somehow handle excesses better than she can.

She sinks back into her airport paperback, squinting over the tops of her glasses and tracing small circles on the side of her thigh. After a while she gets up and walks over very slowly, with difficulty. “You know, I went to the health food store and got all these pecans and healthy business for the trip, but I’ve got a passion for chocolate. That was just right. I guess virtue doesn’t count as virtue if it only lasts until you get through security, hm?”

in front of the gallery

We’re standing around in front of the gallery in the soft, misty rain. People are smoking and talking with their hands. A very small woman in a curvy black dress is standing alone with her arms crossed, shiny black curls swinging around her bare shoulders. My friend says  hello to her, and then I do too, it’s a friendly night, here in the rain. She seems both relieved and dismayed to have been noticed as a person who is waiting for something. I ask her why she’s standing around.

“My friend is very very late,” she tells me, her shoulders rise and drop, punctuating her annoyance. She holds a palm up to the rain. She’s tapping her foot. She’s smiling through all of this. She’s performing something.

“You could wait inside,” I say, pointing at the massive plate glass windows that separate us from the party.

“Oh no,” she says. “I want to stay here and get even madder by the time he shows up.”

Now I get it. Now I’m interested. “What are you going to say when he does?”

She gives me a look that says, we’re in this together, we women, we know how this works, we know where the power lies. “I’m going to tell him,” she leans closer, “that he better buy me a drink before I’ll even say a word to him.”

We both laugh, and she whisks some of the dewdrops off her pretty arms. A taxi pulls up, a man in a nice shirt and nice shoes tumbles out. He seems earnest even in the way he unfolds himself from the taxi, eager and clumsy. It’s not what I expected at all. I look back at her, she winks at me as he brushes past me to greet her.

Over my shoulder, I can hear her. She’s not mad at all.

in the cafe

Three old women sit down a few tables away. Their faces are still as masks, their wide eyes look right through me.