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Vin Ordinaire

The Cafe  by Tsuguharu Foujita

The Cafe by Tsuguharu Foujita

She came often to the same café, the somewhat plump middle-aged white woman in the good suits and sensible shoes, and though she varied what she’d order for dinner she always had one glass of the mild yet robust vin ordinaire, which she drained. The food was mediocre. The music on the radio was of the dentist chair variety and too loud. The tables were too close together. The flowers in the vases were simple, daisies and pompoms, and oddly were often wilted by evening. The atmosphere was mock French-Alpine, the waitresses were really French and spoke English well, and the food was prepared in an open kitchen designed to resemble the hearth in a country tavern of the late middle ages. The plants trailing from pots placed along the fake brick walls were plastic. But she came often to this same café, the somewhat plump middle-aged woman in the good suits and sensible shoes, to eat dinner, drink her one glass of vin ordinaire, and dream about the cook.

The cook was Mexican, in her early twenties, with an Indian face and perfectly round arms. She wore a white uniform, the kind that clings to breasts and hips and buttocks, the kind waitresses in cafés and attendants in the hair cutting salon the somewhat plump middle-aged woman in good suits and sensible shoes frequented. Her black braids were pinned into two rolls on either side of her face, kept in place by black netting. When she worked, folding an omelet in a pan, reaching across a counter for a far away item, her breasts moved as if they were stirred by a slight breeze, as if they were alive, like kittens, separate from the body. Her teeth were even and white, and she wore a dark cinnamon lipstick and cheek blush. She moved often, laughed often, talked often, mostly in Spanish to the kitchen staff, and didn’t seem to know that she was beautiful beyond compare and that she was being watched and adored.

The middle-aged woman contemplated the Mexican cook, whom she gave the name Alma, with a longing which she recognized had little to do with sexual passion. Yes, Alma was beautiful, and yes, Willa Revere was falling in love with her, but the falling of love was merely wistful, meditative. For when Willa tried to imagine striking up a conversation with her beloved Alma, she could not do so. She could not imagine being within five feet of the younger woman, feeling the other’s radiant body heat, the aura of living process which surrounded her. Of what would they speak? How would they look upon each other? What would they do next, what other places would they visit? What interchange was possible between them?

Willa could imagine the warm dry Mexican gaze turned upon her, the minimal curiosity, the gentle courtesy, the impersonal smile, and the moment was meaningless. She could not imagine that Alma could even see her. For what would she see? A somewhat plump middle-aged white woman in a good suit with sensible shoes, a creased face, faded hair, intelligent eyes. What was there of interest about this older woman? The cook would look upon her, and answer her timid question, and already her spirit would be turning away, back to her work, the next order to be prepared, back to her fantasies, her boyfriend, perhaps, her dream of a new winter coat with this or that faddish detail, or her worry over a brother’s misdeeds or a mother’s illness.

Willa could not imagine the two women together, two bodies, two voices, two people ready to penetrate each other’s lives. What have I to do with such a woman, Willa thought, or she with me? We are no one together, we both disappear into awkwardness. How could two such bodies make love? How could those perfectly round arms interlace around Willa’s broad back? How could Willa place her sad kisses against such smooth skin? Her knobby hands would burn in the smoky darkness of Alma’s hair. The two bodies contradicted each other, refused to meet, were repelled within the imagination and stayed apart. Willa could imagine only Alma’s lack of comprehension. They might well have been living in two different universes, where they interpenetrated each other’s time experience, but whose molecules could not mingle. Each was a ghost in each other’s world. Willa stayed silent, a woman who dined alone and did not draw attention to herself.

And she continued to gaze with modest adoration upon the working woman, the woman with glowing eyes and quick hands. And though she did not dare to dream, her thoughts wandered of themselves. What if she really were in a French café, Willa thought without noticing she was thinking, and Alma were the cook there, or better still, a waitress, so that she would be forced by circumstance to come right up to the tables. What if she came by me, brushed against my leg, for the tables would be close together, and I would feel her heat as the blood pulsed through her veins, enriching her flesh. What if she came by me several times in an evening?

What if she came by me several times in an evening? And I would be a young student, Willa dreamed, without noticing she was dreaming, I would be a student at the university, or a young art student, a young man recently come to Paris from the provinces. I would be very poor, and very shy. My shirt would be greyed from over-washing, and my jacket threadbare and too thin for the cold weather. My hands would be red and wind-roughened, paint-stained, and I would be ashamed of them, and hide them in my lap when Alma brushed by me. But I would yearn to paint her, to invite her up to my studio, where she would sit by the north window with her olive skin warmed by the indirect light, and my hands, red and coarse, would hold the brushes with great surety.

I would only yearn, for I would be tongue-tied and ashamed of my poverty, the barrenness of my room, and I never would be bold enough to speak to her. I would dream of holding her against my body, my body too thin and gaunt for its big peasant bones; I would dream of pressing her to me, and her flesh would be exuberant, sausage-tight, yet soft, soft, and her laughter would be sweet and warm and dry like the Mexican winds. This I would dream and I would grow red at the thought that she might divine my dreams and laugh at me, or accuse me, and then I would grow pale and my heart would ache.

How could I get to know her, to speak to her, I would agonize. I would observe other young men in the café, the careless, jaunty way they would address her, flirt with her, and the calm, un-self-conscious way she would laugh and brush off their flattery, their insinuations. She would respond to me, I would dream, for she is sensitive, I could win her, if only I could talk to her. I would never have the courage, though, and I would hide behind my glass of wine and my books. She would not be interested in my books, would not try to catch a glimpse of the title, because she would be only a simple woman, interested in the present, wanting to laugh, to dance, to walk in a light rain and be kissed in moonlight.

If only the young student would fall in love with me, Willa mused, I would discuss his books with him, his art, his notions about life and meaning and beauty and truth, we would share cold nights in his garret and the last stale heels of bread for breakfast, and we would live in the present, laughing, dancing, and we would walk in a light rain and would kiss in moonlight.

What more could Alma want? A woman like that, with softly rounded arms and laughter that is warm and dry and perfect? Of whom does she dream? A young woman must want a kind lover, healthy happy children, pretty dresses. Perhaps she too wants to encounter mystery, be delighted by a soul that inhabits an alternate universe. Perhaps she loves a movie actor with tumbled golden hair and a wicked glint in his eye. Perhaps she would steal her grandmother’s jewelry to buy him a solid gold cigarette lighter with his initials.

Willa considered the young cook with a longing that was so hopeless it had become detached, critical, analytic. She saw Alma clearly, as if the younger woman had begun to glow so from the inside that she now was set off from the rest of the world by a trembling halo of light. No, Alma would never become obsessed with another. She was too happy, too busy, so concerned with each moment as it came that she was locked eternally into youth. Her arms always would be round and silken, her manner always would be carefree, she would be gay, sweet-voiced, graceful forever.

In Paris a young artist went mad in his garret. A teacher, remembering the young boy some years later, mentioned casually to a colleague that the boy probably died of loneliness.

A young Mexican cook delighted in reading the poetry of Octavio Paz after work, even if only for ten minutes before she fell asleep. She hated that her clothes always were permeated with the stench of fried food.

Alma will grow old, like me, Willa decided. She will become like me, a dreamer, a story-spinner, thick at the waist, sag-fleshed, tired, obsessed with a story.

Nothing is ever simple. A middle-aged woman sits in a moment forever, falling in love with a young woman who cooks in a café and who never will know or recount any of this. She knows a different story, and perhaps will recount another story in another moment….

* * * * *

Merle Molofsky is a poet, playwright, fiction writer, and psychoanalyst. She also publishes articles in psychoanalytic journals. Her play, “Koolaid,” was produced at the Forum Theater of Lincoln Center in 1971.

Her website is:

Paul’s Night

Bosom Friends I  by Jettie Roseboom

Bosom Friends I by Jettie Roseboom

When Paul got home from college for a visit, he tossed his bag in the laundry room and joined his mother and two of her friends in the kitchen for a beer. The twelve-pack of beer was a six-pack by the time he came in, so he grabbed one for himself before it all disappeared.

“What’s Tina doing? Why didn’t she come home with you?” Paul’s mother, Janet, waved him into a seat.

“She has a huge project due and had to work on it all weekend with the group from her marketing class. She said to tell you she’ll be here next month.” Paul smiled at his mother, pleased that she liked his girlfriend so much. His father moved out when Paul was six years old, so his mother was the central person in his life throughout childhood. She taught him to ride a bike, make a perfect pie crust, drive a five speed, and appreciate the themes in Hamlet. Her insights and approval were important to him.

Paul was happy to get home and relax after a week of mid-terms. Leaning back in his chair, drinking beer, watching the smoke drift slowly by the air purifier, he listened to the women talk. As they bantered back and forth, he felt at once joined with their conversation, as well as completely apart.

“Maybe there’s a part on a man’s body that tells us if he’s okay or if he’s a jerk,” Paul’s mother said. Paul rolled his eyes.
Continue reading →

Victim No More

          Debbie stopped herself from ringing the doorbell to Cindy’s house again since obviously her sister was not home. She started to turn away, forcing down a shiver from the cold night air, but she had been in such a hurry when she had fled from Billy, that she had not even closed the apartment door behind her, much less worried about bringing a coat. Coming had been a bad idea, she decided. She knew what her sister would say, and it wouldn’t help. But as she turned to go, a ray of light flashed out briefly from a peep-hole and then she heard a chain-lock being loosened in a hurry and the door was yanked open. Continue reading →

Victim No More – Pt. II


          A while later in the bleak interview room, Cindy looked back and forth from Debbie to Tanya.

          Cindy looked scared, Debbie realized. She was shocked. Their whole lives, she had never seen her sister like that. For some reason it gave her strength and she grabbed Cindy and hugged her, feeling thrilled to be the one to provide comfort for a change. Tanya coughed politely and they separated, sitting down next to each other across from the imposing figure of the lawyer. Continue reading →


Poor Man's Orchid Tree in a Garden at Mockingbird Hill, Jamaica

Poor Man's Orchid Tree in a Garden at Mockingbird Hill, Jamaica

“Cottle Station”
Gayndah, Australia
July 2008

Leila scans the miles of sorghum farmland ahead of her, searching frantically for her mother. She has heard bush fires can tear through these auburn-tipped fields at daring speeds, consuming every living being in their path – sheep, cattle, people.

Clouds of thick grey smoke bellow from the lower field. Their direction indicates that the wind has caught chase, and the fire that fuels the smoke is heading toward the house; their home.

“Mother!” she calls out. 

She can see something move in the field to her right.  Continue reading →

The Gift Horse


     Rivulets of rain trickled down her bright yellow poncho and into her socks, but Wanda didn’t mind.  On the contrary, she was never happier than during a good downpour.  The fact that the unpredicted squall ended six months of drought, made the morning ride to work even more delectable; and as she walked her bike to the front door, the squishing noises that accompanied every step was music to her ears. Continue reading →

The Harvest

Leni Reichmann found out about the death of her grandparents approximately one hour after celebrating the signing of a one-year lease for an apartment that, while in a horrible part of town, was near the hospital, which her boyfriend assured her would mean that he would see her more often as he could come home to sleep instead of crashing in the residents’ dorm rooms. How fitting that they had then celebrated the deal with sex. Continue reading →

Name That Tune


Piano Keys

Piano Keys

“The secret,” Carli said confidently, “is to ask them right away the name of their favorite song. It’s a dead giveaway.”

The bar was dimly lit and smoky, but fairly clean and not too crowded. We met there for drinks every couple weeks; we’d been doing that for years.

I smoothed my hair back behind my ears and studied her. She was pretty in a petite Brenda-Lee kind of way, hair a honey-blonde and warm hazel eyes. Standing next to her always made me feel like an Amazon at five-foot-eight. “Oh, please,” I replied. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well,” she said, raising her eyebrows, “listen to this. My own personal history. My first husband’s favorite song was ‘Love The One You’re With’; guess why I divorced him?” She smirked. “Right. Then the next guy I fell in love with and dated for a long time – his favorite was ‘Hold On Loosely’. Guess why we broke up?” She looked toward the bar and held up two fingers when she caught the waitress’s eye. “The next guy I was crazy about? Well, I use the word ‘crazy’ advisedly, because his favorite song was ‘Every Breath You Take’. Second husband? ‘19th Nervous Breakdown.’ See a trend here? I’m not kidding. It never fails.” Continue reading →


More unlikely things have happened, of course. Like when Phineas tried to swat a fly and instead knocked over a jar containing his niece Mimi’s collection of daddy longlegs, one of which found its way into his wife Eleanor’s fur coat, causing Eleanor that night to scream at the Met in the middle of “In Questa Reggia,” which in turn caused the diva singing that aria to become upset, which generally made the backstage that evening very unpleasant. More unlikely things, for sure. Continue reading →

To The Body

As usual, Beverly is in her head.  This time, she’s brooding about being
middle-aged,… lonely,… dissatisfied,—

A hand grabs her shoulder!   She sucks in a shriek and holds it.

But it’s only her buddy, Nicole.  Nicole has a knack for shaking her up.   Continue reading →