by Phillis Ideal


     It was cold and M was bundled up in her black parka, with the hood covering her ears.  She sipped coffee.  The local café named Sunburst was always freezing in the winter.  As the locals lined up for coffee, the door was left open.  There was no shelter from the weather or good cheer from the clientele.  Patrons hunkered down into their newspapers and rarely talked to those sitting next to them.  The winter gloom had gotten the best of everyone.  

     M looked across the communal table.  Her eyes met those of a frowning face that glanced up at her from some figures that he had been scratching on a piece of paper.  She could see a flurry of numbers landing on the page, like birds that had dropped from their flight formation.  The man's eyes looked through her, as if she were in the way of his trance state.  He mumbled to himself and counted on his fingers.  He was handsome, with white blond hair that had dried in unruly curls, dark mysterious eyes, and strong hands.  He wore an off-white cable-knit Irish turtleneck sweater.  The second M sat down she heard a little “Oh, my God” in her head as her pulse quickened.  This guy was hot, and it was infuriating that he could look at her and not see her.  She thought that at any moment he might pack up and leave, so her focus crystallized around talking to him.   Her heart stopped beating for a second and her throat was dry and tight, and she blurted out the first thing that occurred to her.   She was embarrassed to hear what came out of her mouth.  

    “Why can't they shut the door?  It's freezing in here!”  He looked back annoyed, but she didn't drop it.  “Do you live around here?”

     Pinned by his dark gaze, M watched his lips curl slightly and his face register her interest.  His eyes held hers for a moment, dropped to her lips, down to her breasts and moved back up.  She thought of an animal checking a scent before mating, and imagined that he said to himself, “All I need is for this woman to be hitting on me.”

     And she was hitting on him.  The thought shocked her.  Like a petulant child marching up to a stranger on the beach and getting his attention by dumping her pail of water on his nearly finished sand castle, she had insisted that he come out of his fog and look at her. This was unlike her, since usually she was shy.  Now she wanted to take it all back or start over.  Her heart was racing, skipping beats to catch up to some semblance of normalcy.

     He did answer her, though.   “I don't live in the neighborhood, but I just had a doctor's appointment next door.  I thought of getting coffee at the trendy coffee shop a block away, but decided this place looked less affected.”

     “And a place where no one would bother you.” 

     He smiled at that.  The ice had been broken and he started talking a mile a minute.  Now it was hard for her to get a word in edgewise.  As he talked, he seemed more and more familiar to her.  She had been here before.  She knew all about him.   She thought to herself that lots of women must start conversations with him.  As he talked and talked, never asking her anything about herself or giving her space to insert a comment, a gentle melancholy settled over her like dust. 

     “I live in Greenwich Village but happen to be in this neighborhood because I found this place where you can get a state of the art imaging for detection of structural heart disease.  It is a new process that gives a razor-sharp picture of the coronary arteries without the insertion of catheters.  I just did it and it was painless.  I had a hard time getting my primary physician to give me a prescription, but I insisted and he finally gave in.    He said that my heart was in near perfect shape, but I needed to know for sure.

     “If your heart doesn't work, nothing does!” he said emphatically.

     M asserted herself and asked, “How did your tests come out?”

     “The tests showed I have a strong heart with a very good ejection fraction of 65%, the upper limit of normal.  I was worried that I had what I saw on the internet, lack of proper contraction of the heart muscle.”  He shuffled through his papers and handed her a diagram showing six stages of a heart muscle, compromised by its small size, struggling to pump blood through its chambers. 

     “I thought I might not be normal.   You can't ever be too sure.”

     Still taken by his physical presence and mesmerized by his voice, M listened much more intently than if the man had been unattractive.  Her focus on him dizzied as he chattered about aortic stenosis, coronary angiography, mitral insufficiency and his cardio numbers.  There was more, but he was talking to himself, not to her.  As the monologue continued, she felt he would barely notice her leaving, gently gave him back the heart diagram and said goodbye.   As she left Sunburst, she glanced over her shoulder and saw that he had resumed reviewing and charting his heart results, which he had been scribbling and computing when she interrupted him.

     Her heartbeat returned to an even pace as she admitted to herself that the man was a little crazy, then began to consider the plan of her day.