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Joel Van Valin is the author of the fantasy novel, The Flower of Clear Burning and the publisher of Whistling Shade literary journal. He lives with his wife Lisa, a veterinarian, in St. Paul.
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Author Page on Publisher site: http://www.5princebooks.
had hung wind chimes from the eaves of the Run For Your Money Cafe, back when
it had not been a cafe but a malt shop named Manny’s with swivel stools and a
soda fountain. Jimmy heard them brightly playing in the draft out of the alley
as he unshouldered his backpack and began unbuttoning a green denim jacket. He
swept in the glass door, along with a few dead March leaves, and stood
breathing in the coffee shop ambience of high ceilings, aboriginal paintings
and a robust, Mediterranean air. The giant old cash register from the malt shop
days, with its metal keys and Go Twins! sticker, loomed in front of the espresso
machine where Pixie, the dark-haired, chain-smoking waitress, was wiping down
the counters. She waved at him with her dish towel.
one of the window tables on which newspapers had been strewn by the breakfast
crowd. Sunlight reigned, bringing out a muted rust color in his wavy brown hair
and half-shaven whiskers, and warming the red and brown checkerboard of his flannel
shirt. There was a slight cleft in his chin and his brows had the wide and
soaring appearance of a dark osprey searching the water: the mild grayness of
new?” the other waitress, Haydee of the rum-gold hair, called out to him as she
ducked behind the counter.
late for a Tuesday. I wondered why.”
She brought him his usual cup, French roast with no cream, and he noticed again
how lightly she walked, how her heels rose and fell against the slap of her
Birkenstocks. Out the window a woman in a kerchief was leaving the organic food
co-op across the street, hand-in-hand with a little girl in a yellow jacket;
their breaths made only the briefest cloud of mist before being blown by the
Haydee looked out into the day. She seemed to understand why he had called it
beautiful, in spite of the chill and breeze: because it was almost April and
the world had shattered into rivulets, the ice had broken on the lakes and the
snow was gone except for the deep shadows of the wood; because certain birds
had returned, and shoots had sprouted in the sunnier flower boxes and beds
along the boulevards of Saint Paul, encouraged by an open sky. She felt the
youth of the world, as he did.
an egg, Jimmy?”
knowin’ ya egg, but I prefer croissants…’”
Haydee looked in the pastry case while he dug a book and some papers from his
backpack. Besides Jimmy the only other patrons at the moment were a kid wearing
glasses and a bandana, lost in a Vonnegut book, and a girl with a nose ring who
was sketching something in charcoal.
popped up from behind the counter with the French pastry. “It could be from
yesterday though. You want to take your chance?” He liked the way she talked,
with the tongue up close to her teeth, her accent clipped and slightly foreign.
She said she was from Latvia but she did not speak like an Eastern European, or
a Russian. Milan, who was Czech, had been with him once and said she did not
even look Latvian. But Jim could have cared less where she was from—as long as
she stayed here. Okay, so she was pretty and had a nice figure. Saint Paul was
a college town—there were lots of cute girls. But there was something light,
almost effervescent about her that captivated him. A child-like radiance in the
eyes, private and confiding, looking out from another, hidden world. Once
again, the thought crossed his mind to ask her out, against Cousins’ advice.
diseases again?” she asked, returning from a brief expedition to the kid with
the bandana. She knew he was a veterinary student, lived nearby, had bohemian
friends, dabbled in liberal causes. It was almost frightening how much she knew
about him, and how little he of her.
Distemper is a fascinating read.”
stuff you put on hamburgers?”
That’s a Chinese word—did you know that?”
Jimmy Pagley, how do you learn so many things?” she teased, touching his
shoulder. “Well, I’ll let you get to work, and stop distracting.”
which was stale, but he didn’t care. “You never distract me, Haydee.”
laughed, taking it as a joke. “You want butter with that?”
doin’ tonight?” He was pretty good at asking girls out, actually. The trick was
to not know what you were going to say, or when. Then it sounded casual.
Haydee answered, considering. Then suddenly it seemed she recognized what the
question meant, and her tawny cheeks were touched by a flush of red. She
twirled her shoulder-length hair and smiled shyly. It was hard to tell with her
apron and green sweater, but she seemed to be breathless.
mean, tonight—I’m going out with a friend, as it happens.”
he parroted her, dumbly. He had been taken aback by her “no” when all her body
language seemed to be shouting “yes!”
you ask?” she went on, obviously more distracted than even he. A middle-aged
couple had appeared by the cash register. The man wore a brimmed hat with ear
wondering … well see, there’s this film playing over at the University, and
none of my friends are up for it, so—”
thanks for thinking of me, Jimmy,” she said quickly.
be helping those people?” he asked, nodding towards the husband and wife, who
were looking about impatiently at the empty tables.
folks—be right with you!” Haydee called to them, not budging. Then she took a
deep breath and faced him. “Look, Jimmy, maybe some other time?”
encouraging. “Sure, right on. I think they’re showing it next Wednesday too.”
Casual, he reminded himself. Like you’d just remembered it.
… a date?”
sound so good. But best to plow straight ahead, lay all the cards on the table.
“Well, you know, I thought it might be a date, yeah.”
nose ring was no longer sketching, and the bandana-wearer seemed to have
surfaced from his Vonnegut.
why?” he said, setting down his coffee, and raising his voice to a stage
whisper, as if daring their audience not to listen. “I mean, I thought that
boyfriend or—” Husband? He scanned her hand frantically for rings. Which hand
did you wear it on? Which finger?
explain.” She did not seem embarrassed or annoyed, as girls are when someone
they don’t care for asks them out. Her eyes were sad. Sad, but not pitying.
scrambled eggs and coffee,” the husband called out from the other side of the
cafe. He seemed to have gathered that this was the normal mode of operation at
the Run For Your Money.
looked quite perturbed, and headed back suddenly into the kitchen. The other
waitress, fresh from a smoke break, swept in seconds later to restore order.
The girl went back to her charcoal, the hip bandana-wearer to his pop fiction.
And he still had no butter for his croissant.
tête-à-tête was concluded, Jimmy found he was more let down than he would have
thought. He’d always asked girls out as soon as the thought struck him, before
it began to weigh heavy on his mind. But this one had ambushed him. Or maybe it
was just Haydee’s reaction, the way her shoulders sagged as she had turned away
reappeared from the back room, and was able to smile and chit-chat with the
customers in her usual way, but she avoided looking in his direction, and when
she did her eyes held a stormy blue. What was it with these girls? It must be a
boyfriend, after all. Yet she had said there was no one else and he believed
her. Pixie dropped off the bill, but when he looked on the back it was Haydee’s
It’s against the rules, I can’t explain. I’m so sorry. Thank you. Trust me, if
it were possible I would!
diseases, he zipped up his backpack and walked out, leaving a check with a
generous tip. He took the bill with him.
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