by Katherine Yoerg
Ms. Geneva Pruitt greatly enjoyed her morning coffee and cinnamon roll at Wall Street Deli on her way in to work every morning. She enjoyed selecting a flavored creamer, sitting at the window, and stirring the creamer into each steaming cup. She enjoyed the way the steam hit the base of her nose, the chewy consistency of the cinnamon roll and the din of the surrounding conversations. But, most of all Ms. Pruitt enjoyed spying. She spied with her ears as she caught drifts of the surrounding conversations, and spied with her eyes as she watched the crowds sweep by the floor to ceiling windows.
From her position perched on the narrow deli barstool, she knew the sordid details of many random lives. She knew that the blonde with black framed glasses and a red suit coat had a son who was in juvie; she knew the mousy woman and the plump redhead who used to have lunch together were no longer speaking because of an ill-fated religious debate, and she knew that the employees of the photography studio across the walkway were having an affair. It was this affair in which Ms. Pruitt was currently quite invested, although she would never admit it. It burned her through and through when all the barstools that faced the photography studio were occupied in the morning so that she could not see inside. She had even altered her lunch routine for an extra stop by the deli to follow the employees more closely.
She had noticed them before the affair had begun, although there was not much to notice then. Only the two of them worked there, and they took their seats each morning across from each other and chatted in an animated fashion, hands flailing, occasionally rushing to the stereo and then returning to their seats, perhaps engaged in some type of debate about music. Other times the man, a tall, skinny fellow with sandy hair, would pull out a book and begin to read out loud, his lips forming words that Ms. Pruitt could only guess at as she swished her coffee in her mouth to wash down the remains of her cinnamon roll. So, they’d remained a morning diversion only in times of boredom, their inaudible conversations often losing out to the more immediate thrill of eavesdropping on gossip emanating from the booths of the deli.
That had all changed rather quickly one Monday morning in March. After years of offering her minimal entertainment and the same morning routine, there was an abrupt shift in their behavior. The woman arrived first, as she always did, and sat at the receptionist’s desk. When the man arrived, however, and entered the studio, Ms. Pruitt was much surprised to see that the woman shot a rubber band at him. Imagine that! A rubber band! She stopped chewing and let her cinnamon roll sit in her mouth for a moment as all of her attention shifted to the photography shop. What ensued was a veritable rubber band war, a war where rubber bands were aimed at rather sensitive and private places.
“Well…I never…” muttered Ms. Pruitt as she began to chew her cinnamon roll again. She watched as the smiles on their faces grew broader, and the sound of their laughter escaped the glass doors of their studio and drifted across the walkway to where she sat, spellbound. When the rubber band war ended, they stood closer to one another than she had ever seen before, closer than they’d stood in two years. They stood at the back of the studio, and stepped closer and closer to one another until their bodies nearly, but not completely, touched. Ignited by a rubber band war, the predictable employees of Simon’s Photography had changed.
Ms. Pruitt somewhat skipped to work that morning, imagining the potential of the weeks to come. What would it lead to, this impromptu rubber band war? She’d seen a ring on the woman’s left finger a long time ago and pegged her for a square, but now she was aiming rubber bands at the fly of her studious co-worker. How unexpected! How totally, and marvelously unexpected.
Over the next week Ms. Pruitt claimed her stool each morning like a watchman, her eyes straining for any detail, any crumb of detail. On Tuesday the conversation between them was decidedly different. There was no rushing to the stereo, no opening of books. The man seemed dumbfounded, staring at the young woman as she pushed her long chestnut hair behind her ears and twirled awkwardly in her office chair. Sometimes they stopped speaking entirely and only stared at one another across the room, locking eyes as though it was a contest, as though they stood to win some festival prize for who could hold a gaze the longest.
By Thursday, their almost touch became a touch as the young woman slid a hesitant hand down the periwinkle sleeve of the man’s cotton dress shirt. Ms. Pruitt had swung back by the deli on her walk home, purchasing a bag of jalapeno potato chips and a soda so she could sit at the window to see if they would leave for the long Easter weekend together. She gaped, slack-jawed, as the man returned the woman’s touch, lightly placing his fingers on the waist of her coral colored blouse. The anticipation that Ms. Pruitt felt in that moment was inexplicable.
“Leave together!” Ms. Pruitt mentally whispered. “Just leave together!” But they ignored her telepathic plea, detaching abruptly and shuffling in opposite directions as they made their way home.
It was hard for Ms. Pruitt to say, as the weeks went on, precisely what they came to mean to her. The first time they disappeared into the break room together, and locked the studio door, Ms. Pruitt had rushed over, incapable of silencing the now audible pounding of her heart. When she reached the door of the studio she placed her fingers against the cold glass and marveled at the cardboard clock on the door with the caption “Will be back in 15 minutes.” The first time the girl put her head in her hands at her desk and began to cry, Ms. Pruitt cried too, turning bright red as she plucked napkins from the metal dispenser, dabbing at her running mascara.
Maybe it was her boredom with no children of her own and no man to go home to; maybe it was all the memories of lovers she hadn’t pursued, men she’d wanted but never had the guts to say so; but there was something inside of her that yearned for every moment that they stole in the break room, some primitive internal flutter that came to life on any morning they escaped together from professional routine into the unknown secrets hiding behind the closed door of the supply closet.
So, Ms. Pruitt arrived early each day and sometimes stayed late, enjoying her cinnamon roll and morning coffee, but mostly enjoying the watching; her mind filling in the gaps of their inaudible conversations, the gossip at the deli losing significance in comparison to the words she imagined in her head.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing