by Stephen Siperstein.
It was a cool spring night and he sat down at the last empty table. The Cafe Du Monde was crowded. It was raining but the large green and white striped awning protected him.
"Coffee?" asked the waiter.
"Two Cafe Au Laits and Beignets."
"Yes." The waiter walked inside.
The cafe was very crowded for a weeknight. He saw the girl crossing the misty street, walking up to the cafe. The sun had been out all day, and the pavement was still hot. The girl sat down at his table. Her long blonde hair was dripping down onto her turtleneck.
"I ordered you an Au Lait," he said.
"Thank you Jonah. It seems you are always ordering for me."
"You know I enjoy it."
The waiter came back with the coffees and a plate of the French doughnuts. Beignets: squares of fried dough coated in powdered sugar, snowy memories of European nights. Jonah always looked forward to seeing the Beignets. She frowned.
"O Jonah. You know I can't eat those. Too sweet for my taste."
"Please have just one with me."
"Really no Jonah. I can't. Coffee is fine."
"You look cold. Should we go inside? You shouldn't get chilled."
"No, I'm fine." She shook her head.
Jonah heard a box train rumbling on the old river tracks. There were no bums on that train. Jonah thought about the days when men could ride anywhere. The train was not as loud as the tourists around him. Sitting. Standing. Drinking coffee after their beers, milling around everywhere. Some were waiting for a table. Waiting for coffee and doughnuts. Jonah thought of Ashley and France and riding the trains there. He thought of her auburn hair in the afternoon sun. He remembered listening casually to the porters and waiters and peasants speak. He had never learned the language but he loved it. He remembered listening to Ashley speak the language, more beautifully than anyone else could.
The girl finished her coffee. She stretched her arm across the granite table and put her hand on his. "Do you know why I asked to meet you here?"
"Yes." He looked at her.
"So you agree?" she asked.
"Yes." He looked at the three white doughnuts.
He couldn't eat. The rain dulled his hunger. He put his other hand on top of hers. She pulled hers away.
"Are you done with your coffee? Would you like another or may I walk you back to the hotel?" he asked.
"Alright, let's go. But you do understand me?" "Yes my darling."
"No no no, none of that. You agreed."
"Yes I know. Sorry."
The girl stood. He left a ten-dollar bill on the table for the check and a large tip. Immediately a young couple, smelling of the bars, sat down and called to the waiter to clean the table. Jonah walked away quickly. At the edge of the awning, he tried to give her his coat but she didn't take it. They began walking towards the river and passed Jackson Park. Jonah looked at the statue raised in the courtyard. The black horseman, the general with his sword drawn, the horse's front legs raised as to charge, stood silhouetted against the white cathedral. Jonah lamented that they closed the courtyard at night to keep out the bums. From a distance it looked only like a postcard in the rain. He wished he could address it to Ashley and send it first class. He thought that the cafe would not have been so crowded in France. The coffee would have been better there too. They actually knew how to brew coffee there. Nothing ever changed there. The girl began walking faster but Jonah wanted to sit awhile. He picked up his pace to keep up with her and they crossed the rail tracks, then walked up onto the path by the river. Jonah wished he had brought an umbrella for her. He wished she would take his coat.
Jonah didn't mind the rain so much, especially when he heard the sounds it made on the river. The river was muddy and dark. Jonah couldn't see it moving, only the ripples of raindrops on the surface. They passed a few riverboats and soon he could see the hotel. Dreary grey in the rain. Twenty-nine floors. They turned away from the river and he walked her into the fluorescent lobby.
"I'll call you tomorrow," he said.
"Ok," she said, "but not too early, I'm not getting up for breakfast." She turned and walked to the elevator.
Jonah walked out of the hotel and towards the river.