A woman stands in front of me at Starbucks. Black dress, formal attire. Stands in line looking like a queen would if a queen were to stand in line. Ever.

From the angle of my view: transparent lens of her eye seen sideways, not betraying the color; gentle curve of eye lashes. Her eye is directed at a piece of bakery in front of her, at a brownie perhaps, without paying much attention to it. She might be looking right through it as far as I know.

Her legs are covered with transparent black hose. It’s a sign of winter having arrived. High-heeled shoes that would bring out her calves, but no.

The idea that the fragrance from her shampoo is really a stream of molecules coming from her reaching me, attaching themselves to half-viscous surfaces in my orifices; entering my body; presenting their shapes to my receptors; ringing various bells in the most amphibic region of my brain.

The promise that lies in partial information, with most of her face hidden from me: there is an infinity of possible complementations, not all equally desirable, but exciting in their variety. What would be the worst? Harelip, crooked nose, scar, missing tooth – all human, even touching deficits. They might not, but could very well interfere with my genetically programmed male desire.

I almost missed the fact she has a white board in her hand. That makes her an artist, on the way to her studio, to evolve, to grow her potential, to express her invisible life.

I’m convinced there, in the drafty studio, she will meet up with the German model. She shares Helmut and the cost of his sessions with two other women. He stands on a small pedestal and eats an apple while they draw in silence, the studio resounding with the apple-splitting noises. The clothes he has stripped off are lying in a disordered pile on the floor. Helmut is a big man, musculous, a bit of a Schwarzenegger though with a smaller mouth and without the Schwarzenegger chin nor his ideology.

She hastily erases the drawing before the others can see it – she feels she cannot cope with his angled forms, and she knows she is a failure with testicles.

But now, in front of me – the line has barely moved — she has angled the board in a different direction, so I can see the other side. There it says in big letters “Cirrus, Stratus, Cumulus,” and underneath in touching detail are fluffy cotton balls spread out to resemble those canonical cloud formations.

I must revise my story, scratch her artist’s career, send Helmut back to Germany, let her renounce the friendships with her woman friends. Instead, I take a heart and say,


She turns around, toward me, flesh and blood.

“Yes,” she says, smiling. She is a beauty. No scar, no harelip, no scar, no missing tooth. Dark, beautiful eyes.

“Nice,” I say.

That was the extent of the conversation. I know better than take advantage of something I have started. By word count, I had already out-chatted her by a factor of two. We inch forward in the line; silently aware of each other, but she looks at the brownie more intently as I collect more molecules.

The story is not over, though. We stand side by side sampling condiments. Her poster board leans against the trash can. I keep my composure. She finishes before me, and what do I know? She has the last word:

“Have a nice day,” she says, before turning on her high heel and heading out. Cunningly, she has raised the word count to six, beating me by a 3:1 margin.

I want to be one of those clouds. I want to be Cirrus on the board, right next to her. Cumulus is too macho and Stratus – Stratus is way too stratified.

Sure, hold your horses, old man!

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