Mademoiselle in the Coffee Shop

          She is the kind of person you look at and then keep looking at because you can't quite figure her out, how she fits together, leg bone to hip bone. You look into the elusive glints of her dark beautiful eyes and you listen to her speak (her voice smooth like a summer lake, yet laced with shits and fucks), and although her face has an elegance like an antique porcelain vase and she smiles like she's the one who knows what happiness is, she walks with a clunky gait, the girl who never won the race in gym class, the girl who never had a crush on the high school quarterback.

          Her wrists are tiny, delicate. Her fingers long and slim, the kind of fingers that demand the kind of white gloves Audrey Hepburn wore. She's never had reason to ponder the existence of God. She laughs with disdain when someone invites her to a yoga class. She’s fucked men on a dare. But she prefers to stay at home and paint her fingernails and sew crazy clothes with her girlfriends.

          “I’m a rag doll,” she says. She could drive in a car forever, stop in every thrift store in every small town to search for old vintage dresses. She loves to dress up in her tattered mink scarf and smoke cigarettes in a silver cigarette holder all by herself in her room. Derrida bored the fuck out of her in college, and then college bored the fuck out of her in college. She draws smiley faces on napkins when she’s bored, just like she did in the third grade. She's afraid of snakes. She has a bottle of absinthe in her kitchen cupboard. She’s always the first to kiss, but never says, “I love you,” until she hears it.

          You know this. You know it like you know that most people riding a bus at 8:00 on a Monday morning regret the times they didn't sin more than the times they did. You know it like you know that only a few people are able to say what they truly want, and even fewer are able to think it. Somehow the words, the wish, collide. The escape hatch gets locked. Water gushes into the hull.

          There's so much more to know, and you'll never know it, the details—how her leg bone connects to her hip bone, how she kisses a man the first time, or how she kisses a man for the last time. And you don’t know why it is that you’ll remember her years from now, as if you’d lived a sort of life together, tasted wine on her mouth, heard her first deep breaths of sleep.

          She was just there in the coffee shop every morning before you got on the bus with the others. You wore a suit and a tie, and she never once looked at you.

GRANT FAULKNER is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story. His stories have appeared in dozens of literary journals, and his essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, and Writer’s Digest, among others. He recently published a collection of one hundred 100-word stories, Fissures, two of which are included in Best Small Fictions 2016. His book of essays on creativity, Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo, will come out with Chronicle Books in the fall of 2017.