Literary Orphans

Man at a Café
by Pete Stevens

back_to_20s_i_by_michela_riva

A woman, she wears a pale linen suit, her neck a collection of taut cords, shouts at me from across the table. I cannot understand her words as she speaks a language I do not comprehend. My guess: obscenities. My guess: The company I represent, or possibly myself, has done her great and irrevocable harm. The man whose lips are in my ear, a translator hired in haste the morning before, can only grab a word here, a word there. He says: valise. He says: Belgrade. He says: disappeared. When our waitress arrives, the woman does not break from her assault. I order a vodka tonic and a Pernod for my translator. The waitress, a shapely young woman in a white collared shirt, her black bra visible underneath, pushes her fingers inside my mouth and takes the time to count each of my teeth. My attention returns to the woman whose shouting increases in both volume and pace, her face blistered burgundy, her fist a coil of sausage pounding on the table. I hold up my hand and ask her to stop, please, be reasonable. She continues. Her body begins to swell, her eyes bulging past their sockets. My translator says: surveillance. He says: gallery. Our drinks arrive and I notice the other patrons of the café have been driven away. We are alone. I have been here before. The waitress, her eyes red and moist, kneels and rests her head in my lap. She says: Your teeth, monsieur, are for biting. I take a drink. I am pleased. And still, the woman shouts. She has doubled in size, her clothing torn at the seams. My translator, the tip of his tongue tracing the edge of my ear, says: leave. He says: now.

 
–Story by Pete Stevens
–Photography by Michela Riva