Short story from Robert Thomas

Una Dolce Cossa Al Caffe

There was a long line at Peets that day, and I questioned
whether I wanted a morning coffee bad enough to slowly shuffle
forward for what looked like a lengthy wait. But then I thought,
what the heck, I have nothing else of any importance going on in
my life on a Monday morning. Retirement was that way; days of
leisure interspersed with moments of well-planned activities.
Besides, one consolation was the aroma of freshly ground coffee
wafting through the air. I once read where just the odor of coffee
was enough to get those energetic endorphins going in the

In front of me was a short Hispanic man with thick pomaded hair
and a leather holster on his belt sheathing a well-used pair of
clippers. Someone’s gardener, I assumed, grabbing a morning
coffee before a day trimming another yard. Hispanics tended to
dominate the landscape and garden trades in California. Just as
other ethnic groups have found entrepreneurial niches for
themselves. I learned that when Tippi Hedren, while on a USO
tour, visited a Vietnamese refugee camp in Vietnam back in the
sixties, she brought a manicurist and other make-up artists with
her. Vietnamese women were enamored with her nails. So, she
had her make-up team teach the women skills. Evidently, this
was the impetus of all those Vietnamese-owned nail salons
across America.

The cafe was crowded with a myriad of people from various
walks of life, and of many ethnicities, reflecting the cultural
diversity of the San Francisco Bay area. Coffee seemed to be
the elixir of social integration.

To my left around a small cafe table were the Asian regulars,

elderly men who prattled back and forth in some Chinese dialect.

I never found the Chinese language to be appealing.

The sound was too staccato and nasal to my ears.

There was just nothing romantic about Asian linguistics.

It was whiney and overly energetic for my taste.

Unlike the two Italians sitting at a table to my right.
The Italians were an older couple. He was jauntily dressed in a
long black leather designer coat. Swirled around his neck was a
gray silk scarf with short tassels at the ends. He wore a black
fedora with the brim slightly curled down above his forehead.
Across from him sat a distinguished looking woman in a dark red
short waisted jacket. Her hair was ebony black and in a page
boy style that belied her age. I could picture the two of them
sauntering down a wide strada in the couture district of Milan.
They spoke softly to each other with an occasional flip of a hand,
emphasizing some idea or emotion.

I loved the sound of Italian, particularly the dialect of Romans. I
never forgot those mornings in Rome, listening to the lilt of
women greeting each other across the open expanse of the inner
courtyard of the flat my wife and I rented in the old Trastevere
section of Rome. Buon gioooorno Maria. Buon gioooorno Olivia.
Come sta oggii? It was not spoken, but rather sung, almost
mimicking the delicate calls of the canaries hung from balconies
below the windows. Listening to the couple, I was drawn back to
the wonderful experience we had roaming the byways and
narrow cobbled lanes, amid stained ochre buildings housing
small niches with the image or statue of some neighborhood

Continuing to gaze at the crowd around the room, I noticed a
penchant for dark muted colors in clothing. It was like an
invasion of shadow puppets huddled together, heads bent
forward and preoccupied with their smart phones. However,
something suddenly caught my eye off to the far left.

A glint of bright orange flashed from between two dark forms, like a firefly
in the night. I could not see who it belonged to, as the person’s
view was blocked by two larger individuals. As the line
advanced, I intermittently glanced over to see if I could get a
clearer view, but each time people stood in the way. Finally, as I
became the next customer to be served, the veil of secrecy
parted, and a lone young woman stood out in a bright orange
flower print dress. I was taken aback by her colorful presence
among all of the darkness around her.

She glanced up and around the room, eventually making eye
contact with me, as she noticed my looking at her. I quickly
averted my gaze, not wanting to appear gauche in an era of “Me
Too”. However, I found myself drawn to her over and over again,
as I took surreptitious peeks of her over my shoulder.

Her jet black hair was neatly braided in rows of tight bands,
extending from the top of her head, and down around the right
side above her ear, and to the back of her head, culminating in a
multi looped bow, with the ends dangling down along the back of
her neck. The braiding was highlighted by shiny gleams of light
that reflected off them. Beneath hipster dark-rimmed glasses, her
eyes were framed with a thin layer of mascara drawn out to a
small point on either side, making her eyes exotically Egyptian.
She had high cheekbones and rounded cheeks of flawless pecan
skin, and her lips were tinged in orange-red. Her nose was not
large, but slightly pugged in a cute sort of way. The orange print
dress was an off-the-shoulder peasant style, exposing her
beautiful shoulders and upper clavicles. There was only a slight
hint of cleavage. The dress was blousy around her breasts, with
a narrow bodice. The fabric pleated out across wide hips and
flowed down to the top of her knees.

There was something uniquely alluring about her, as she stood

out among the others in the room. She seemed confident in her

surroundings, unencumbered by the need to update the latest

social media script on her cell phone. She was engrossed in reality,

and the people around her.

I ordered a medium house blend, paid the clerk and strolled over
to the condiment bar hoping for a final coup d’oeil. I set my cup
down and slowly filled it with Splenda and half and half, glancing
at her from time to time.

Surprisingly unable to contain myself, I turned to her and said, “ I
am usually not this forward, but I just have to tell you that you
look stunning in that dress. In fact, I find your whole look quite
alluring, from your beautifully braided hair, the dark-rimmed
glasses and the orange off-the-shoulder dress that exposes your
lovely brown skin. Yes, girl, you’ve definitely got it.”

After a short moment of silence, during which she most likely
tried to assess my intention, she responded in a coquettish
manner with a demure smile. As she fluttered her long
eyelashes, she whispered in a slow soft southern drawl, Why
thank you very much.

I bowed my head in recognition, smiled, and continued placing
the lid back on the paper cup. As I turned to leave, I felt a tug on
my sleeve. I looked around and found her hand outstretched
with a business card held tightly between two long glossy
fingernails. I took the card and looked at the name; Shanna
Benton, CPA. Not only was she attractive, but she was also well
educated, and knew an opportunity when she saw it. I thanked
her for the card, bid her a good day, and began to leave. As I
departed I heard an older woman standing next to Shanna utter
in a terse and sarcastic manner, ‘My god woman, he could be
your father, if not your grandfather.’ To which Shanna replied,
“Honey, with a rap like that, I don’t give a damn.”

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