The posters proclaimed a giant circus of a place. A sit-down, eat-organic, 8-hours-of-sleep-a-night condominium project. A Lexus-rich, brewed-coffee place to live, but then, every place seemed that way now. A year ago, everything had been simple. Back-to-basics drawstring pants, the un-made-up-look-style that permitted the words "natch" and "cashj" and the close personal friendships between riders of the same bus.
J9 would have been her name then; now, she wrote "Jeaninne" at a nearly slothful pace, with many loops between letters and the correct number of humps in the "n's.” The pace implied the luxury of time, and time, and time, and those not in the slow-bubbling pot were victims of the faintly amusing requirement of working for a living. Where would they have lunch today?
A substantial woman in a long flowered coat hopped from foot to foot at the crosswalk. The wind dyed her cheeks pink and her fingers yellow-grey. Maybe she was on her way back to work at the organization for mistreated-thing-of-the-month. Maybe her lunch consisted of a half-sandwich and a cup of soup at the deli staffed by volunteers for some-charity-that-contributes-to-the-health-of-the-world group. Maybe the anger would be more than she could withstand today. Maybe rage would incite her to take up the knife and carve a slight line not too deep along the inside of her arm when she got home. Then would she sleep through the night?
The cross light changed, and the man who had been watching her turned away from the window. His cell phone tapped a dance out on the counter, and he saw that the name still read "J9."
"Reed?" the voice on the other end questioned. All graciousness, and honeyed with wealth.
"Jeaninne," he replied, tilting the pronunciation toward France.
"Askar's?" she asked.
"Oui, mon cher," he answered.
"I'll see you there at noon."
The clock showed 8:09, and he briefly wondered whether it was also 10 seconds, on this, the 11th day of the 12th month. Order suited him. The flash thought that he was relieved when Poncho, his aged terrier, had died earlier that year was followed swiftly the erasure of the thought before his former personality could remind him of any tender feelings he might ever have had. Had he been able to think it, he would have said that denial was a wonderful thing. So much stronger than shame.
He finished a second cappuccino and the paper before thinking about a shower. He undressed in his mirrorless bedroom, shielded his eyes from his reflection as he climbed into the shower, and he was relieved of the requirement by foggy steam on his way out. He picked something black and cashmerey out of the closet. He slipped on his shoes using the long-handled shoehorn. At the door, he paused to retrieve the mail and place the stack on the side table. The new Frontgate catalog arrived, he noticed, and slid it under the rest of the letters. He liked to read it last, like dessert, and he couldn't understand Jeaninne's habit of flipping through the pages while she waited for her morning coffee to brew.
He stepped into the hall and turned to lock the door. He could hear a television murmuring in the apartment across the hall, and as he passed, the sheltie started yapping and scratching against the bottom of the door. A sharp command called the behavior to a stop, with only a tiny whisper-bark to punctuate its end. The wait at the elevator was not unbearable, and he encountered no one else in the building. It was going to be a good day, he thought, and stepped out into the December sunshine.