by T. E. Cowell

Apart from our age and sex, we had some similarities. We sat in the same café, for instance, drinking coffee from the same size cups. We’d look up every now and then from our respective reading material to notice people, cars passing on the street, the changing morning light coming in through the windows. What we read was different, but the fact that we were both always reading was a similarity. You read books of different lengths. One looked about as big as a dictionary. I was impressed by your stamina, by your apparent thirst for knowledge. One time when you closed the big book and got up for a coffee refill, I casually walked over to your table and glanced at the spine. It was Ulysses. You were reading Ulysses in a café––something about this struck me as wonderful. I took you very seriously after that, and because of your age, assumed you were in college. I assumed you wanted to be a writer, too, due to all the books you read, and assuming you wanted to be a writer I both admired and felt a little sorry for you. I wished you luck with all your future endeavors, and though I hardly doubted you, I thought you’d be better off studying something more practical. Engineering, for instance. Something you could make a comfortable living doing. If you were my daughter, I thought…

We never said a word, not to each other. We never needed to, it seemed. I arrived at the café about twenty minutes earlier than you did each morning, and when you arrived we’d glance at each other, smile, and sometimes nod politely, and that would seem like enough, like more than enough. I like to think that we felt and appreciated each other’s presence more acutely because of our silence. Our silence seemed to speak an agreeable, subtle language.

Then one morning you didn’t show up at the café, and in consequence I found it a challenge just getting through the paper. I missed your presence terribly. A week went by and I didn’t see you once. I got it in my head that you’d moved somewhere else. If you were indeed taking college courses, I wondered if maybe you’d graduated, or if you’d transferred to a different college. I wondered if maybe one of your parents was sick, or if you’d been offered a job in another town. I wondered lots of things, and finally I stopped wondering. You were gone, and for whatever the reasons, nothing would change the fact.

I continued to miss your silent presence. Then I started frequenting another café, because I didn’t like looking at your empty table. The new café isn’t the same, of course, not without you here. I read the paper just as before, just as I’ve always done since retiring and not having a job to go to. I read the paper and drink my coffee and look up every now and then at people and cars passing on the street and the changing morning light that comes in through the windows. I do all this like I’d done in the previous café, yet something fundamental seems to be missing now from the quality of my mornings, and I know that it is you.

T. E. Cowell lives on an island in Washington State. To view more of his fiction, go here: