We sit in a cafe in the French Quarter. It’s only 8 a.m. but already more than 90 degrees in the shade. A handful of patrons have gathered for breakfast. They sit motionless at their tables, contemplating steaming plates of beignets—the exertion needed to eat them seems just too great. I’m nauseous from last night’s whiskey and the heavy smell of powdered sugar that hangs in the air.
“I never thought donuts could be so oppressive,” I quip.
You are not impressed. We’ve been here nearly twenty minutes and it’s clear I’m about to get dumped. You take a deep breath before launching into a litany of my flaws. Apparently, I’m a self-absorbed, immature, obsessive drunk with unhealthy porn habits who is paralyzed by unrealistic expectations and a fear of failure.
I’m also emotionally detached.
The critique is a familiar one but one I cannot dispute. I shrug my shoulders, conceding your victory, as you begin to recount all the ways in which you’ve tried to salvage things and all the opportunities you’ve given me to reform.
I fall away from the conversation, focusing instead on two sparrows that have flown into the cafe from the adjoining garden. They flutter about the room, hopping from table to table in search of food. They chirp incessantly, silenced only by the morsels of pastry offered to them by the diners. I can’t help but smile, their cheerfulness is contagious.
“Are you even listening to me?”
I barely notice you as you leave. The pair of sparrows has landed on the table of a heavyset man with short, stubby fingers. His face—red and swollen from the heat, is buried in the Times-Picayune. They sing to him as they flit their wings, eyeing a muffin that sits on the table before him. He looks up suddenly, startled to find them at his table. He swats them away with his newspaper, knocking one of the sparrows to the ground. The action is so swift and violent that at first, I think I just imagined it. But there lays the fallen sparrow at my feet, his partner darting about the lifeless body, flapping her wings in anguish. There is no more cheer in her song, only distress. I can feel the red-faced man’s eyes upon me and realize I am crying. He eyes me coolly for a moment, then returns to his newspaper, leaving me to the grieving sparrow.
© gibson grand
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