The man who just brought me a cordial cherry on  a tiny white plate to apologize for having been talking on his cell phone next to me while I was reading has just walked out, taking his soft black guitar case and the rest of his ideas on things we could talk about with him.

I have come to this cafe for some solitude, since I’ve recently discovered that my life is impossible to live and I need just this sort of space to write and listen for my life, since Buechner insists that all moments—this moment—are key moments.  After drinking a cup of coffee and having read a short story in The Sun magazine that stilled the voice in my head, that refocused me from myself to things-other-than-myself, after I started to feel calm and like there is, perhaps, enough room in the world for my voice & its short, heavy words that hit the page like glass beads, after all this, the man who was sitting next to me comes back from the counter, puts a cordial cherry on my table and steps back, explaining.

“I hate it when people are talking on the phone,” he says and asks me what I’m reading (The Sun, I say).  He says he knows it and that it’s a great magazine.  “I used to read it all the time—I subscribed to it for a while.  I almost wrote in, you know, the ‘Readers Write’ section.”  I say “yeah” with encouraging smiles and nods, but feel like I don’t want to prolong the conversation so I keep looking back at the “Proust at Rush Hour” story I just started reading.  He gets up, waves his black paper bag of cordial cherries at me to say goodbye, and leaves.  I bite into the chocolate cherry and discover that this can only be a Real Cordial Cherry, my first.  A quarter-inch of chocolate, eighth-inch of sugary paste, and a glistening cherry after.  (Or before.)  Somehow I feel young again, like most of my life is yet-to-come, and I still qualify for gifts from strangers. 

If I need to understand this moment as a key moment, I need to examine it, set it on something and look at it at eye-level.  I see I’m walking again where I did years ago, but it can’t be the same place, since I’ve covered so many miles since then.  I must be circling while climbing, something like a snaky mountain road that brings you around to the same twisted pine but this time you’re looking into branches, not trunk.  I don’t know what it would be like, to read some map and find out how far I’ve come.  I don’t know what it would be like, to revisit my childhood or my eighteenth year, simmering with hopes without words or description but looming with golden shadows.  I used to stoke fires and feed flames.

Now, I escape to coffee shops with the knowledge that today, I must write or die.  So I write.  I write that the wind blows hard and makes my bike shake where it is locked to the sign that says “15 Minute Parking.”  I write that elderly couples are infinitely more interesting to me now than young ones, and I secretly eavesdrop on their conversations when they come in for coffee, although they often are silent and look out of windows.  I write about the man who bought me a chocolate cherry on a saucer that looked like a valentine and felt like a word from God, a small word slipped through the impenetrable palings between time and eternity, although He is always slipping through.  “Slipping” not the best word, even.

If this moment is key, if the cherry on saucer, red sugar-soaked stem stuck up at a jaunty angle and offered by a hand lost at the elbow in another dimension is key, if my mighty Univega shuddering in the wind is key, then alright.  There is either room for me now, or there will be room sometime for me to begin to do something eternal.  Somehow, I am already, and I realize again how slowly things always have to start if they’re going to keep going.  If I never reach the point where I feel complete and ready to start living my life, then I can only imagine that life itself is a sort of grand potty-training.  In a sense.  And my life becomes possible to live when I understand that I’m not behind the curve, breaking everything in reach in my desperation to catch up with everyone else who has made the money, traveled the world, sung songs on the radio, published stories in the magazines. 

The Je ne veux pas travaille song comes on; goes off.  Frat boys stand outside the window and bend over, laughing.  I can understand this moment better in light of everything, then, that living is not trying to win a contest but is training, is school, the whole time…surely?  I hope I’m doing ok.  My mom thinks I am.  She’s partial, though, to me.  But then, God gave me a cordial cherry, just now, broke the ice, gave me a good shake, somehow I’m awake again, because since yesterday was the last day of Lent, that cherry was the first dessert / sweet / candy I’ve had in almost fifty days.  And I wasn’t going to buy one because they’re so dear.  Why does it take miracles for me to believe I’m dear?

A girl with long blonde hair, a tie-dyed t-shirt and a small doll’s face has claimed the table on my left and covered it with papers and a notebook with brightly-colored stickers on it, kicked off her flowered indie slip-ons and sits indian-style in her chair, earnestly attending to things.  Hyphenated things, probably.  I feel old again.  But nevermind; I don’t feel old, I feel older, which is alright with me and I see, for a second, how far I’ve come.  And Easter is tomorrow.

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