She wore a purple blouse and a blue sweater with no apparent care for color coordination. The sweater was missing a button and there was a coffee stain on her blouse. He’d studied her in the mirror of the backbar for a while and so had noticed all of this. It wasn’t often that he saw someone in the Short North as uninterested in physical appearance as she so obviously was. Short North people wore dark frames and artfully draped scarves and were concerned with nothing as much as their physical appearance.
She was engrossed in a book, and her legs stretched out across the adjacent stool in languid repose. He was attracted to the black tights that fit like a glove; her every curve spelled out in spandex like a rock star in a window poster at the now defunct Virgin Records store. Her sexuality was enhanced by her carelessness, by the threadbare sweater and the stained blouse and the hair that she hadn’t bothered to comb.
He shifted in his seat to adjust himself against the pull of the black tights. When was the last time he’d felt anything astir in the dead zone of his center? What was it that captured his curiosity like a prairie dog to the rising sun? He motioned to the bartender for another draft. Who reads books in a tavern on High Street? Even at the noon hour? She should be in the coffee shop across from campus with her coffee, writing in a journal or reading Atwood or Munroe. She looked Canadian. Something in the slouch of her figure and the way she caressed the cover of her book told him she wouldn’t be repelled by what he had become.
He picked up his glass and his cane and moved to the vacant stool beside her. She closed the book on her thumb and looked at him from behind a strand of hair. In contradiction to her appearance, she smelled like soap. Her one eye was blue and the other brown, a struggle against the dominant from the onset. She was younger than he, but not by much. In another time she would have been a protestor. In another time, but not this time, they would share a drink and then shack up together with their books and beaded curtains. She would hang posters and massage his wounds. In another time before the current time and the cane and the dreams, he would have struck up a conversation; he wouldn’t freeze in fear of the stammer he’d acquired. The short circuit in his brain would heal itself and the words would flow like the hair down her back.
He’d forgotten himself. There was no cure for the short circuit in his brain, no name for the whittler of his cane.
The art museum had an entire room devoted to the display of canes, works of art whittled from a single branch, but every whittler was named Unknown. They reminded him of soldiers minus their weapons and their boots, minus that which defined them, all those whittlers without a name. He went there on Mondays when it wasn’t crowded. There was a guest pass attached to his membership that he had never used. The add-on had been a waste of money.
She closed her book and curled her legs under her stool and looked at him with one blue eye and one brown. What was he waiting for?