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by Foster Trecost

My mornings were wasted in a silent tour of assorted cafés. I had cornered myself next to a window that faced the street. A barely audible jazz set crawled from an overhead speaker, the sound so entwined with the absence of sound that they became the same. To me and maybe only me, the café was quiet.

Until it wasn’t.

A young girl stood before me and repeated herself in a haughty tone that far outweighed my own haughty tone: “I said I’m nine,” she said again, “and my brother is five. But he’s sick. To whom are you writing?” She pointed to a partially penned letter that to this day remains only partially penned.

“I heard you the first time,” I said. “What’s he got?”

“I’m not sure, but he’s going to die.” The gravity I expected to accompany such a disclosure had been replaced with indifference. “In fact, he may have died already. It’s quite sad, really. We were supposed to grow up together.”

I searched for a guardian, but no one stood out as a likely companion. I concluded she must be alone. “Where are your parents?” I asked.

“Where are your parents?” she asked back.

I smiled and said, “It’s early for a young girl to be alone in a coffee shop.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” she defended. “My mother is at the hospital. Ms. Wilson is meeting me here. Ms. Wilson my mother’s friend, and mine, too.”

A quick study yielded a baffling incongruence: Her clothes were worn to holes in the usual places and her hair unkempt, yet she spoke an upper-class English that defied her appearance. I theorized hardship had besieged her once-affluent family and all that remained was the way she talked.

“What about your dad?” I asked. “Why can’t he pick you up?”

“He’s not here,” she said. “I asked you a question. To whom are you writing?”

“I’m writing to my father,” I answered. “He’s not here, either.”

“I sometimes write letters to my father, but he doesn’t read them.”

“How do you know?”

“Because dead people can’t read letters.”

And with that I straddled both the urge and inability to speak. Her words came with the calculation I’d come to expect. It was me who struggled with what she had said.

“It happened last year.”

I wanted to ask what happened, but before I could a horn sounded from outside. “Ms. Wilson is here, I must go.” She extended a hand, which I accepted with a loose grip. “It was very nice talking with you,” she said, and clanged her way out the door.

Through the window I watched her climb into the backseat of Ms. Wilson’s car. She waved as they pulled away, but I was unable to return it. I finished my coffee, gathered my things, and left for the next stop on my tour, wishing I had waved back.

Foster Trecost writes stories that are mostly made up. They tend to follow his attention span: sometimes short, sometimes very short. Recent work has appeared in Peacock Journal, New World Writing, and Matter Press. He lives near New Orleans with his wife and dog.