The breeze of a nervous sort slipped across my elbow and I looked up from my tofu salad. A generic man-boy in business casual had left me in his uptight wake and I felt my eyes whirl in his bluster to the bar. My mind swayed with his circling as he sniffed out a seat and brushed it off before he sat. I watched him uncurl his newspaper and adjust his everyman’s glasses. He ordered ice water with a lemon slice and fidgeted with his straw and newspaper.
A calmer breeze warmed the air and I watched a fair woman in a smart skirt drift toward the man-boy’s anxious back. As she moved around him to sit, she touched his shoulder and sent him to the moon. Man-boy and straw and paper jumped and landed askew. Concern and amusement took turns in Smart-skirt’s eyes and she laughed an apology. Recovery of self was no small thing for one with so much of it to gather back up, and Man-boy struggled with just an amenable nod.
Smart-skirt made it easy with words that whistled and went tra-la-la and Man-boy got back up on top. He affected a smile and thanked her for meeting him there in the midst of her tropical storm of a day. She countered with niceties and they broke out portfolios and Man-boy talked big at the helm.
Soon it was apparent that Smart-skirt was missing, was lost in her finger-tracings of the wood grain on the bar. Man-boy asked her the cause of her distraction and Smart-skirt said, “Huh, what?” He repeated his question and she turned her light on again, and here’s where I leaned my ear hard their way.
“Sorry,” Smart-skirt said. “I was thinking of the ladybug I rescued last night.”
“Yeah, I had a pet for an hour,” she said, then laughed. “A ladybug was drowning in my dishwater last night and I lifted it out, put it on a Tupperware lid with a little piece of lettuce. I have no idea what ladybugs eat…”
Man-boy just stared at her.
“No, it was great!” Smart-skirt grinned. “The ladybug stayed there for quite some time. I thought it an eternity. But really, it had only been an hour before it flew up to make love to a ceiling light.” Then she laughed and shrugged.
My fork clattered to the floor. Man-boy and Smart-skirt whipped around to look. I stared back at them, defenseless. Smart-skirt’s shrug had shook me loose and I was snagged in the remembrance of a dream: I’d been suspended in the words of “Auguries of Innocence” being read to me, soft and thoughtful, by a man with hands of love and work.
I looked at Smart-skirt and said aloud, “To see a world in a grain of sand; And a heaven in a wild flower; Hold infinity in the palm of your hand; And eternity in an hour.”
Smart-skirt smiled and Man-boy rolled his eyes. I shrugged and they turned away, and we all got back about our same business as slightly different people.
It all starts with a bar napkin…
See more napkin fiction at Esquire Magazine here.
William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” in its entirety can be found here.