“Ask me that again,” she said.
Something had happened to the sunlight. The shadows seemed to ripple in and out of light, and all the colours had muted down into greys. The air, which moved only lightly around us, was neither warm nor cold; it felt like breath.
She rested her elbows on the table’s edge and pulled the thick and multihued wool of her gloves down around the bases of her fingers. Her fingertips moved over and over, pulling at the loose, thick threads of wool, completing a circuit of fingers and starting again, randomly and back and forth. She noticed me watching her, and stopped. Her darkened eyelids lowered lazily.
The light breeze of the air took the hair of her fringe and tumbled it down across her eyes. It waved there, three or four swatches of red, in a breeze that barely existed, and made a kaleidoscope of her gaze as it covered her pupils in waves and revealed them again.
My attempt to speak was no more than the thought, like a memory of speech, something that once I could do. I felt the slight pull of my tongue as it clung to the roof of my mouth.
The figures in the street became dull silhouettes, little more than the dark scuds of clouds in the dusky sky. The lights at the rear of the café struggled to reach us out on the pavement, their meagre yellowness falling short and splashing in ugly pools against the brick walls.
She nibbled at a still loose end of wool that had failed to fit snugly against the tip of her forefinger. Her lips opened, to show those small teeth that ganged together to make the best smile I had ever seen. But they were small teeth, and they nipped, each as sharp as the other. A smear of dark red lipstick greased against the glove, mixing there with her saliva as she chewed, so delicately, the wool.
I could not feel the air that I knew moved in and out of me. My recent words had vanished, the scant syllables scattered and lost in the dark spaces around us. They hadn’t even echoes, they were so light; yet they’d felt so heavy at the time. My lungs seem stalled, like obsolete engines. The thought of starting them up again seemed immeasurable, of repeating those words that had just so recently fled.
Her lips moved in the slightest way, as the edges of her mouth played with the idea of a smile, as a bored cat toys with a mouse.
Across the street, some hell-red neon came alive in the twilight, flickered repeatedly on and off and buzzed, the light settling down then to a fierce glow. Her eyes caught it, and held it, like fireflies in tiny orb-like jars; it limned the curve of her cheek and jaw, the edges of her nose and lips. It turned her hair to licks of fire.
“Go on,” she said. “Ask me that again. I bloody dare you.”