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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

the red cup

The sky is not fully dark at seven now. Hard clouds are coughing from double smokestacks past the river. The cat tries to knock me over, starving in the cold morning air. E is asleep in a perfect cocoon of cartoon sheets, clutching a stuffed dog named Katya.

I make coffee without turning the kitchen light on. The cat eats noisily as I wait for the familiar, hoarse voice of the little moka. I put sugar at the bottom of the cup, and don't mind it's not clean.

I splash milk in, and sit on the window's edge, looking down at the covered fountain in the center of the courtyard. As I drink from the cup, I smell something unfamiliar. I touch my fingers to my nose for a moment - and realize this cup was used on Saturday for our little dinner party. New friends had visited, with a daughter to play with E, and fresh pastries, with a bottle of red wine and the bread I had forgotten to buy, with an unattached woman.

It was her perfume on my red coffee cup, a sort of gift she had left behind. I closed my eyes, imagining her hands resting on the table, how she hid behind her hair, her chin pinned to her chest.

Breathing in her perfume, I drank in the morning light and the sweet coffee and smiled to myself.

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