June 5, 1981
Cafe du Monde
The sidewalk cafe's waiter, his head a tangle of blond curls, sat the iced latte down in front of me with that crisp click that glass makes against marble.
"Just the thing on a hot day," he said.
I answered with a smile and a "Yes," and as he turned away I raised the frosty glass. I came to an abrupt stop. What was this sudden terror I felt? This sudden burst of joy? What could possibly be filling me with such excitement? Then, gazing over the top of my iced latte, I understood, for there she was..."that girl."
How can I describe her? I can't, it's beyond my ability to make words do such work. Let me rather liken the experience of seeing her to the same exquisite rush and delightful chill I get when I hear Van Cliburn play "Clair de Lune" or gaze upon a canvas by Renoir. Beautiful people affect us in the same manner as art. They can change our mood, lift our spirits. But there are also those, the most beautiful of the beautiful, who can instill in us a certain terror when they come into sight. Why? Because it is they who can stop our hearts, for that briefest of moments murder us.
"That girl" began to make her way around the tables of the cafe with a graceful swing of her hips. She passed a group of teenaged boys sitting around two tables pushed together. The boys looked like a gathering of princes, not a toad among them, and how they stared at her. After they recovered from what was obviously their own chills and spasms of excitement, they whistled and called out to her. She gave them not a glance. Watching "that girl" come toward my table, her eyes looking neither right nor left, just straight ahead, I felt another exquisite rush of joy and excitement, and, yes, another rush of terror. Knowing my risk, I stood up.
"An iced latte, just the thing on a hot day," I said to her, pulling the other chair away from the table as an invitation.
She stopped, her eyes swerved to meet mine, focused.
A butterfly poised on a nearby palm stopped winking its wings, the whistles and calls of teenaged boys ceased. Then her smile and "Yes" stopped my heart, and I was, on that afternoon in New Orleans, for the briefest of moments, murdered by "that girl."