The Beautiful Ships

Clare walked to a table by the wall and sat down, aware there was no hurdy-gurdy sound of carnival music, but only the murmur of the bar crowd. She checked her bag for her billfold. She flexed a sandaled foot against the table leg. A waiter paused with his tray of drinks to put down a napkin, and Clare ordered a bourbon and water, thinking the choice seemed very New Orleans, that the idea must have popped up in her mind from the street name. “Make it a Jack Daniels,” she said, looking up at the waiter. She smiled at him.

She tapped her toe and waited for her drink, her eyes on the bar. It was an odd way to watch the world go by, people in their summer clothes, alone or in pairs, drifting past in a slow rotation, backs to her but faces caught for a long moment in the tilted mirrors beneath the cherubs. The intimacy of her position amazed her. The people never looked up, never caught her studying them. She’d already scanned the room. There was no Truman Capote, which didn’t surprise her, though it left her feeling slightly deflated. But the portraits in the mirrors were entirely intriguing as people made their languid progression in and out of the frame. Her drink came and she was gazing at an Indian with a turquoise pendant who might have posed for the nickel. She was halfway through the drink and a half dozen other faces of varying types when she realized she was looking at someone she knew.

She froze, staring at a nose thin at the bridge, at close cropped black hair. The skin was tanned darker than it had been a week and a half ago. Two weeks ago. Twelve days ago, to be exact. But it was the same face that had hovered on the edge of her consciousness for every one of those days.

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