Raven in black and grey waiting for someone who doesn't show.
He doesn't know how he knows this. He just does. It's one of those feelings that just as easily turn out wrong, but in the moment everything feels like the obvious truth. He feels the tiny shame in the way she props her elbows on the table and her eyes search the fringes of the plaza without moving her head. Her broad mouth is set, full lips smiling too much but not enough.
The first time he scanned the plaza for an obscure place to sit in front of something cold she was just a blur in the blur of faceless café customers. The next time his eyes lingered a hot moment around her face and then moved on. Now he sees a convergence of quiet rarities, obsidian and alabaster wrapped around each other like smoke and wind.
The plaza is lit well enough, but it's nighttime and the only air moving is the last of the day's heat rising off the cobbles.
He understands her hair seems darker now than it would another time, as if the night were holding her head in its hands. A loose braid curls around her sinuous neck and almost disappears against the black silk of the cropped blouse knotted below her breasts. From here he can't tell if the charcoal bolt of fabric around her hips is a skirt or pair of shorts, almost loose and high on sweeping thighs.
There's something deeper to the black and grey of her clothes than color. Maybe it's the way she sits inside them, or the lotion shimmer of scrubbed skin making everything that touches the space around her look like a cheap imitation of something even cheaper.
Strains of a nearby flamenco concert waft through from an open air courtyard not far away. Occasional applause. It sounds desultory. Half there. More like breaking glass than hands.
She scans the plaza again. By now it's all reflex, one of those temporary habits that come on long enough to take us through an unnatural situation. Her eyes pause in their circuit and land on Turner. He's not the one, and after the seconds it takes her to realize this he's like another archaic doorway, something you quit noticing after a glance or two. She tilts her head and moves on.
The waiter comes out and works his way through a half dozen other customers to her table. He says something and her face angles up to acknowledge him just before she scans the plaza one more time. She looks at Turner again, but not as long this time. She gives the waiter an awkward smile and says something back.
Turner starts across the plaza at a brisk pace. She doesn't see him coming until he's a few paces over the waiter's shoulder, coming on like he belongs.
"Baby," he says, "sorry I'm late."
He smiles like he knows her, like he really owes this apology. He lists sideways and fans out his palms in a gesture of contrition. She's confused but smiling. The waiter turns and regards him with bored disapproval. Turner's already been a few miles today and doesn't look like whatever a raven like her would be waiting for.
She opens her mouth but doesn't have words to fill the gape of a gracefully angular jaw. Her eyes well up but don't spill, firing back and forth between him and the waiter. Her forehead knits. He feels like an idiot, only making her humiliation worse if the waiter catches on.
"I got really held up," he shrugs. He grins and takes another step inside her house of disappointment, moving around the waiter to her side of the table.
"Late start, late finish. I hope you haven't been waiting long." He leans down to kiss her cheek, lightly touching the other side. Suddenly his senses are full of shampoo and perfume, the touch of living silk against his lips.
Something tells him to take her mouth and he listens. She gives it back, leaning into the kiss, and for a few moments too long it feels like the only natural thing to happen since he walked into the plaza. His hand moves to her neck, his fingers around the nape while his thumb grazes her throat. Their lips begin to open and they pull back just before everything has a chance to become surreal hunger.
"I wish flowers could smell like this." He whispers so only she can hear, letting her know it's not just part of the charade.
He's improvising. It's all he knows how to do except he hits the wrong chord and something comes over her. She seems to forget the waiter's even there and looks at him like he's someone else. Someone she's met before. Someone she might even wait for in a place like this. A darkness passes behind her eyes while her face transforms into a mask of hurt.
She stands up – awkwardly, as if it's something she's not used to doing - and slaps him hard enough to make her breasts quiver.
Surprised, the waiter leans back as if he's afraid of being struck. Turner stands without flinching and everyone turns to the sound of her palm crossing his face.
"I've been waiting for ages!" she spits. "I was worried. Don't you dare
do this again."
The charcoal turns out to be a skirt. Her legs are slender, not muscular but toned, and her face has angular, sweeping lines that give off an air of dignified heat.
Her accent is strong but her English is clear and effortless. He doesn't try to guess where it's from. She looks local but the cadence of her voice comes from somewhere further north. She can't seem to contain herself through a moment in which she seems to consider slapping him again, but she finally comes back to herself and sits down.
Turner braces himself with a breath and orders espresso and water and sits. The waiter walks away and a moment passes in which the tepid air is full of meaningless conspiracy.
The Raven frowns and suddenly looks mildly horrified with herself.
"I'm sorry," she says, "your cheek is turning red. I didn't mean to..."
"It's all right," he says. It's not the first time he's been slapped in public by a woman, but every time it happens feels like the last.
It takes a few seconds but she relaxes and almost smiles. She looks at him as if she's trying to decide a few things at once. He hasn't shaved since yesterday. His hair is dark but not as dark as hers, at a point of being too long or else not long enough.
He can feel the long stretch of a good ten years between them.
Her smile doesn't break all the way. It does something to her face that surprises him. Everything about her falls into a place that feels like something he once imagined and suddenly remembers.
His face feels like it's smiling but he knows it's not a real smile. It's like his mouth can't get there all the way because her cheekbones are doing something improbable. Everything seems to quiet down at the same time. The other people speckling the plaza, the flamenco strains, even the lack of moving air feels like it stops to take a breath before doing nothing again.
"And so?" A few certainties but more questions in the slow fire of her dark eyes.
For a moment, he begins to wonder if suspicion and curiosity are different rooms in the same house, but for the first time since he came into the plaza, she stops scanning the fringes.
"So," he pauses, thinking, "it just didn't seem right. You sitting here like you were."
One side of her mouth curls and the cheekbone on that side slowdances with his brain. "So this is a selfless rescue? Saving a strange woman from ... a minor embarrassment?"
"Maybe," Turner shrugs. "Maybe I'm just rescuing myself a little bit."
The waiter comes back. They don't talk in front of him. There's something faintly embarrassing about waiting for him to finish. The sweet, ropy stink of hashish filters in and hangs in the still air. Everyone notices but no one cares. It's just one more secret the night doesn't mean to give up.
The waiter goes back inside with merciful efficiency.
"And what would you need rescuing from?" she finally asks.
Turner smiles and silently watches her fingers play with the little white ear of the demitasse cup. He steps up to and then hovers on the verge of telling her the truth when Howlin' Wolf's version of Killing Floor starts up from someone's apartment window. It has that tinny, old radio sound. Scratches in the vinyl. Hubert Sumlin banging rhythm like a V-8 spinning off gravel.
I shoulda quit you, a long time ago,
I shoulda quit you, baby, long time ago,
I shoulda quit you and went on to Mexico
Turner's eye is on The Raven, but his ear is mainlining on Willie Dixon and the Wolf.
If I ha'da followed, my first mind
If I ha'da followed, my first mind
I'd'a been gone, since my second time
It's so out of place there in eyeshot of the looming cathedral it almost begins to make sense again. The Raven senses the divergence of his senses. The curious amusement in her face deepens a moment and then returns to the surface. Turner realizes he wants to see that look on her face again, but he doesn't know how to make it come back while sense memories are dancing alone in empty houses in his mind.
The whole problem with music is the power it has to take you somewhere you're not anymore. Even places you don't need to see again. The Raven keeps waiting. Maybe she thinks he's thinking of an answer to her question. He's looking at the lacquered onyx of her eyes but The Wolf has him by the scruff of his spirit.
He's out of choices now but to follow that raw, Chicago fatback groove back to the last place he needs to be and something inside him falls off a ledge. He reads the way she notices the understated mutiny of the muscles in his face. The taste of long gone lips comes across the surface of his mouth.
.... There is more of this story ...