Floating Signifier

not here

Ran walked hunched over, under her umbrella – her black leather shoes, and the feet of her gray slacks, getting wet. She turned into Zibetto, and found a seat facing the window.

She got the cappuccino, blond roast, and a prosciutto panini. Ran opened a nearby newspaper to read. The music in the espresso bar was piping hot Bossa nova jazz, redolent of a faraway, tropical land.

Alli met her there, bustling through the door, in a black pea coat, hydroplaning across the floor. She ordered a macchiato and sat down next to Ran. They sometimes grabbed lunch together there, when they could.

Steam rose from her beverage, misting Alli’s glasses, as she took a sip, “Not to talk about exes, but Kaan said she glimpsed Dallas, at the Grand Hyatt, the other day. She must be back from Thailand. I told you about Dallas, didn’t I?”

Ran folded the paper, “Maybe you did, long ago. Remind me again of who she is?”

“She was an old girlfriend of mine. We went to Fiji together, once. Dallas went to Australia to do a semester of graduate research and I waited for her. She came back, but I never heard from her. She was living with Kaan’s former girlfriend Aspen, by the time I found out she was back in the states.”

“I see. That’s horrible!” Ran turned on the stool to face her.

“Dallas was the one who left Kaan to pick up the pieces. I moved on too. Kaan is still not happy about what happened. Aspen never came back.”

“Right,” Ran said, “Who does something like that?”

Ran looked at Alli with concern. She then turned back to the window, the street motley and the view diffracted through hundreds of raindrops. Ran’s stomach flip-flopped, as she took a sip of her Sumatran coffee.

Unperturbed, Alli also looked out the window, before tapping a bleating notification on her phone. “I got to get back to the office; I have to get on a conference call. Our accounting department rep had a fall and can’t come back after lunch.”

“Yes, no problem,” Ran held her hand and Alli squeezed her shoulder. She left a tenner for the meal and was whisked out the door, with the same speed, with which she had entered.

The streets hadn’t cleared, even in the rain. Pizza deliverers for Uber Eats rode by, with pies piled high and lashed down on the backs of their bikes. A bus knelt into the curb and disgorged itself of an afternoon rush hour load of passengers.

Behind the window pane, Ran thought of the blond at the bar, Was that Dallas? Did I meet the one who hurt Alli? And Kaan?

Another customer entered, raindrops rolling off a beige wool coat. The gust that followed in his wake threw the ears of her newspaper in disarray. Disconcerted, Ran paid for the food and stepped outside, under the awning. Thin streams of water poured down in front of her. Could that really be Dallas?

She stepped out into the downpour and hailed a taxi, trying to forget about what she had just heard.

sumatran coffee

Map of the Universe


It was cool under the boardwalk. The logs were damp, constantly hammered by the spray. Crabs sauntered sideways over sea shells. The waves traveled out to the top of the world, to some unknown ice cap, latitude: zero degrees.

Alli was far away from any ice floes. In preparation for the end of the day, the sun had braised the sky a dull goldenrod.

Nealy sat beside her, under the beams. Her arms were tan, after spending an entire day at the beach, surfing and eating mangoes. “What are you going to do after graduation?” she asked.

“Go to college?” Alli said.

“No gap year?”

“For my parents, that is not an option,” Alli laughed.

Nealy turned her face back to the sun, “I’m going to backpack across southeast Asia and then I’m going to start working”

Alli leaned forward, hugging her knees, “So it’s been finalized then?”

“Yes, I’m going to Peary.”

Alli was silent. She looked down at her knees and then also looked in the direction of the sunset.

Music drifted down the shore. The bonfire was raging, spraying sparks heavenward. Seniors ran around the logs and did the limbo.

Under the boardwalk grew darker. “You’ll come back and visit, won’t you?” Alli wondered, half to the first stars, shimmering on the horizon.

Nealy turned her head in Alli’s direction. It was like a lion’s, with tufts of red hair going in a multitude of directions, “Of course!”

Alli reached across and cupped Nealy’s face in her hands. As usual, Nealy’s face was soft, with whiskers on her cheeks and downy sideburns.

Hundreds of miles away, at the equator, any given point on earth, whether tree or mountain or shadow, was moving, spinning, faster than the speed of sound.

worried Zora drummer