The woman who came in with the voices

The woman who came in with the voices

In the city where the underground cafe is actually underground. A row of brick buildings built into the hill a block down from the railroad track. Beneath the parking lot a creek whispers and appears at the pavement’s end like it was not even aware it had been buried. The woman came inside and down the stairs while I was ordering coffee. I thought she was talking to herself, or to a stranger, that measured quiet tone you take when speaking in a new place when you want to be heard and are speaking loud enough to be heard but not so loud that you are embarrassed if you say something to the room and nobody in the room responds. I looked up but the woman wasn’t talking. She looked like she had just finished talking, her lips parted, or that she was listening and about to respond but hadn’t yet. But I could hear her talking nonetheless. More than one of her. When she ordered her coffee the voices moved politely aside but did not stop. She sat down at a table across the room and the voices clustered around her. I could still hear them as I was plotting criminal charges into a spreadsheet. The voices were as real as the rows and columns on my laptop screen,they overlapped like columns and rows overlap without losing their distinction. When she got up ten minutes later the voices moved with her, getting a little louder as she passed by and the voices went up the stairs with her and went outside aboveground and it was quiet. I was done with my coffee but still had a long way to go tallying the the bad things we do to each other, so I stayed for a while longer, underground, by the buried river and the eddying voices wandering, wondering what I had heard.

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