The Lowest Denominator

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At a cafe in Maine last week I stumbled upon a journal that someone had left in the floorboard of the wall. I was just staring into space, and thinking about my future — picking at the tiles near the sugar and napkin holder — when a larger piece fell with a PLOOP, and out comes the edges of fifty, maybe sixty pages tied together with faded twine. I was sure this was a joke someone was playing. Some kind of initiation for tourists at The Speckled Axe, but no one was looking. No one paying me any mind. There was an old woman in the corner who did look up, but smiled when I made eye-contact, and looked away. Nothing in the smile, but a smile.

I held the pages in my hand and turned it so I could see the writing and the first thing I saw was a headline. It read…

Curious and Unashamed

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I thought to put it back, give it to the manager, run out of the coffee shop and read it in the room of my bed and breakfast — and decided that no matter what I would return it. Here, I was uncomfortable. I kept thinking about being curious and unashamed, and of someone else being curious and unashamed and it made me not trust my surroundings. It made me feel people were watching me.

I couldn’t relax in the coffee shop. My eyes shot down at the pages

So you, brown earth and painted lady, both have done me dry. If I get the chance, and it will come, you will both fall under my hands. I can’t tell if it’s love or fear that drives me into this frenzy, but ever since you came to town I have been sick. I wasn’t sick before, but my circumstances have changed. You’re a stranger here. You say you’re married, but I know it’s false. I don’t think your husband is coming back from war, or ever went to war. I see the way you look at other men. I see the way you walk out in the garden.
You don’t notice me. I’ve introduced myself several times, but can’t seem to make you look at me. You’re the stranger in this town. And you have made enemies. Not only will I not look out for you; I will lead the charge. And after we’ve buried your corpse, I will mourn for you. Maybe then you’ll accept my flowers.

I put the page down. The cafe was full. Every table and chair was full, and everyone had coffee or tea, or cake in front of them, and they were all staring at me. I hadn’t heard anyone come in. My table jerked as the chair in front of me was pulled out, and the old woman sat down across from me. She did not smile.

It was time to leave.

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