The traffic lulls to the occasional taxi while she sits in the afternoon sun. With a coffee and her closed notebook on the cafe’s table, she gazes, eyes unfocused, across the plaza. At the center of the roundabout a fountain gushes in the heat. A school of mermaids and a green-colored trident, wielded by Poseidon, challenge tourists who placate them with coins. Earlier in the month, she’d seen a brazen girl on a skateboard cruise by, scoop a handful of silver and bronze and vanish down a side street.
“Jesus, Claude, would you leave me alone already?”
“It’s the manager, he’s new. Every few minutes…”
“What do you want from me?”
“Want from you? Is that not, how you say, flipsy-flopsy?”
“Here’s ten. Do what you need to do. And then leave me alone, alright?”
Claude’s eyebrows dip in consideration. He wipes his fingers across a non-existent mustache.
“Un accord, oui. But first, a fresh Americano and one of those almond biscuits you like.”
“Cookies, young man. They’re called cookies.”
Meredith flips her scarf, a pale blue gauze, back around her neck and ties it afresh. It sits above a golden pendant in the shape of a Gordian knot. When she adjusts her seat, her blouse folds and unfolds. She looks up sharply and coerces Claude’s eyes to lift to hers.
“And Claude,” she says, tossing back the fabric on her shoulders, “call me Meredith, please.”
“Oui, ma… mademoiselle Meredith.”
A squadron of pigeons descends to the sidewalk near the table. Meredith flips her notebook open and reviews a sketch she’d made of this same flock days ago. One bird, storm-cloud dark, insists on strutting at the perimeter of the flock. She’d named him Brett, an honorific of sorts.
She swings her foot out to scatter the birds. Brett remains to the side, his vacant stare a broken connection to her past. The crumb of cookie she tosses his way is examined suspiciously. Another bird, caramel-colored chevrons on its wings, darts in and steals the snack.
“You let that one get away too, didn’t you Brett?”
A few minutes later, Meredith slides her belongings into her satchel. The noise of scooters and tour buses has overwhelmed the sound of the splashing water. She glances back and catches the waiter’s eye and gives him a sardonic grin. His confused look gives her reason to smile in earnest. He returns a shy wave.
Instead of the direct route back to her hotel, Meredith tempts fate and crosses the cobbled roadway to the fountain. The buxom mermaids there act to defend their god whose bronze visage is himself an idealized fantasy of the male physique. She lets her gaze roam the intricate sculpture, scallop shells and seaweed make their attempt at modesty. Scanning the water, the pool is devoid of offerings.
“No wonder skater-girl hasn’t been around.”
She jingles her pocket and produces a thick coin. It makes a tink sound as it bounces off the fish-scaled hip of a mermaid and plunks into the water, fluttering to the bottom. Retracing the coin’s path, its satisfying music as it danced across the metal, she tosses another. And another until her pocket is empty. Meredith shrugs acceptance at the coins’ grouping—she’s managed to tuck them all beneath a leaping dolphin. Tomorrow she’ll take stock to see if skater-girl has collected her gift.
The cafe’s tables have filled with couples and foursomes by the time she makes her way back to her room, her singular shadow stretched thin along the avenue.