A Literary Portrait

“Who’re you staring at?” she asked, sitting at his table.  She seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place her.

“Nobody,” he said.  It was the appropriate response.  Untrue perhaps, but appropriate.  

She raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“Everybody,” he sheepishly amended.  Why lie to a stranger?

“I thought so,” she said.  “I like to watch them, too.”

Together they stared across the room, briefly allowing themselves to appreciate the view.  The other patrons were old, or young; beautiful or ordinary; comfortable or strangely out-of-place.  He liked to see how they interacted with one another and then he would write it down in his moleskin notebook.

After a moment, he glanced at her again.  Short hair, long legs, early thirties.  Nope.  The face didn’t ring any particular bells.

“You’re staring at me now,” she observed, without taking her eyes off the crowd surrounding them.

“Yes.  Have we met?”

She tapped his notebook with her right index finger.  “I’m in there.”

“Are you?”  He was surprised.  “How do you know what’s in there?”

“I’ve been watching you while you watched them,” she admitted.  “Literary portraits, no?”

“Astute.  Do you have a notebook?”

“No.  A camera.  I bet we could match my photographs to your characterizations.”

He leaned back in his chair and smiled.  “Perhaps.”

“So, what did you write about me?” she asked.  

“I’m not sure,” he admitted.

“I see you here every day,” she objected.  “I know you’ve seen me.”

He opened his notebook then, skimming through the pages.  “Now I remember,” he said.  “Here.”

She has words on her face.  It isn’t in her expression as much as the lines of her skin, those disconnected phrases that describe disappointment, change.  One white calendar space at a time, the simplicity of their appearance deceptive.  In truth, they contain entire chapters.  Secret, exhausting words.  Those small, dark hollows at the corner of her lips.  A well of words are caught in those two lines.

“That’s your mother,” she objected, laughing.  “Or your lover.  Not me.”


“No, I just said that because you almost got me.”

He smiled, briefly.  He didn’t actually remember this woman.  He had spent years writing things like that, only to send his work off to face rejection.  It had a crippling effect on him.  Rather than write the best-seller he had set out to compose, years before, he sat in a café and stared at other people.  He wondered about their lives, their disappointments.

“What is your name?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “I won’t give you that.  You might remember me too well.”

“You have a photograph of me?”


“A photograph is more incriminating than a series of words.”

“Not all words.”  She glanced at his notebook.  “Not those words.”

They parted ways then; he to return home and stare at a blank sheet of paper, and she to stand in a small, dark room and develop an image of his face.  The single photograph that matched every literary portrait he wrote.

Written by Lauren Holgate.


  1. I wrote it. In the library last week when my internet connection died.

  2. http://dl3mashael.blogspot.com/2011/02/life-after-death-zycie-po-smierci.html

  3. That is lovely. You are way talented. :)

  4. Alright, I absolutely loved this. I LOVE reading what you write, because I feel like I know you well enough to trust that you won't break my heart at the end. :) I can't wait to have one or ten of your books on my bookshelf!

  5. I love what's not being said here--little omisions that make the story impressionistic. It's one of my favorite techniques!


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