Sunday, May 31, 2020

“Relic of the Future” by Israela Margalit - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

Relic of the Future


Israela Margalit

On Saturday mornings I take our three-year old to Barnes and Noble on 7th Avenue. We have a ritual and she makes sure not to skip a step, so we press the button that pushes open the door to the ramp, make our way to the elevator, park the stroller in the reserved spot, take the elevator back up to the coffee shop, and find a table by the window. I use her absorption with the culinary delight of a plain bagel to pack her vibrant little brain with titles of eternal novels and names of master writers.

Normally I’m observing her to the exclusion of everything else, but today there’s a man sitting at the far-left corner table under the steps, exuding patrician calm despite a bohemian choice of washed out jeans and a crumpled T shirt. He draws my attention with his tanned face under a full head of white hair, and his lanky, tall physique. There’s extreme intensity about him, the way he’s hunched over a magazine spread on his table that he reads without blinking an eye, oblivious to his surroundings. My granddaughter asks for more water. I walk to the stand and refill her cup, watching her with one eye lest she lose her balance and falls, while my other eye veers to the man, who hasn’t moved one bit since we came in. He’s not my type, but nevertheless he fascinates me with his Jeremy Iron’s-like figure and capacity for concentration. I return to the table with the water. My granddaughter says “thank you,” and to highlight her appreciation of the outing she repeats the last name I’ve been pushing on her. “Poost,” she says, meaning Proust. I laugh. The man gives us a sudden glance. I smile at him. He smiles back. Then he returns to his magazine. I guess I’m not his type either. But then he looks at me again. He must be sixty years old. Should know how to do it by now. He can walk to the counter to allegedly order something and stop by our table to say how adorable my granddaughter is. That kind of an opening gambit is sure fire. Or he can ask, “May I get you another latte?” But he does nothing. Glued to his magazine. Maybe he’s researching for a book. Or his archrival has written a well-received article that he’s trying to find fault in. Or he’s reading his own story for the umpteen times, basking in the unending pleasure of seeing one’s work in print. Whichever it may be I become impatient and unreasonably resentful of his attention furnished to something other than me, and since my granddaughter has just given the “all done” sign, we embark on cleaning up the table, an activity she savors with a sense of privilege and accomplishment. As we prepare to leave, I don’t look at the man and I feel a pang of guilt. Granted, he’s too slim and aloof for my taste, but any man who spends his Saturday Morning at Barnes and Noble is already a catch. Maybe he’s a widower like me and he’s rusty. I should give him a chance. I could even make the first move, go ask what he’s reading with such interest. The thought comes to me too late, as my granddaughter is eager to move on, and is dragging me by the hand. “Let’s go, let’s go.” We climb up the few stairs leading back to the main floor, and we walk just behind the back of the white-haired man. I can see what he’s reading. Two large pages of advertisement in black and red. I gasp. The little one looks at me and says, “Look, Grandma. The Red and the Black.”

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