2017 READING CHALLENGE
This year is coming to a close, which means it’s time to […]
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Ask any woman who has a sister. Are you the smart one or the pretty one? She'll have an answer. There may be fine distinctions, but eventually each sister knows well which role her parents assigned to her when she was too small to carve distinctions for herself Of course, pretty implies not -smart -- and vice versa -- to a child. And some kids have a hard time swallowing compliments mixed with shortcomings. Especially the smart ones.
Sisters Amanda and Francesca Greenfield sat next to each her on bar stools inside their co-owned Brooklyn Heights cam, sipping their drinks and staring at the busy city street Which sister was pretty and which was smart would seem plainly obvious to any stranger, though both women shared a certain gray mood, despite the crisp midJanuary brightness of New York.
"What about that one?" asked Amanda, pointing at a tall, thin man on the street, bundled tightly in a black coat and brown scarf. "No hat, advertising nonbaldness. Lightfooted walk of a man without problems."
"Unless he's trying to disguise them," responded Francesca, known to everyone as Frank, her nickname since birth (not that the Greenfield parents wanted their oldest child to be a boy -- a question that had been raised many times over the years). "His bounciness could be a cover for his disillusionment."
The man in question stumbled slightly as he walked past the coffee bar, his footing perhaps disturbed by the two women inside examining him like a moth on a pin.
Frank said, "Right there Did you see that? Lightfooted, my ass. He crumbles under scrutiny. A clear sign of something to hide." She paused to sip. "He's cheating on his wife."
Amanda shook her head slightly."Unmarried. I ran tell by the footwear. No woman would let her husband leave the house in those loafers. How he dresses is possibly the one thing you can change about a man."
"Look," Frank said, pointing at him openly now. "He's going into Moonburst." The man with bad shoes had to fight his way into Moonburst, the franchise coffee bar. It'd opened right next door to the sisters' cafe, Barney Greenfield's, two years ago. Frank swiveled on her bar stool away from the street to face inside her floundering place of business. Exposed brick, polished wood floors, ceiling molding. The street level shop had once been the parlor floor of a Victorian brownstone. In its time as a coffee bar and before, the space had accommodated thousands of guests, the walls holding inside each brick the sounds of a hundred years of sitting and talking. That day only two customers were there. just two. In the five seconds it took Frank to turn back around, ten customers had come and gone from Moonburst with a couple more waiting to enter. Frank sighed the dry exhale of radiator heat.
The younger sister, picking up on Frank's glumness, said, "Here's another one." She tilted her head out the window at another pedestrian. "Blond, small hands. Hardset cast to his face shows determination, intense ambition. Red lips, passionate by nature, but reserved unless he's with a woman he truly loves."
"Can we stop?" asked Frank. "This game depresses me."
Neither sister was currently with a boyfriend or even casual fling. Hadn't been for a while. Frank's last boyfriend, Eric, the circulation manager at the magazine she used to work for, had left her abruptly after a three-year relationship, having woken up onebeaming July morning with the sudden realization that Frank's "chronic mild discontentment" wouldn't be a healthy emotional environment for his future children. Frank suspected, after two years now of postrelationship hindsight, that any woman Eric dated would be left mildly discontented. Who wouldn't be with his dreary adherence to routine? Amanda, at the time, advised Frank that relationships between two people with similar characteristics tended to stall because they had nothing to learn from each other on their karmic quest
Newly thirty-three, Frank saw her spinsterhood flung out before her like a worn black blanket Amanda, twentynine, who'd never had a relationship that lasted longer than two months, couldn't understand her sister's preoccupation with the romance of loneliness. Amanda's remedy refrain, "just go out and meet someone new," struck Frank like a bitch slap, even though she knew her sister meant no harm. Amanda never meant harm, though she could dole it out unwittingly with ease -- a veritable venomous rose.
One of the customers, a cranky old woman the sisters knew as Lucy, waved a liver -- spotted hand in their direction. "Refill," she demanded. She'd had three cups already. Frank hesitated A couple of refills were expected. But a bottomless pot-in their financial straits? The woman pointed to a sign taped to the cash register. "That's what the sign says," Lucy reminded them. Grudgingly, Frank served the cup, placing it gently on the table, smiling a plastic-fruit waxy grin. Lucy reached for her hot mug and drank. Frank stepped back, watching her future flow down the old lady's wrinkled throat.
From across the room, Amanda quivered slightly and said, "I just gotthe strangest feeling, Frank. Like a wave of negativity rolled all the way across the bar, from right where you're standing to right here, by me." Amanda curled her fingers over her curvy hip. "Whatever you've done, apologize to Lucy," she said to Frank.
"I didn't do anything," protested Frank
Amanda had long claimed she had unusually strong intuitive powers. Frank dismissed Amanda's "cosmic sensitivity" as nothing more than finely honed observational skills, which by themselves were impressive. Frank did believe Amanda had other gifts, however. Long, wavy auburn hair. Flawless cream-and petals skin. Grass green eyes. Even a blind man could see that Amanda was gorgeous. Compared to that, Frank's smartness often felt like birth's booby prize...
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