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THE PLIGHT OF PORCUPINES

“Oh, this is precious.”

Silence. Joe’s nose is buried in a thick paperback history of Greece. I take a calming breath.

Joe.” Not bitter. Not plaintive. Firm.

“Mmm.”

“Take a look at this picture.”

I nudge my magazine across the table.

“What is it?”

“A baby porcupine. The mother’s dead. The zoo’s trying to raise it. What a sweet face,” I croon, “and such tiny fingers.”

“Mmm,” says Joe. His eyes slide back to the politics of Greece.


Between sips of espresso, I watch the woman. Holding a sheet of carefully pencilled notes, she’s singing softly one of her own compositions. The waiter is a reluctant audience.

“Lovely,” he says, trying to pull away, “really lovely.”

Her hand flicks out, capturing his wrist. “There’s another verse.”

She sings it in a high, tremulous voice.

“That’s wonderful,” says the boy.

“My father was a composer,” says the woman. “Music is in my blood.”

With a large-knuckled hand, she scrapes the scant brown bangs from her forehead. Silver roots glint in the sun. “Moments of beauty,” she says, “moments of beauty.”

The boy’s well-developed biceps flex a little, a polite Samson, longing to break free. When I lift my finger and gesture for the bill, he gratefully flees towards the cashier.

The woman turns hopeful eyes in my direction. She sizes me up.

“You think I’m nuts,” she says.

“Not at all.”

“People need moments of beauty.”

“That’s true,” I murmur.

She lifts her heavy body from the chair, pushes her music into a faded patchwork bag, and lumbers away.

The boy rushes forward with my bill. His head is fashionably shaved. A gold earring glitters in his ear.

“Sad,” he says.

I shrug. “Takes guts to let it all hang out that way.”

“If you say so.” He smiles. “You get all kinds.”

I give a brisk, practical nod, and thrust my notebook deep inside my purse.


The next time we meet, I’m occupied. I don’t see the woman until she asks, “What’s that you’re writing?” She cranes her neck and peers around my arm. “Ah, it’s a poem,” she says, “do you share them?”

“Sometimes,” I say cooly. I close the notebook. “I try not to impose.”

She tilts her head. “You’re very dignified.”

I begin to gather my things.

“Maybe too dignified,” she chuckles.

I slip away. When I glance back, she’s pulling sheets of music from her bag.


“I met an interesting woman,” I say to Joe.

Talking to Joe reminds me of roulette. This time my number comes up. He’s listening. Quickly, I fill him in.

“A character,” he says. “She sounds lonely.”

I close my eyes. When I open them again, his chair is empty.


Today, she doesn’t bother with preamble. She thrusts out a large hand.

“I’m Zipporah.”

I graze her fingers with mine. “Zipporah...that’s appropriate.”

She understands. “Yes...I warble, I trill.” She sings a few notes in her fluting voice. “I’m a queer bird,” she smiles. “You’re married?” she asks abruptly, “you’re not alone...an attractive girl like you?”

“I’m married,” I confess.

“You show him your poems?”

I pause for scarcely a moment. "Of course,” I say.


“The Plight of Porcupines” was published in Boston Literary Magazine.


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