Café Eichenberger

by Susan Kaempfer

The infinitely old woman is translucent. She wears black leather gloves so flower-petal thin that I can read the bones of her hands right through them. So tight, I think they must be holding her skin together. She does not take them off to shake the hand of the man who joins her in the café. He is slick and cool and fundamental, with hair like a used-car salesman and elbow-patched tweed like an English teacher. He says, Good evening.

Good evening.

She does not take them off to drink her tea, and I wonder if she can't, if they are too tight. Or if she has forgotten them. They have been on so long, they've become part of her skin.

The café is full now, and it's very warm. The woman ripples her black wool cloak, and I see the rest of the glove. Expertly tailored, as close and tight as involuntary chastity, the black leather continues. I look away, quickly. She is making a spectacle of herself; her cherry red hair, magnolia face, and the light-sucking black leather.

I sneak peaks at the other patrons. I think: not here. The café is historic and respected. We are right next to the Burgerspital, that corniced, sandstone palace of an old folks home. Only for the Patriziers, the blue blood, the few that are left. They have their steady clothes. Perfectly pressed cream-colored blouses and hats that are 60 years old, but look new because they have an army of valets to beat the moths off.

They will look down their long noses at the woman and push her out the front door with the sheer force of their glares.

Except they don't. They don't see her at all. There are no hidden smirks, no whispers, no tight, disapproving lips. They drink their tea and eat their vermicelles with tiny, three-pronged forks.

Then I realize they are all wearing gloves. The two women next to me wear gloves the color of snake eggs. My eyes pop to their necklines, but I can see nothing. I think I see a faint seam on the back of a leg underneath the stockings, but I'm distracted. The waitress is standing next to me. Can she bring me anything else? No, just the bill, please.

I take out a note that should be more than adequate to cover a cup of tea just as she quotes a figure with so many zeroes in it that I lose track. My mouth hangs open, my face burns, and everyone turns to stare at me.


Susan Kaempfer was born in Washington DC and currently lives in Switzerland with her husband and three children.