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Saturday, July 11, 2020


By Alexander Kutov

The fact she spoke five languages, including Russian, gave her away but there were other early signs, such as she sat in the coffee house with her back to the wall so she could see comings and goings through the front door.   Unlike many in her late 20s peer group, the Anglo woman didn’t have tattoos on her clear skin, which came from Polish/Scandinavian DNA that was not used to large amounts of sun.  But what stood out like a billboard was the healed scar across the front of her neck.

I never asked about the scar all through our man/woman rituals:
         --which began by chance seated together in first-class flying in from London to San Francisco on British Airways;
         --drinks at the airport bar before heading off our separate ways (I had a craft beer; she had two fingers of Stoli neat);
         --surprising each other by agreeing to meet for dinner at Le Club after finding her business card a month later in my laundry;
         --surprised again that I agreed to meet her at 1 a.m. at dessert and drinks at Mario’s Cafe (because that’s all I could afford that time between novels). I had a double espresso; she had two fingers of Finlandia vodka in a pilsner tumbler. We shared a Tiramisu;
         --only because the rainstorm was intense did she agree to follow me upstairs to my flat in North Beach;
         --waking the next morning to the church bells across the park I lay on my side facing her as she slept. It was then I explored with my eyes the jagged scar beneath her chin;
         --speaking to me without opening her eyes she offered, “I was in Helsinki near the American Embassy when a stranger, who saw me thrown from the back of a black sedan, rushed over to me and stopped the bleeding until the ambulance came.  He saved my life.  He was a U.S. Marine stationed at the Embassy.  He was walking home...I don’t work there anymore. I never will.”
         --one-morning, several months later, she awoke next to me fighting her flu, “Yuri, they’ll find me here,” she whispered through her fever then fell back to sleep.  My name isn’t Yuri.  I pretended I didn’t hear her.  I imagined she realized what she had just said because she opened her eyes wide.  She glanced at me judging my reaction.  I feigned sleep. Soon, I felt her hand on mine.
         --years later, feeling sentimental, I return to those mornings in North Beach when we could smell Graffeo roasting his coffee from down the block and she’d ask if I wanted her to make coffee.
         --She still asks before brewing coffee.
         --Yuri never returned and I never asked how she came by the neck wound; I decided to this day a good wife deserves a few secrets of her own especially over cups of such good coffee.

WEEKLY COFFEE QUIZ--Where in the world is this coffee house?  Answer next week in this post.

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