I go into a place to get a coffee to drink by the millrace. They draw me today, the millrace and the air and a hot coffee to hold. A woman at the salad bar asks whether I speak English. I hesitate. "Yes... yes... quite a bit, actually." I don't tell her it's my native language and she doesn't appear to catch on. Do I have an accent now?
She wants to know whether she can take a little of each vegetable for the posted price or whether the sign somehow means that she can take only one kind of vegetable for that price. I hesitate again. Is this a sensible question? I try to ask someone for her, but I cannot get an employee's attention. I assure the woman myself that she must be allowed to mix vegetables, that it is only right that a woman should be permitted to mix her vegetables. She smiles at this and agrees.
But I hesitated. I don't know that this woman should mix her vegetables. What do I know about a salad bar? Have I ever used a salad bar? Can I remember having ever used a salad bar?
But advising tourists is like giving advice online. I talk as if I know and then I leave. After a minute, I think of walking back to make sure she's OK, but then I think about not walking back to make sure she's OK. I wander over to the millrace and drink my coffee on a small bridge where the water drops away under me. I wonder how deep the pool is at the bottom.
After I finish my coffee I walk through a space between buildings where a man with a frantic look approaches and tells me that the three trees I'm looking at--I suppose I was looking at the trees and I suppose there were three--that the three trees created a very specific microclimate in the courtyard and now look what they've done. I notice that some of the limbs have been cut. I give the man that particular frowning smile and nodding shake that together mean nothing. By and large I am for trees and microclimates, but not today with frantic men.
I am looking up to where the windows of St Joseph's Church should be, but they are boarded over, missing, probably being reconstructed. I'm holding a tourist's pose and seconds later I hear a man's voice calling to me. He is calling me a word like "chief" or "boss" and he wants a moment of my time because, as the script always goes, he needs my imagined foreign money. I say no to nothing in particular and without even looking.
There is little in the church. According to a sign in the vestibule, the place was burned out in the war. When the Russian soldiers found a hundred women, children, and old people hiding inside the church, the soldiers threw incendiaries inside and barred the exits. The place is closed for the moment. Through glass doors I see a nun arranging things near the altar. She has a large flower in her hand and I think of Henry Gibson and then of verrry interesting, which is neither Henry Gibson nor Russian soldiers, but wrapped in the same fold of my brain.
Outside, back at the water, from another bridge, I watch one leaf of all the leaves on the water moving upstream. There is no wind unless there's a microclimate above a single leaf. I tell a passing man about the leaf, how only one leaf fights the current. It is as if it's tied to a fish. I ask him to watch the leaf fight the current. He tells me it's just the wind, the wind, and he walks away.
I go back downstream, past the millrace, past where the salad woman must have had one end or the other. In any event, she is gone now and I will never know her fate.