The magazine “This World” proclaimed Cassit Café an upscale Bohemia where poets and journalists drank together, and writers and singers shared stories. The article was embellished with photographs of models and air-hostesses, however, it must have been a crock.
All she saw was a half-empty darkened place with an intimidating aged waiter in black and white, standing at the entrance and staring at her until she dropped her eyes and withdrew toward the edge of the sidewalk. She didn’t want to enter anyway. A two-hour bus drive away from home, and the pavement almost danced under her feet.
Instead she was determined to find another restaurant where people ate chicken and French fries with their hands, no table manners or polite conversation, only a full mouth and oily fingers. She’d find that perfect place.
Walking tentatively toward the north, she stopped when a masculine voice called, “Hey, hello, want me to read your palm?” As expected, the man, unkempt and in his thirties, wearing an oversized jacket, leaning against a rare robust tree, was looking at her. People always thought she was easy prey. She shook her head, able to sense the rough surface of his blackened hand rubbing against the palm of her hand, and what good future could come out of that?
Despite the electric pleasure of the city, it became harder to speak with people as the hours advanced. She coughed, to hear her own voice without appearing to be crazy. She didn’t have to talk with anyone, anyway. Being a stranger made her an explorer, a magician, anything except just a girl. Back in her home town everybody knew whose daughter she was, whose friend, where she lived, where she studied, her grades, her hobbies, and who had left her for another. She really wanted French fries. The chicken must be pretty special too. Everyone assumed the other girl had something she didn’t, which was probably true. The chickens, she hoped, did not go through a slaughterhouse, like the one oddly located not far from the city center, back at home. She went there, once, out of curiosity, and despite the jutting blood she didn’t become a vegetarian, because, as her boyfriend used to say, “that’s life.” If you didn’t have what it took to survive, you didn’t.
She had thought she was pregnant, and wondered if she’d still grow up to be an air-hostess, or, if nothing else worked, a poet. She could never tell what she was or what she might be the way others could. She believed she was pregnant, though babies should happen with maturity, and not because you see a bleeding featherless chicken. Either way, he would never take her back with a baby. She was so certain, she stole money from his wallet and her father’s, and also from her mother’s purse, and though she wasn’t sure how much she needed, she assumed she had enough.
Above all, she believed it would be easier to find a doctor in the city. But now, walking down Dizengof Street, she knew that her growing belly didn’t house a baby, just the way the café didn’t house poets and writers and air-hostesses, despite its potential. She simply needed a lot to eat because nothing filled her up.
The busy street with its food stalls, clothing stores, graying three-story buildings and a ramp with a tub aspiring to be a fountain stood on the verge of greatness, like a superhero still wearing an office suit. She recognized the restaurant thanks to the large sign announcing liberation from silverware. The young waiter in a red t-shirt offered a bib and rubber gloves, which she declined. He smiled at her, he did, and as she chose a stool at the counter, he served her a large metal plate full of French fries and half a chicken.
Her face shimmered, and her eyes released dragonflies to the air. She sighed in relief and ripped the food with her bare hands.
Avital Gad-Cykman‘s book, the flash collection LIFE IN, LIFE OUT was published by Matter Press in 2014. Her stories have been published in The Literary Review, CALYX Journal, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, Michigan Quarterly Review and elsewhere. They have also been featured in anthologies such as W.W. Norton’s International Flash Anthology, Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction Anthology, The Flash, and The Best of Gigantic. She won the Margaret Atwood Society Magazine Prize, placed first in The Hawthorne Citation Short Story Contest, and was a finalist for the Iowa Fiction Award for story collections. She lives in Brazil.
Read an interview with Avital here.