Daisy loves the coffee shop. She walks a few steps, wobbling on summer heels as she balances a steamy, teeny porcelain cup of overpriced espresso, even though she prefers cheap black coffee from her favorite chipped mug at home.
When the “Regulars” go to “their” table to discuss important things like trendy restaurants, politics, or people, Daisy sits behind them and pretends to read. She eavesdrops—hangs on every word like a dog waiting for a crumb to drop, an expression of serenity draped over her face, an attempt to conceal the desperation she feels to be part of their world.
January is high season in Naples, Florida and feels like Spring. The scent of coffee flows through open windows and wafts over the sidewalk where Daisy sits outside. The “Regulars” wag their tongues almost as fast as their fluffy dog’s tails, and the purebreds are connected to expensive pink leashes with rhinestones that sparkle under the sun.
Daisy sits calmly and common like her name. She wears a second-hand floral dress from last season, purchased at a steep discount in a consignment shop on the other side of town—away from the white sand beach, where houses are small and plain—like vanilla ice cream, and an unkempt foreclosed golf course yields fields of weeds that encroach on her tiny cracked gray concrete patio.
Morning make-up masks her social unease—pale-pink lipstick, mascara, and muddy-water-colored hair too carefully twisted into a tight cinnamon bun on top of her head. But Daisy compensates for her commonness with kindness. People who do notice her tend to like her right away, though they rarely sit and talk with her unless its crowded—then they take up all the seats and discussion until she feels crowded out and the coffee grows bitter.
Hardly anyone new ever comes to this coffee shop. It’s always the “Regulars”. Daisy thinks the “Regulars” have time and money to spare—and they do. They all have perfect careers, cars, and credit. They take dreamy vacations to exotic places. Daisy thinks their fanciness is lovely, aspirational, and magical—she hopes if she sits near enough, some of it might be misted her way.
Every other Saturday morning after her paycheck is deposited, Daisy visits the coffee shop. It’s her brief escape from a dead-end job and mediocre marriage. Daisy is also a new “empty-nester” without a plan, longing for a second chapter, but bullied by the critic in her head that says its way too late for that—she’s no ‘spring chicken’ anymore and can’t afford a plastic surgeon. She did go to college—for a while—studied liberal arts, like every other lady who earned a bachelor’s degree just to say they had one or to find a husband.
Daisy plucks another romance novel and a cat hair from her oversized purple tote in the chair beside her. She reads about other people’s adventures—helpless maidens rescued by handsome knights or pirates. She fantasizes about a barrel-chested hero ripping open her bodice—not that she’s ever owned one—and breathlessly pulling her to him, unrestrained in his desire. This is what Daisy thinks about as she glances at the pretty people table, the “Regulars”, feeling hot sun touch her face and warm the cinnamon bun on the top of her head.
Her hair. She feels ashamed again at the thought of it. Her husband won’t let her cut or color it, says it’s her ‘crowning glory’. It dates her and she knows it. It’s a dull but glaring reminder of a casserole life overbaked in mediocrity, which disqualifies her from being one of the coffee shop “Regulars”.
It’s a nice coffee shop though. Lots of European tourists skipping by today, mostly in shorts and flip-flops, but some of the ladies wear linen pants or silk summer dresses—things they bought brand new but will discard for Daisy to pick up a couple of years from now in some thrift shop. It’s a perfect beach day too, the sky pearlescent blue and full of light.
Daisy lays her romance novel on the table, closes her eyes for a moment, and tilts back the last of her espresso, pinky raised. She empties her mind and reloads it with a deep visual directed at the cosmos. She knows this is silly. She learned this mental imagery stuff from her friend Sonja, whose life, frankly, hadn’t much improved. Daisy practices anyway because she keeps her word—it’s planted alongside the deep recesses of resentment in her mind, right next to the longing and rage she keeps buried under politeness.
“I thought you might like some fresh orange juice and a croissant for breakfast?” a male voice asks.
Daisy’s eyes whip open.
“You’re hungry, no?” He asks.
Daisy looks around and then points to herself.
“Yes, you,” he says, smiling, gently placing the tray down on the table before her.
The “Regulars” stop clucking and stare because—well—because this guy is so handsome he looks as if he just stepped off a Hollywood set—or out of a romance novel. Curly brown locks, barrel chest, perfect linen-pant-clad-ass and a gold embossed Patek Philippe watch.
Please, dear God, this must be a mistake, Daisy thinks. She almost chokes on her own saliva.
His eyes remind Daisy of a dark galaxy, where the connection they share makes it hard to breath and pops the clip in her hair, causing it to tumble down the back of the chair and land on the sidewalk like a mudslide.
“I’m Armand,” he says. “Beautiful hair, so natural. You should let it fall more often.”
“Um, I’m Daisy?” She says, a flush creeping along her cheeks as she shifts uncomfortably, suddenly wanting to disappear—or at least reappear as an alternate, updated version of herself—more assured, ten pounds lighter, perhaps red headed too, like the heroine in her latest novel.
“You sound unsure, beautiful lady, are you Daisy or no?” He hands her back the hair clip. He is exactly the man her husband isn’t, this hero of her romance novels come to life, who looks and dresses the way every guy in a woman’s dreams should, void of man tits and belly flab and boring dead end jobs that zap the passion from every last crevice of marriage until there’s nothing left but silent shrugs or twenty-two second grunts in the dark.
“Yes, yes, that’s me.”
Armand laughs—and it’s a laugh full of light and sun, just like this Spring day at the coffee shop, and his teeth are white and fresh and straight as a pack of Tic-Tacs. “May I? Sit with you?”
“You can sit with us!” One of the “Regulars” says, making one of her friends move and clearing a chair. She lightly pats the newly freed spot with her perfectly manicured hand and smiles like a screen queen because she’s beautiful and Daisy can tell—the woman’s had a lot of practice charming men—and likely fucking them good too.
Armand grins politely and slightly bows to them. “Thank you for your graciousness, but I rather like the view from here.”
The women giggle to keep their faces from cracking, then turn away to whisper about how they can’t possibly understand how a guy like that could sit with a woman—well—like her—one not of their “ilk”. Each takes a turn when they think the other’s not looking, trying to sneak peeks of Armand, hoping to catch his attention, this chiseled statue of a man who’s energy permeates and melts into the environment, adding radiance to everything around him.
“Yes, yes—please, sit,” Daisy says, half choking on her words, confused about why such a handsome stranger would choose to sit with her of all people when there must be at least a half dozen empty tables near her—and another five or so adorned with women, plus the “Regulars”, the most beautiful of them all.
The rapt stare he gives her, confident and proud, yet rugged and educated too, as she nibbles on her croissant, makes her insides shake and she grows even more confused—until she can stand it no more.
“Why me?” Daisy asks.
“What do you mean?”
“Why choose to sit with me when you could sit alone or with—them?” Daisy cocks her head toward the “Regulars”.
“I’m allergic to plastic,” Armand says, which causes Daisy to practically spit orange juice through her nostrils as she laughs out loud.
“Ah, laughter is music—so beautiful yet so fleeting—like youth, love, and beauty,” he says.
“Love is fleeting?” Daisy asks.
“Everything is fleeting,” he says. “The only sure thing is now—and—oh, see? That is gone too.”
Daisy furrows her brow. She detects Armand’s slight accent but it’s not European, South American or even Middle Eastern or Russian. “From where do you come originally? Are you visiting?”
“I am here to visit a friend,” he says. “A gorgeous woman who has suffered much in this life.”
Daisy feels jealous toward a woman she’s never met and considers this unknown lady, likely a model or maybe a writer, lucky beyond imagination to have Armand as a comforting visitor. She wonders if they were once or are lovers. Has he come to rescue his friend from some distress? Daisy even considers the possibility of Armand and his “friend” riding away together, away from her and Naples, in a gold Bentley. Take me instead! Daisy thinks.
“Is she in a bad marriage?” Daisy asks. “Did you come from the Far East to rescue her?”
Armand tilts his head toward the ground and folds his tan hands before taking in a slow breath. He looks into Daisy’s eyes again, which makes her feel sinful, full of desire and lust—and there’s a pulsating sensation between her legs that she hasn’t felt in years and she’s glad the folds in her floral dress hide it and also the sweat she feels trickling down a thigh.
“I’ve known her since she was a child—but she has forgotten me now—her mind ravaged by years of useless treatments and remedies that did nothing to ease her suffering or heal her.”
“That sounds so sad. Does she have some form of cancer?”
“No. But death does come to guide her out of her current vessel and into something greater.”
“Wow. I’m sorry.”
“No need to apologize.”
“I’ve never heard death described as a guide before. You make your friend’s dying sound almost magical.”
“Death is a beautiful reality, rather than a finality of an Earthly existence—a gateway to another realm where souls roam unencumbered by fatigue, hurt, or disease.”
Daisy is intrigued. Westerners do not consider death a gateway—and try to avoid death and talking about it as much as possible, she thinks.
“Oh, but now it is my turn to apologize,” Armand says. “I almost forgot, I come from a place beyond the highest mountains of Nepal—a timeless, beautiful, indescribable area called Alinas. Have you heard of it?”
Daisy shakes her head. She’s disappointed she knows nothing of his homeland and has never heard of it before. He must think her ignorant and unrefined—a typical self-centered, home-boiled American. If they all look as good as he does, she must visit. But how? There is no money and no time—there never is—plans are always moved to the future—then cancelled. She’s stuck in a caviar town with a cheap wine and carryout pizza kind of life. Maybe Alinas is the Far Eastern version of Monaco where even the lower end hotels cost hundreds of dollars per night.
“Your country sounds beautiful—and I’m very sorry to hear about your friend,” Daisy says—and she means it—her compassion overriding her passion as she reaches across the table to take Armand’s hand. He lays his palm atop hers and it’s warm like creamy caramel oozing over her fingers—but a sudden, unexpected bzzt of electricity causes her to jerk away.
“What the hell was that?” Daisy asks.
“What was what?”
“The zap I just felt—like getting shocked by static electricity, but not,” she says.
Armand shrugs then smiles. “What is life but vibration and energy? Do you feel life Daisy?”
“Only every other Saturday,” Daisy says soberly. “I mean, it’s the only time I feel like I can breath, stop, and admire.”
“Admire what?” He asks.
“Them. The Regulars,” Daisy says as she points to the high-end-label-clad women at the next table.
“What do you admire in them?” He asks.
Daisy was answer ready until Armand posed his question this way. She planned to tell him about how she admired their hair, cars, clothes, carriage, confidence—the fact they never seemed to wear the same outfit twice and that their faces were zapped of wrinkles or pores, that they could spend their days in the sun playing tennis or paying full retail for shoes that cost more than Daisy’s monthly mortgage payment. The “Regulars” knew how to pose for pictures too and were always in or on the covers of the local society magazines, the ones she scoured for hours going over every fashion detail. They wrote big checks for local charities, wearing big smiles, and big necklaces, but always maintained small waists.
But what did she admire in them? Armand had asked. She couldn’t say. Daisy had never had a real conversation with a single one of the “Regulars.”
“Look through those flawless faces Daisy,” Armand said as he snapped his fingers. Suddenly and without warning—time stopped—and everyone at the coffee shop and everywhere—froze, except for Armand and Daisy.
Daisy jumped from her seat in complete shock, stumbled backward, and fell over her hair. Armand approached to help her but she crawled behind another chair and cowered, shaking and terrified.
“Who are you?” She asked.
“That’s not what I mean. Are you human?”
“I don’t understand.”
Armand moved the chair Daisy hid behind without touching it. She crouched into a fetal position, tightly closing her eyes to shut out him and the sun—trying to make sense of something that made absolutely no sense, her mind on a spin cycle, head ready to explode. He kneeled down beside her and gently lifted her trembling chin with one finger.
“I will not hurt you, I promise,” he said—and she believed him, even though she didn’t understand what was happening. “Let’s look at these women you admire, shall we?”
This was as close as Daisy had come to the “Regulars” table with all of them sitting there frozen like mannequins, which in a strange way, wasn’t much different from what they looked like before Armand snapped his fingers to stop time. It was surreal—faces locked in mid-sentence, coffee sip, or eye roll.
“Seems this one is having an affair with this one’s husband,” Armand says as he looks over one woman’s shoulder to read her phone texts.
“What? No!” Daisy says. “Let me see!” And there it was on the screen. Daisy pried the phone from the woman’s fingers and scrolled through. “What a bitch! And she pretends to be this woman’s friend? She’s lucky the others don’t know.”
“Oh, they all know but the wife,” Armand says.
Armand nods. “They know about the younger mistress too, but they don’t tell this one, or the wife, about her.”
Armand massages the back of another woman’s hair until her wig cap comes unglued revealing she’s bald underneath on the top of her head.
“Oh my God. What are you doing?” Daisy gasps. “Cancer?”
“No. Too much bleach. It fried her real hair. See this one? Go through her purse and you’ll find she’s addicted to pills. That one there has a drinking problem—and that one over there shoplifts—and every one of them goes to therapy as a hobby. Two of them have sealed arrest records and one used to be an escort. None of them have good relationships with their kids, are miserable in their marriages, and they’re all asleep in the dream.” Armand says, sweeping his arms wide to encompass the entire street.
“I had no idea,” Daisy said in a half whisper, looking at everyone for the first time with a clearer eye, a mixture of pity, and repulsion. “They’re just—‘regulars’ like me, with newer clothes and a higher price tag.”
Armand nods. “There is no matter in matter. It’s a quite meaningless measuring stick of one’s worth on the grand galactic scale of consciousness, don’t you think?” Armand takes Daisy’s hand. “Now Daisy—think carefully about this before you answer—what is it in life you want to stop, breathe, and admire if this were your last day on Earth?”
Daisy’s eyes fill with tears. She remembers.
“Can you keep time frozen?” she asks.
“For quite a while,” he says.
“Can you move it backward?”
“You know I can,” he smiles.
Daisy’s hair is long and red. She is thin and making love on the beach. They swim among the dolphins and stingrays, which are smart enough to bypass the illusion of time. They glide over the Everglades to hunt for ghost orchids and to ride alligators. They walk among the Seminoles and hear one medicine man, untouched by time’s frozen snap. He waves and smiles at them because he knows. He is awake—and then the medicine man goes back to playing his flute among the sweet grass.
Armand darkens the skies to show Daisy a sky overloaded with stars and a full moon. Since there are no street lights, Daisy sees and feels the details of a cosmos far beyond her, but a part of her—a place usually reserved for special telescopes, and this vision lightens her heart, and frees her soul. She understands.
Daisy and Armand kayak up the Crystal River among manatees, stopping again to make love, two half-angel hybrids reunited, before heading back to Naples, where she checks in on her husband, runs her fingers through his hair, thanks him for the life he gave her, and the time too, and especially the gift of their children—the ones she goes to visit at their dorm rooms, kissing the back of their heads, hugging them one last time from this vessel she’s called “me” for more than fifty Earth years. She tells them she loves them—and she does. But it is time—her mission complete—time to go.
“Oh my God,” one of the regulars says. “Is she dead?”
“I think so,” a firefighter responds as he checks Daisy’s pulse at the coffee shop table outside. “Is she here with anyone?”
“Not that we’ve seen,” another regular says. “She’s always alone. Oh, God, what a shame.”
“What’s her name?” A paramedic asks.
The ‘regulars’ give each other blank stares. “Rosie? I think?”
“No. It’s Daphne,” says another. “Or maybe Iris?”
Two regulars take a picture as another one records a very dead Daisy slumped over at the coffee shop table because—well—you don’t see a dead person every day and the poor thing—well—just wait until people see this on Instagram.
“I bet I go viral with this one,” a regular says. “I may even reach a million followers!”
“Just glad it wasn’t any of us,” another says.
Daisy’s wilted “vessel” gets zipped into a yellow body bag and wheeled away on a gurney, to be placed in the ambulance, before heading to the morgue. A server gathers Daisy’s books and wipes off the table. She eyes the tote before handing it over to a bored policeman required to be there, or anywhere a person dies that isn’t a hospital.
The regulars resume their positions, asleep in paradise, along with the tourists and the traders—and life in Naples glitters along.