He did not know when he had first started watching her. It was as if he really had no concept of time or maybe time just did some sort of unrehearsed dance when he got near her, as if the moments, minutes and hours themselves could not be trusted in her company. And while he could not really recall the whens of the first time he saw her, other details were still almost too sharp and clear, like a favorite painting where one can touch the colors and feel the shapes slip off the white bluff of canvas and slide under the skin.
In fact, he was not even sure what it was he first noticed about her... It had been a warm night in New Orleans, the French Quarter, one of those perfect jewels of an evening where a sickle of silver moon seemed to crowd out the sky and all the stars stood at attention as if waiting for something to happen. The soft blue moan of jazz had caught his feet on Bourbon Street and nearly tripped him up, spilling him out through the crowd on his way to Cafe du Monde, savoring the voodoo he could feel rolling off the night sky, and the brush of warm skin and breath from those surrounding him. He loved being too close to strangers. He loved how their clothes teased his own in a crowd and how their eyes played tricks with his memories and how their words cocooned his heart.
The Cafe was a favorite spot for him. From there he could watch the city make its way through his world. He could study walks and voices and faces, and imagine conversations, and contemplate lives that would never intersect, except in his dreams. Some nights he would bring along his sketch pads and charcoal pencils and colored pastels and draw, sketching the faces, the bodies, the bits and pieces of scenery that caught his attention. He loved the supple feel of the paper sliding under his hands, and the way the charcoal's rough black scratches rippled from his fingers and how the colors spilled light and shadow, catching the circus smiles of tourists sipping their coffee or the bright flashes of flowers and trees that played hide and seek with the street lamps as he filled sketch pads with what his heart ached to touch and make his own.
And it was on such a night that he first saw her. Just a simple woman in simple clothes sitting a few tables away. He could not pinpoint what made him aware of her presence because at first it was such a subtle intrusion into his world. The air around him slowly changed, vibrating with a faint perfume he knew from his past and he could feel a twist of words from half forgotten poems make its way across his fingers, causing him to put down his pencil, pulling his attention from the horse and carriage he was sketching, and placing his focus on the woman. His view of hert started in profile - a delicate slope of forehead and full arch of cheek, and a mouth that even from where he sat, promised what daring men should not think about. Slowly she turned to face him and in that nameless instant, he felt the night slip and spin like a giddy toy that he could not control or even hold in his hands. He became aware of every nuance of her simultaneously, and yet would have been hard pressed to describe her features in detail.
There was a sudden, sharp intake of breath, but he could not determine the origin - perhaps from a neighboring table of other guests who also had found themselves caught off-guard by the woman's disquieting presence. Everything about her seemed to assault him all at once, from the heat he could feel shimmer around the length of her tucked into the table, to the distracted dance of her long fingers against the china cup curled against her palm like a lazy cat. He watched, mesmerized, as she lifted the cup to her lips, a small flash of moist pink running the cup's rim and could feel the warm brown silk fill her mouth. He could feel the pucker of those lips against the cool porcelain and let his mind riot at how that pucker would grow tense and then bloom under his own as his tongue took her measure. His eyes followed the cup's return to the table and then her hand to where it came to rest over a pendant that dangled moon bright and quick against the cream skin blooming like a magnolia under her blouse. He could hear the leaves...and those petals...exhale as her fingers twisted around the chain, wrapping it around her fingers, and he longed to place his fingers over that delicate beat of skin he could see flush the base of her throat. Her skin seemed to be comprised of a thousand shades, the soft colors reflecting the lights over her head - the flecked brown of her eyes giving way to the pink blush of her cheeks, the faint tinge of blue that glistened across her collar bone rising to meet the deep burnished gold of hair that rioted over her shoulders and fell like soft reeds against her throat.