Reception. Observation. Perception. Emotion.


Outside the mild afternoon rains continue to fall, while inside the relaxing whir of espresso machines fills Greenville’s latest Barnes & Noble bookstore and adjoining Starbucks coffee shop. I sit alone at a small circular table, burnt orange in hue, while reading Dostoevsky and soon resolving to write my own impressions of my immediate surroundings. My table forms part of a long line situated snugly against an ebony barrier about four feet high that divides the coffee shop from the rest of the store. A couple sits at the table next to mine playing a card and dice game, which the man introduces to his partner as the game of “Cheating.” The man is older, perhaps in his early fifties, clad in a maroon sweater and tan casual slacks, and wearing white Nike sneakers. His hair is dark gray and neatly combed, and his wire-rimmed glasses adorn an inconspicuous face. His voice betrays his refined southern heritage; it is subdued yet subtly animated as he explains the rules of the game. As their contest unfolds, he chuckles intermittently at his ever-changing predicament. The woman, who is overweight but not offensively obese, is discernibly more expressive than the man, at some points laughing mischievously and at others accusing him of bending the rules or at the very least seeming a bit too lucky. Yet her voice is ever coupled with some measure of restraint, politely conscious of the other patrons. Her back is to me the entire time; she has on dark denim jeans, stylish black boots, and a long-sleeved shirt only a shade lighter than our table tops. Her hair is mostly straight and brownish with streaks of blonde here and there. She appears about fifteen years younger than her opponent. Over the course of the game a die rolls off their table three times, and is in each instance accompanied by a brief whispering laugh from one or both of them, a silent acknowledgement of the possible disruption they have caused. At one point the woman insists that the man is cheating, but in a tone that reflects her obvious lack of any real irritation. The man responds with a playfully sinister laugh and exclaims, “I love it!” but only as loudly as the most austere fellow customer would be willing to tolerate. At intervals he tutors her on the rules of the game; likewise she audibly figures out its various aspects, finally giving her stamp of approval to the game of “Cheating.” After an hour or so they leave their table, and soon enough I do the same, hoping to read the rest of Notes from Underground later that evening.

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