Marie, an acquaintance at the cafes, told me the following story: She was twenty years old and inside the big ferry that took people back and forth between Dover, in England, and Calais in France. The Rolling Stones were there, going to France for a tour. They had a truck loaded with equipment, and they stood around talking quietly, not making a fuss about themselves. “Keith Richard, he give me a smile,” Marie said, a couple of times, still proud. She said she’d been walking past the group, trying to get a look, and she’d been holding her little daughter Catherine, who was then just a year old but is now forty-two.

We were talking because Marie just had a biopsy and is now waiting to hear what her specialist has to say. You can see the poignance in this situation — present-day Marie and Marie as a lovely young mother with child. She’s scared right now, and it takes a few minutes’ talk before she brightens up and remembers the Keith Richards moment. But even at the best of times, when Marie is her usual, high-spirited self, there is still something wrong with her. She told me once that she had been on a heavy prescription tranquilizer for years, against anxiety, and I guess I would describe her as zonked. Her gaze rarely comes together. She’s big and vague, and she has trouble judging what’s what: when she sees a familiar barista, she acts like a friend is back from Europe. For someone who hangs out in coffee shops, she has no idea how to talk indoors; you have to gently talk her down and lower her volume.
To tell the truth, it’s a relief when you notice that she has clean clothes, that her hair is styled. She isn’t a derelict and she’s got a life. I see her with friends sometimes, other old folks, and she talks a lot about her two daughters. She has an apartment and invited me to Sunday afternoon party, and of course I forgot to go. But she was fine with that; lots of other people had been there.
My favorite Marie story is when I bought a new laptop and she was poking her finger at one pretty picture or another on the screen.  “Ah, c’est beau,” she said, and she lunged from the hips; her finger got to the screen first, but her whole torso was in train. “Marie, pas de doigts, s’il vous plait,” I told her.  She said, “Oh, pardon,” but a moment later she was lunging again: “Ah, c’est belle!” If she likes looking at something, she wants to touch it.
A friend, another cafe rat, told me once that he thought Marie was infantile. That’s right in its essential part: she really is like a child, something I didn’t put together until my friend pointed it out. But normally “infantile” implies brattishness, and Marie is a sweetheart. She really wanted to keep her fingers off my new screen, but then she saw that picture of a sand dune and forgot herself. I guess “childlike” would do it, but the word makes me think of a poet with a childlike vision or of a girl who has a childlike seriousness. With Marie it’s an all-over, universal, constant childlikeness, and I feel that a term with a clinical sound is called for. To me it’s like her stages of development have been razed right back to the ground floor; lucky for her she was a happy child, because all those other years have been wrecked.
Her attention doesn’t last, which is good in a way. We have a couple minutes of talk, always a lively and agreeable couple of minutes, and then she says, “Au revoir, Tom. Goodbye, Tom” and I go back to my computer. Yesterday I saw her in conversation with another man, one who kept her longer than she wanted. He was sitting, she was standing, and as they talked Marie started to flex and straighten at the knees; her chin bobbed bob up and down. She looked like a ten-year-old who wanted to climb something.
Anyway, that’s the rundown on Marie. Her appointment with the specialist is Thursday, and now that I think of it, I leave town Friday for a couple of weeks in New York. So who knows when I’ll find out whether she has cancer. I like her, and I make a point of listening when we talk, but really I’m a good acquaintance, not a good friend.

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