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  • It was the kind of place people went to eat meals while peering at others across the room. Men wore long, fur coats and hunched over their Wienerschnitzels while ladies with closely cropped black hair and bottlecap glasses ordered kaffee und kuchen at four o’clock sharp.

    My boyfriend and I feigned interest in our cake. We were overwhelmed by the cast of characters in the room and the art on the walls — imitations and gaudy unknowns next to real Chagalls and Miros. An elderly man lumbered into the room and took the booth next to us. He was dressed in a dark blue suit that announced his arrival. The waiters took their cue and served him without words. They put the usual in place: a vase of roses and one cup of hot tea with lemon and milk. When they left, he drew a deep breath, placed his elbows on the table and lowered his head into the cradle of his hands.

    Above him sat a painting. It was a storm of burnt siennas, ochres and black crows looming over him in perfect poise. My boyfriend and I went silent, unable to deflect the oppressive mood. It pervaded our space like a scent.

    After a half hour, we left the restaurant and wandered through the streets. We kept silent, violated by this invasion of abstract grief. It separated us — forced us to go inside ourselves as we looked emptily into shop windows, lost in our own thoughts. That night we took the ferry across the lake, the boat slipping over the dark water as we wondered if we could ever come back to shared thoughts again.
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