Lunch at café close to the water

Ailing Zhou

She walks into a café by the lower end of the Hudson

to check off a box

the front is rustic but the girl who takes her order is almost

Futuristic her speech the exact same inflection as she jumps from

Thai name to Nigerian name to German name

her beam on pause as one shuffles away and another shuffles forward

an order of their famous B. L. T. which stands for

butterscotch lavender toast

a seat beside a couple who haven’t spoken since 2015

each taking a compatibility test on their phones which she also wants a link to

but then she leans over and sees that she’s already taken it

instead she takes a picture of her toast and posts it to Instagram and tags the café

which reposts to their story and makes her feel a little human

She gets a message from someone who sees it and asks if she finds

all the fork-scraping annoying so she hears it then

Metal scratching back and forth on ceramic yet

no one has taken a bite

the food now shriveled up while the hand still moves

forward and backward careening between egg and rocket and

Pomegranate seeds

Stranger texts again exclaiming the kismet of their encounter

in New York City so they should do this again in Soho

at that place with the automated pudding

she replies sure with her two most recently used emojis and then

brings her B. L. T. back to the counter to be recycled where the girl

is standing with a face so blank she can’t help but pin her own glassy eyes

On her until the girl snaps and tells her to just

get out

Ailing Zhou is a Chinese-born Singaporean writer who was raised in China, Singapore, and the UK. She is a recent graduate of Duke University, where she received her B.A. in English. She is currently working on her first novel.