On a Friday morning in Old City, Knoxville (a place that feels both forgotten and found), I was in a coffee shop looking out the window at a very old cemetery surrounded by a black iron fence and empty warehouses and deserted streets. But the coffee shop was an old building reimagined, modern and minimalist: it served coffee (seven different ways)—nothing else. And in the ladies’ room there was no mirror, so instead of seeing my reflection I saw a handwritten message that said, You are beautiful. And underneath that, someone else had replied, But what if I have food in my teeth? And in tiny cursive below, in yet another handwriting, it said: You are still beautiful.
That morning we were working, my daughter and I (she more than I), with laptops, coffee, and doughnuts (bought next store). There were broad rays of sunlight and dancing shadows all around and music playing, and a young couple sitting at a table nearby. He was wearing a blue and white striped button-down shirt with red lobsters embroidered all over it, khaki shorts, loafers, and black glasses. She had on a blue dress, black cardigan, black sandals, and a black headband with polka dots. They both had dark hair and were stout. They could have been brother and sister, except when they talked they gazed into each other’s eyes and gently touched each other’s arms. They finished each other’s sentences. So when she got up and walked toward the ladies’ room, I was quite certain that she wouldn’t even notice the missing mirror or even the handwritten messages—she seemed to have no need for either one of them.