Sitting In A Cafe, a short story by JJ. Date added: 2012-01-10. Times viewed: 2237.
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Sitting in a Café
The door to the café opened with a jangle of the bell attached to the doorframe and she stepped inside wearing her new summer dress. She was slim built, medium height, with long wavy auburn hair and green eyes. Her pale complexion was only broken by the cluster of freckles across her nose. She felt slightly self-conscious, aware of her legs being two shades too pale after three seasons hidden under trousers. The summer was here now though and she was determined to make the most of it now she was young free and single again.
She was twenty-three years old and lived on her own since her boyfriend of two years announced he wanted to move on. He’d given a hundred reasons why their relationship had to end and had explained to her that it was him and not her who was at fault. It was the only thing she'd agreed with him on. She’d spent a couple of days hiding in her flat, getting used to it being her flat, getting used to being on her own. After her short bout of self-pity, she’d returned to her work as trainee manager in the city’s biggest department store and got on with her life.
Over the past couple of years, they had often past this café but had never entered. She used to go to cafés regularly with her mother when she was younger and had always wanted to try this one. Now with no one to discuss her decisions with, she finally could.
The café was cool and dark, the walls were a dark red and in need of redecoration, the floor polished but worn. The tables and chairs were solid wood, an old-fashioned relic from another time. The chairs’ upholstery matched the paint on the walls apart from the odd lighter patch sewn onto those whose upholstery had torn or worn over time. The tables were marked out in rows like a classroom, almost daring the customers to move them out of alignment.
She scanned the café, assessing how full it was. She spotted a spare table halfway up the wall that ran at a right angle to the door and made her way towards it as inconspicuously as possible. She avoided the gaze of the other customers, keeping her eyes focused on what she now considered to be her table. Her gaze never wavered. It was as though, should she lose sight of it, it would be stolen by some other party seeking to expand their current seating requirements. She gave a sigh of relief when she’d finally positioned herself on one of the chairs. The table was hers!
In the centre of the very square table, the condiments were neatly laid out. The stainless steel salt and pepper pots held up the folded menu card, which in turn hid the red and brown plastic sauce bottles. She picked up the menu and scanned its contents. The menu was pretty basic, consisting of various forms of sausage and pies all served with chips and a choice of baked beans or peas. She found herself hovering over the dessert section of the menu. The list was compiled of all her guilty pleasures; apple pie and cream, treacle tart and custard, banana split and more besides but the one that really grabbed her attention was the knickerbocker glory.
Her mind made up, she placed the menu back into position over the sauce bottles and waited. She did not have to wait long. Having relinquished her hold on the menu, she knew she had indirectly signalled to the waitress that she had come to a decision. On cue, the waitress bustled up to the table, pencil and pad in her hands. ‘What are you having pet?’ she asked in a friendly manner.
In order to fit as many table as possible into the small café, there wasn’t much space between them and she was amazed at how easily the waitress had navigated her way through. She was an older woman and had clearly been waitressing for most of her adult life. The way she carried herself, her deftness of touch when taking an order, it all appeared to come naturally to her. That impression of natural ease only comes with numerous years of practice. What amazed her about the waitress’ ability to move through the tables though was not down to her level of experience but much more to do with the fact that she was quite plump.
She liked plump waitresses. She liked them for two reasons; the first being that she always thought it was a good advert for any eatery if their staff looked like they enjoyed the food served there. If she’d ran a café or restaurant, she’d definitely employ fat waiting staff, she thought. The second reason was more to do with her own vanity. She despised skinny, stick-like waitresses regardless of how friendly they might be because it made her feel guilty if she ordered anything that was in the slightest way fattening and she always felt that they were secretly looking down on her, making her feel inferior. If she ran a café, she’d DEFINATLEY employ fat waitresses, she thought.
She smiled at the waitress, ‘I’ll have a mug of coffee and a knickerbocker glory please’, she ordered.
‘No problem pet, do you want your coffee while you’re waiting for your sweet?’ She nodded and watched the waitress make her way effortlessly back to the kitchen area. She marvelled at how easily she squeezed through the tight spaces, never once getting stuck or having to ask another customer to pull their chair in towards the table another couple of inches to let her through.
Within seconds, she’d returned from the kitchen area carrying a tray. She made her way back through to the table and deposited a mug of hot coffee, a bowl of sugar cubes and a miniature jug of milk on the table. The bowl and jug were made of stainless steel and were the same design as the salt and pepper pots. She realised then that the menu must be deliberately placed to hide the plastic sauce bottles from view to maintain the aesthetics of the table. The waitress produced a teaspoon from the pocket of her uniform and handed it to her customer. ‘The rest of your order will just be a minute pet’. She smiled and left her to her coffee.
Once the waitress had left, she added a sugar cube and half the milk from the jug to her coffee. After a quick stir, she picked up the mug with both hands and supped slowly. As she drank, she looked around at the other customers in the café. In the furthest corner of the café, a young mum was breastfeeding her baby while reading a gossip magazine. She didn’t appear to be self-conscious about feeding her baby at all. In fact, if she could detect any emotional expression on her face, it was boredom. She felt both outrage at this young mum being hidden away in a corner to feed her baby and relief that she wasn’t sitting any closer making her feel embarrassed for staring at the woman.
She turned her attention towards an old couple sat at another table. They had clearly just finished their meal and were washing it down with a pot of tea for two. She noticed that their small teapot was made of the same stainless steel design. The couple were totally focused on drinking their tea and were making a concerted effort to ensure their eyes didn’t meet. She imagined they had been married for decades and had long ago run out of things to say to each other. All that kept them together now was habit and the fear that they were dwindling ever closer to death. She liked to think it brought them comfort to face their last years together.
The people watching was interrupted by the arrival of her knickerbocker glory. Before the waitress left her to revel in her decadence, she ordered another mug of coffee. When she’d been a little girl, it seemed like all the cafes in the world sold knickerbocker glorys. Every colourful menu had the picture of the tall flowering glass. It had always looked like a vase filled with ice cream and raspberry ripple sauce but she’d never seen one in real life before now because her mother had always told her that they were too expensive. Now she was a grown up with her own flat, her own job and her own money but still she felt a little bit of guilt as she looked at the dessert in front of her. She pulled the long spoon out of the tall glass. With each mouthful, her guilt ebbed away until it had been replaced with the satisfaction of money well spent.
Whilst waiting for her second coffee, she returned to people watching within the confines of the café. At one of the other tables there sat two mothers. They had clearly met up for a chat away from the everyday humdrum of their homes. The mother with the short blonde hair appeared to be doing all the talking. Her equally blonde toddler was sat in a high chair provided by the staff. His face and his blonde fringe were coated in chocolate ice cream and he was engrossed in trying to get all the melted ice cream off his hands with a slow careful lapping of his tongue. Her friend, a brunette with frizzy hair was nodding as her friend spoke. Her little one was asleep in a baby buggy and she was rhythmically rocking the buggy back and forth with her left foot under the rear two wheels’ axle.
Behind them, two teenagers were sat at a table, a boy and a girl. They were staring into each other’s eyes as they shared a milkshake. She smiled at the sight of young love and imagined that they were on their first date, with anyone, ever. They each had an arm draped across the table. Whilst she couldn’t see their other side, she knew they would be holding hands underneath the table. She recalled those feelings of innocence and whilst she may only be twenty-three, for her it felt like a lifetime ago. Not wanting to mentally encroach on their naiveté and feel as though she was corrupting their innocence by association, she allowed her eyes to move on.
The only other customer in the café was an elderly gentleman. He was dressed in slacks and a dirty green coloured jumper despite the hot weather outside. He busied himself reading one of the broadsheet newspapers confirming her view that only the retired community had the time to read those giant pages of small print. He had a pot of tea in front of him. His teapot was ceramic rather than the standard stainless steel and much larger. She figured him to be one of the café’s regulars. A widower who broke up his empty days by popping into the café to read his paper for a couple of hours while someone else provided him with his cup of tea.
She was brought back to the real world by the arrival of her second mug of coffee. She whispered her thanks to the waitress and having added her milk and sugar cube, lifted the mug to her mouth to take a sip. The door jangled and she turned instinctively to look at who else had decided to make the café their haven.
The ‘who’ was a ‘he’ and his he-ness took her breath away. He was a handsome young man around her age. He wore light, beige coloured chinos and a yellow t-shirt. He was also wearing a very light, black cotton coat in a trench coat style which surprised her given how hot it was outside. As he walked in, she understood why. There was a swagger about this man, an air of arrogance and self-confidence that would have lost its impact without the coat. She’d observed that it was hard for young men to look good in a t-shirt unless they were particularly muscular. This young man was slender and she struck him as being the type of person who would have agreed with belief over coolness and t-shirts. He had short, dark hair and blue, intense eyes, which made his face, look overly serious. She wondered if he had a sense of humour at all.
He made his way over to an empty table across the room from her. She took another sip from her coffee and found herself wondering if he was single. She shook the thought from her head only for it to re-appear again. She was beginning to wish she’d had the breastfeeding mother’s foresight to bring a magazine with her to read. She glanced at the young man and their eyes met. Embarrassed, she quickly looked away. She found herself trying to deliberately ignore him by focussing on watching all the other customers bar him but her heart wasn’t in it. She’d already dissected their lives once and it was a chore to try and do it all over again. Before she realised what she was doing, her eyes were looking in the young man’s direction again but he was busy examining the menu. This helped her relax and she chided herself for her reaction over the first good-looking guy she’d seen since she’d been single again. She did some mental calculations and worked out that it had been eleven days and over fifteen hours since she’d been ceremoniously dumped in the pub in front of all her friends. She could cope with that but bursting into tears in front of them all had been a different thing entirely. She still cringed thinking about it and looked around the café to take her mind off it. She found herself looking at the young man for the umpteenth time and diverted her eyes.
When she looked over at him again, their eyes met for a few seconds this time. From a distance, the intensity gave his eyes a dark, brooding appearance and she found that she couldn’t hold his gaze. Feeling more than a little embarrassed for daring to stare at him for even that short period of time, she looked away. She imagined that the intensity in his eyes betrayed a passionate soul, someone who took life by the scruff of the neck and shook it into action. She wondered what he would be like in bed and quickly dispelled the thought, horrified that she had even contemplated a carnal act with a man she hadn’t even met. She glanced nervously across at him as though fearful of him reading her thoughts. This time he rose from his seat.
A slight panic welled and her heart quickened. ‘He’s coming over’, she thought as her face reddened. He glanced at her and smiled. Before she could react, he pushed over the table, pulled a gun from his coat pocket and shouted, ‘This is a hold up! Nobody fucking move or I’ll blow your fucking head off!’
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