The cafe was half full. Mouths moved in a mindless tidal flurry. Pete fidgeted in his seat at a table for two near a window which looked out onto the street. The air outside was hatched with lines of rain and umbrellas marched past. Feet moved with purpose. Pete’s attention panned from the window to a clock on the wall. The clock hands made no sound. She was late. A fly landed upon his hand, he slapped it into a small pool of blood. The pieces of fly were swept away promptly.
A waitress approached, they both spoke about something – he may have ordered another coffee – and she left. He observed her shapes as she visited each table. Her body spoke; she was tired. Pete lost interest in her and noticed that another fly had landed on his hand – it had accomodated the same spot as the fly before. He attempted to swat this new fly, however he missed and the insect whizzed about his head before taking refuge on some wall space near the clock. The time was the same as before.
He felt the waitress brush past his chair. A coffee sat in front of him. Someone started talking behind him, their words gently buzzed in the back of his head. “These eggs are not right; they are cold.” Sorry – Pete spoke for the waitress under his breathe.
“Sorry, I’ll get you a new breakfast.” The waitress was apologetic to this unseen customer.
Pete’s coffee cup was now empty. The clock showed the same time as before. He may have been sat at the table for days or weeks, he could not remember. The waitress brought a huge plate of eggs and bacon to the dissatisfied customer behind him. The smell of food clung to him long after the food had disappeared from sight.
A small mound of sugar appeared on the table as sachets began to empty; Pete then spread the granules out into strange patterns. An ant marched across the table surface towards the sugar, Pete squashed it and flicked away the remains; he then went on to pinch a small collection of sugar granules and sprinkled them into a small puddle of coffee that had been clumsily spilt over the table. The coffee had assumed the shape of the bottom of his coffee mug and had started to dry, leaving a memory before him – evidence that time was in fact passing in a linaer sequence. The puddle of coffee seemed to bleed and outline every tiny molecule in front of him, etching an unknown script into the textured table surface. What did these words say? Nothing. They were chaotic and unintelligible marks of the past. Pete’s eye raised up from the table to see Claire sitting across from him. She was smiling and so very still. She looked like a photograph.
“You’re late.” Pete’s face folded, his eyes flicked downwards and he swept away another ant from the table.
“Am I?” Claire’s face did not seem to move as she spoke. She continued to wear her Hollywood smile. Pete’s eyes panned over to the clock again. It was the same time as before. The fly was still there.
“I want you to come home.” His words were familar, as if he had said this sentence before. Claire did not respond for a moment or two. She picked up a menu and began to scan through a list of hot drinks.
“Home?” Finally, she spoke, albeit into her menu. “You know I can’t. That place is no longer my home. Wow, coffee isn’t cheap this side of town.”
“Why? All of your things are still there. Come on, that must mean something. That must mean you intend to come back?”
Claire nodded over to the wandering waitress, who suddenly appeared beside her.
“A cappuccino and coffee, please.” Claire handed the menu to the waitress; who then dissipated from view. Two coffees arrived moments later – she had got the order wrong. Neither Pete nor Claire mentioned this to the waitress.
“Two fifty for a coffee I didn’t order.” Claire’s face warped into a grimace as she drank from the cup. “How hard is it to get-”
“Fuck, Claire! No one cares about the fucking coffee!” Pete’s fists struck down hard and left the shapes of sugar strewn across the table.
“You’re insane. This is why I left you.” Claire’s words remained with him long after she had gone.
Two coffees, cold. Pete asked for another. The empty seat was now occupied by a man with glasses. He asked his assistant to fetch him a coffee too. The man had a beard of experience and a clinical stare. He looked Freudian with his palms pressed into a sloppy prayer position in his lap. The scene around him changed.
The cafe was an office. The clock showed the same time. Flies everywhere.
“For fuck sake Doc, open a window! Let the flies leave here. I hate their buzzing; it hurts my brain.” Pete’s eye moved around the room after each flying menace. He clapped into the air. A small smear of blood painted his palms.
“There are no flies, Pete.” The doctor’s speech was a collection of precisely-picked, rational words.
Pete looked down at his clean hands. There were no flies, no ants, no sugar, no cafe and no waitress messing up her orders. Even the coffee he had thought he was drinking was just glass after glass of air – nothingness touching his lips like a caffinated dream. All that remained was the man who sat opposite, his eyes looking into Pete as if trying to decode him.
The bearded man leaned in, over the desk, towards Pete. He placed a cigarette into Pete’s mouth, flicked his thumbs and inspired a small flame. The bearded man then shifted back into his chair. Pete stared through the smoke, the man infront of him appeared as an apparition. The plumes of smoke danced around his face creating an image of semi-existence. The image of the man dissipated as the office began to change. The desk became a diner table, the assistant became a waitress and Claire returned to him. Two coffees, cold.
Pete smiled at Claire. She remained still like the photo in his wallet. Her stare was clinical. Was she going to return home? Pete’s mouth started to open. The image in front of him raised an open palm as if to ask him to remain silent. He did.
Claire’s hands came together in her lap and formed a sloppy prayer gesture. Flies everywhere. The mouth in front of him began to open. She was going to tell him that she loved him and wanted to move back home. That she wanted to forget the arguments, the mistakes, the clenched fists, the backs up against the walls and visits to A and E. She was going to tell him: ‘Let’s make this work, Pete.’
Finally, she spoke: “Now, Pete, we need to have a long discussion.” Yes. This is it.
“This may not be as easy as I first anticipated.” Here we go. She’s going to say it.
“We need to talk about is this ‘Claire’ you keep referring to.”
I want to share your mouth,
breathe in the fever
and spit it out
and answer the questions
your body asks.
they move and create
another heartbeat between us.
Sweat, like a lake,
in this lucid state
we move and slide
to sex out the demons from inside
and bring us up for air,
for a moment of
eyes rolled back;
heart attack –
love, death, fear,
it’s all here
to push us onward
to the place we love the most:
ripped up, cut up
and broken in a fixed moment of completeness,
a tide of calm,
in each other’s arms.
I woke up ill, with whisky-breath and half of a head. Arms stretched out into the scattered shapes of sun which had managed to squeeze between the blinds. Rose always complained about the light in the mornings. My fingers went searching for skin – a breast, a handful of ass or a piece of inner thigh. There was empty space next to me. I sat up half-asleep with hair meshed into an insane shape and waited for a moment before standing. A dressing gown, a pair of glasses and unsteady footwork. I was still drunk.
I found Rose naked, sat on the decking. Her eyes looked out over the flames above the town.
The sun was still rising. Its light had discoloured the undersides of the clouds above it. Rose moved with the light and her face split into a pretty smile for me, then she turned back towards the horizon and her smile faded. It was a flash of fleeting happiness, as if seeing me had momentarily given her the chance to gasp for air before submerging and then continuing to drown. Gingerly, I sat next to her. The sunlight cut golden shapes from Rose’s profile and made her shine. My arm stretched out and dragged her into me. Her head sunk into my chest. Her tears made my chest wet. My hands combed her hair softly.
“Rose, you realise we need to leave here and can never return?” I spoke to the colours of autumn in her hair. She nodded. Her head rose out from my chest and she looked at me. Last night’s mascara made patterns below her eyes. Our faces moved. Her lips were electric. Whisky-kissing with teeth and last night’s breath. Softly, gently our faces separated. Her eyes, like molten glass, burned. She was strong. Stronger than any person I had ever know. She was strong enough to leave her old life behind, to kill it with fire and run away kicking the flames from her heels. We could not restore what we had done. Last night birthed the darkness in us both. She embraced me tight before pushing herself to her feet and extending a hand.
“We need to go now, Toby,” Rose said, her smile flashed once again, “I’ll pack our clothes and the money; you make the body fit in the car somehow.”
Yesterday, I found a dead man at the side of a road. I had never journeyed down that road before and I forget the reason I was even travelling that far away from civilisation. Fields beyond more fields and not a house for miles. Far enough away from humanity to get lost. I had been walking for days and then, on what felt like a Tuesday, I found him. A collection of broken shapes; a heap of death. The man’s clothes were rusty with dried blood and his mouth was streched into an strange shape. His eyes stared up into and beyond the sky.
His wallet was held together by receipts and loyalty cards from coffee shops with exotic names. One more cappucino and he would’ve received a free muffin. Someone had stolen all of this dead man’s change and left him nothing for his dark journey.
I propped the man up against a tree, straighten his lapel and cleaned some dried blood away from his face. There was darkness waiting upon the hills. I could see the sinking sun in his eyes as I tidied his hair. My fingers pressed his mouth into a smile. I stood back and observed the man I had restored. I sat beside his body and looked into the horizon. The night continued to stain the sky. The dead man’s hand laid out, palm exposed, begging for a ticket to escape. My hands searched my pockets and found a handful of change. I placed a coin on his palm and pressed his fingers until they cracked into a fist.
This was it. The big send off. The big fuck you to the rest of the world. It was me and him.
The darkness greeted us. I pulled my gun from my belt and stared at its shine. I bit down hard on the muzzle of the gun; the metal burned my teeth cold. A worthless thief. A killer. And a fucking coward.
I lowered the gun and stared out into the night. Nothingness everywhere. It did not deserve to die, not after killing this man. I picked myself up to my feet and threw the gun out into the fields of hanging black. I turned to the man, my hand full of coins and scattered them at his feet; I gave the dead man all of my change. A slither of moon scattered light sparingly onto my frame. A collection of broken shapes. I walked out into the darkness to lose myself, to lose what I had become.