Cafe Disloyalty

Today, I am to write about the space in which I write. Yet, that very topic brings me face to face with the current crisis that I face.

Perhaps ‘crisis’ is a tad dramatic.

Yet, as I sit here in this new space, two doors down from my old space, I’m feeling a little anxious. Admittedly a little less anxious than I was a few minutes ago as I tried to approach the new space from a different direction so that the owners of the old space wouldn’t see me. Having memorised my name and coffee order within two visits, I imagined them calling out my name in enthusiastic greeting, only to fade on the last syllable as I slinked past them to the other place.

Cafe loyalty or, calling it as it is, disloyalty.

I wanted to be loyal. I really did. I’d made headway with remembering the names of the staff and other fellow patrons. I was enjoying the free newspaper and the feeling of belonging.

I just wasn’t enjoying the coffee.

That’s a problem when you’re sitting in a cafe.

It’s not that I’m a coffee snob. I actually would have been OK with an instant coffee. It was just that this particular blend, in the form of my customary ‘long black’, was literally making me shudder each time a took a mouthful. That’s a problem when you’re trying to look friendly, appreciative, and, well, just normal, really.

So, while I don’t take kindly to disloyalty in any area of life, I had to make the decision. It felt cruel. The reality is, they may not even notice I’m no longer a regular patron…? This is not likely, given that when I visited yesterday, they said ‘So good to see you back after being away for work.’

One thing that nearly held me there, in the old space, clutching my coffee with determination and preemptive shuddering, was the free newspapers and the crossword found therein.

But now I’m here in the new space, with a much better coffee for my tastes, brighter surroundings, free wifi and – you guessed it – a free newspaper.

Coffee and Crossword

Coffee and Crossword

What else can I do, but embrace disloyalty? With time, my disloyalty will become a new loyalty, to a new writing space.

Watch this space.

Postscript: I turned to the crossword. Someone had got there before me. Could this be my punishment for disloyalty?

Two minutes later: the friendly,  loyalty-seeking waitress just brought me the other newspaper in the cafe (after another loyal patron had finished with it). The crossword therein is as yet untouched. I believe I’m hooked.

Free Writing – Day #4

The aim: to get writing again.

The method: using Free Writing Prompts from this list, over the next couple of weeks. Today’s prompt is in bold at the beginning of the piece.

The time limit: 15 minutes

Location: the communal cafe table at The Drugstore in Summer Hill.

The stain will not come out, no matter how hard I try.

I love these old linens from another time. They belonged to a dear friend whom I loved. A hero, a model of hospitality and style, a pioneering spirit.

I could keep soaking the tablecloths in ‘Vanish’ – though I feel I should give that up.

I should sit and be OK with those echoes of cups of tea shared, or sipped quietly alone. At least they’re not rust spots. Rust spots on old linens are just a tragedy. Perhaps not a tragedy in global terms, but on the domestic scene those spots represent a fear of using special things. Keeping those special things, never using them, simply reserves them for the conquering advance of rust and the invasion of the moth.

Likewise, those sharp creases, where long ago the cloths were lovingly laundered, starched, ironed, folded and placed in the back of the linen press for an age.

Not so, these linens. They’ve  been used. Cared for, but used.

A photo of a section without stain.

A photo of a section without stain.

I remember sitting with my conquering hero at her table, the table that is now my table, covered with one of these cloths. Both the cloth and I were cared for.

My hero was a real gem – a woman with the name of a gemstone – a rich, red, gem of a woman, living a rich, passionate life for the glory of her God and for others.

I miss her. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

But I’ll keep bringing out those cloths – dressing the table with the linen that gives a surface soft to the touch – not sticky like the varnished wood beneath it.

I’ll sit there by myself, making my own stains. I’ll sit there with others giving them freedom to make their stains too. ‘Vanish’ will get the new stains out. Nothing will get the old stains out. They’re fading a little with time and use.

I trust they’ll not fade too much. There’s memory in those stains.

I also play Scrabble at this table...just not with these letters!

I also play Scrabble at this table…just not with these letters!

Free Writing – Day #3

The aim: to get writing again.

The method: using Free Writing Prompts from this list, over the next couple of weeks. Today’s prompt is in bold at the beginning of the piece.

The time limit: 15 minutes

Location: the communal cafe table at The Drugstore in Summer Hill.

That girl's face

That girl’s face

Tracing the outline of her face from a photograph, she took her imagination back with her to the age she was then.

She’d been counselled to imagine what life might have been like if her Kindergarten teacher hadn’t selected her, the tallest girl, and him, the tallest boy and had them lay down on butcher’s paper – long lengths of butcher’s paper. They were tall, after all.

The other children, of more ordinary height, were then instructed to trace around these extraordinary specimens.

Perhaps the outlines were decorated by the class before the lengths of paper were pinned on the front wall of the classroom for the rest of the term? No, in her mind’s eye, she sees them clearly – black outlines on white paper.

Her life on a wall – an unremarkable outline of a remarkable height. Nothing of her inner life. No decoration. Nothing worth remarking on, nothing but her height.

They’d traced a path for her that day – a thick black outline before her – a shape that time would fill with expectations – mostly other people’s expectations.

What if the teacher had asked that girl and, let’s not forget, the boy, to take a day or two to fill their outline with shades of their heart, splashes of their dreams, spatters of their fears, brave stabs of the brush to mark the hurts – all covered with a wash of bright hope and dreams for the future?

Perhaps if that girl had been given a brush, way back then, something more than the restraints of an outline drawn by others would have appeared on that wall for all to see.

In its place, there might have been an announcement to the world of the whispers of her inner world. A beautifully coloured understanding of who she was – before others had a chance to colour it for her.

Imagine that!

Could she? She would certainly need a little time. A pen in place of a brush. Beautiful writing paper in place of the butcher’s offering.

She’d begin by tracing again the lines of that girl’s face in the photograph. She’d note the subtle colours of her face and hair, the shy dimple on her cheek as she smiled. Then she’d look deep into those blue-grey eyes and find some truer colours there.

Free Writing – Day #2

The aim: to get writing again.

The method: using Free Writing Prompts from this list, over the next couple of weeks. Today’s prompt is in bold at the beginning of the piece.

The time limit: 15 minutes

Location: the communal cafe table at The Drugstore in Summer Hill.

He was known for his coffee order.

He was known for his coffee order.

After the door shuts and the footsteps die, all he’s left with is a pounding headache and a dull, indeterminable despair.

He’d invited his friend to join him at the table – no, wait, his friend had actually invited himself! Before that he had been quite happy sitting at the cafe table alone, with the distraction of the free newspaper, a half-completed crossword and his satisfactorily completed architectural designs.

He was a regular customer at the cafe and the girl at the counter had anticipated his order of a ‘Long Black’ as he’d entered. That felt good. Being known. Though, let’s face it, she only knew his coffee preference.

Then in came his old mate – more of an acquaintance really. As the mate settled into the chair next to him at the communal table, a feeling of impending doom settled in for the duration.

This mate thought he knew this guy really well! Thought he could get him sorted! Thought he knew the insights that would soothe this troubled soul sitting next to him. And so he declared,

‘We’re just sperm banks, mate!’

‘I don’t know about that…’

‘Well, I do know! I’m telling you, that’s all we are to them, mate!’

‘Well…actually…I had a pretty good relationship with a woman for 24 years.’

‘Yeah, but we’re more than that. We don’t need them! We’ve got our work, our skills, our success. Those women want to reduce us to nothing!’

The mate continued his pronouncements with the occasional thumping of the table and an occasional ‘Listen to me, mate!’ to ensure his point was clearly heard.

The ‘listening man’ had given up listening some time ago – or at least he wished he could stop listening – making occasional furtive glances around the cafe, hoping the girl seated at the other end of the table was not hearing this soul-crushing, emasculating diatribe.

His friend meant well…one would hope.

The well-meaning friend certainly felt better as he got up to leave the cafe.

‘I enjoy our little chats!’

The man, who’d earlier rejoiced in being known for his coffee preference, waited a few minutes after his friend’s departure, pretending to be interested in the free newspaper on the table before him.

Then he stood up to leave, with a sigh. Picking up his architectural designs, he glanced at the woman at the end of the table. Then he left, closing the door behind him, wishing he could have got to know more about her – starting with her coffee preference.

Free Writing – Day #1

The aim: to get writing again.

The method: using Free Writing Prompts from this list, over the next couple of weeks. Today’s prompt is in bold at the beginning of the piece.

The time limit: 15 minutes

Location: the communal cafe table at The Drugstore in Summer Hill

A man gets into a cab at the airport after a long flight from there to here. A cabin that had been filled with sounds: the dull, persistent, but reassuring sound of the engines; the snores of sleepers – regular and yet irregular enough to be annoying; the faint chatter of flight attendants in the galley. Mercifully, the children behind him had fallen asleep.

He had been seated in that full cabin with a head full of angst. No mercy, no let up. He envied those who slept soundly. There was no sleep for him.

He’d tried the mindfulness exercises they’d taught at the staff development day at work. He tuned into the rhythmic snoring of his neighbour in seat 11A. He took note of the tingling in his feet. He acknowledged the nervy, jumpy pulses in his legs – not quite giving in to the urge to jump up and run down the aisle.

All that simply reminded him of the jumping and running he had given into a mere 11 hours earlier.

He’d jumped off that sofa, hastened out of that apartment, muttering without conviction, ‘I’ll be in touch.’

He wouldn’t be. He’d had a fright. He’d come close to the edge of entanglement with the life of another.

As he sat now, in the back of the cab, taking the last leg of his flight from commitment, he congratulated himself. He sighed and sank back into the worn vinyl, finally achieving a state of mindfulness as he noticed the faint scents of tobacco, liquor, perfume and vomit – vainly covered by the Lone Pine air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.

The mindful moment lasted but one moment.

Soon he was anticipating the clean lines of his home, the clean floor, the luxurious leather of his sofa, the perfectly placed lamps and objets d’art.

His shelter.

It had been a close call! But, once again, he’d escaped to the warm embrace of solitary familiarity.