Paul is a reasonably fashionable middle manager of medium height, neat dark brown hair and green eyes that receive, on average, two compliments a day.
He crept into the living room and, on noticing me, dropped his briefcase.
“Hey,” I yawned. After two years, we’d run out of work related conversations. He worked as a customer service manager for a bank and I happily trudged along as a kitchen hand until I was laid off and between jobs.
“Hi. Sorry the party went on until late.”
His work put on a song and dance at a city hotel. Something about rewarding the corporate front line for their efficient service. The managers were further rewarded with a holiday to Hawaii or a discount on their house mortgage. Dependable Paul decided on the latter – without taking a moment to ask me.
“What’s the time?”
“Just after 4.”
“What?” I sat upright. “How late are you?”
“Relax, it’s morning.”
I yawned, “Must have been a fun party.”
Paul’s co-workers didn’t seem like the fun partying type. Most were married new parents that were mortgaged to the hilt.
“I met up with a couple of the boys in commercial.”
It seemed reasonable. They could afford the trendy bars and table dancers – not that it bothered me. Paul couldn’t afford to be a regular cabaret patron. The dancers didn’t accept anything less than fifty dollars in the band of their g-string or between their cleavage. I knew the boys by name only. Jason, Richard and Tony and they never called our home or invite us to theirs. Single and up for fun at all hours of the day, the boys got together at any given opportunity.
“Jason and Richard?”
“Tony bailed out. Met a girl.”
Other wives would, and do, grill their husbands based on strange logic. If one met a girl, then the rest followed. Paul was more regular than Big Ben. He returned home without any telltale signs.
“Aren’t you going to have a shower before work? It doesn’t look like you’ll get any sleep.”
“I have a flex day tomorrow. I booked it in early,” said Paul, smiling.
“Yeah, I was planning on getting some things done.”
Like taking the car for a service, visiting his parents and the regular things all devoted sons do. Paul couldn’t be faulted and his parents were the loveliest in-laws around. I don’t jest. Julie, his mother, would call to say hello not grill me about her son. His father, Tony, doted on Julie and never forgot a birthday, anniversary or the anniversary of their first date.
“Your usual errands?”
“Maybe a spot of lunch?”
I thought more along the lines of a romantic morning in bed. It didn’t have to be in bed. It could have been in the kitchen, garage…anywhere.
“I’ll be off then. Goodnight.” Paul leaned forward and puckered up. One peck later and he disappeared into the bedroom. There were no sexual undertones. I’d made that mistake months before, sidling up to his naked body after a shower to be politely rejected. I had learned my lesson.
The wind didn’t bite, it wreaked havoc. It reached into my hair, fiercely tangling it. When will I realise that sitting at the farthermost table doesn’t protect me from the wind if the café doesn’t install windbreakers?
“Excuse me?” I called the waitress. She was the only waitress at the café. A miserable wretch. Her face was more proficient at frowning than smiling. I wasn’t old, but understood the complaints the elderly made about the young. She wasn’t a day over twenty-two and every thing and every one was to blame.
“Hm? What would you like?” She flatly spat the question out.
“A cappuccino and a chocolate croissant,” I said, hoping she’d remember both. The sacrifices patrons make. Great coffee is like orgasms. Once it’s attained, there’s no turning back. I returned to my small suburban café at the end of each week. The coffee served as a pick-me-up, a preparation for the mundane weekend ahead.
The waitress disappeared and I fished out my half crushed packet of cigarettes. I kept it a secret. Old enough to know how terrible smoking was and mentally handicapped to continue smoking, I lit up ahead of time. Usually, I waited for the fresh cup of coffee to arrive. Then I’d light up, strain my ear for the crackle of tobacco, and finish the cigarette before I was halfway through my coffee. That’s how life was each Friday.
The waitress returned with only my cappuccino. Whether it was the wind or a couple of wayward hormones, I’d had enough. Gazing into the waitress’s scowling face, I matched her frown.
She pursed her lips, “Oh…yeah.”
I looked around and into the café. I was the only patron outside, and two others sat inside. How difficult could one croissant be?
“Thank you,” I said.
It was just like me. I said thank you to those who’d trample over my self-respect and courteousness. I’d nod and agree to thinks like rescheduling my Pap smear appointment to work someone’s lunch shift. When the waitress finally returned with my still cold croissant, I snapped.
“Do you have any fucking common sense?” I asked, vocal chords strained and hands balled into fists. “Are you that wound up? Do you think you’re the only person with issues? Have a look around you…everyone has some sort of problem or another. One coffee and one croissant. How fucking difficult can it be?”
My voice must have carried over. The owner raced out and reached my table in less than five minutes, no doubt to ask the same idiotic question.
“Is everything all right?” he asked, his dark brows rising.
I rolled my eyes. “Does it look like it is? I’m not paying for this,” I spat, pointing at the stale croissant.
“I’m so sorry.”
“For as long as you’re paying her to serve people, you’ll always be apologising. Look around you. How many regulars do you have? They’ve dwindled—”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” he said. Quite typical.
“Just stating an obvious truth.”
“Consider the coffee and croissant on the house,” he said, exchanging glances with the waitress. The waitress glanced at me and smirked.
Someone fucks the owner.
Vaginas are amazing, as are blowjobs. My mind entered the pit of vulgarity, but it couldn’t be avoided. The lengths some went to for sex. The waitress wasn’t thrilled to serve customers, but she still collected her weekly pay.
I shrugged and stood to leave. The day began on wonky footing. Paul had left the house before 9 AM, and I woke an hour after, showered and sat toying with the last row of chocolate. Now, my choice was to return home and to my stashed chocolate or find something else to wile away the hours. I could return to the additional calories, sit and watch daytime television. Even my parents and in-laws worked in professions. I hadn’t found the right profession and I’d lost faith in finding it on a grey Friday afternoon.
Halfway down the street, I abandoned the idea of returning home and opted for the bus stop. It had been close to a decade since I’d travelled on public transport. Seven others waited. Three sat on the bench and the rest stood. One young man lit a cigarette and stood his ground, exhaling smoke with the finesse of a newbie smoker. Smoking wasn’t a professional sport, but I smirked on the inside each time I saw reluctant smokers trying to show off their abilities. It’s stupid enough to smoke, stupider to force oneself to draw smoke into the lungs, fail and chug smoke.
I gazed at the young man. Cute, I thought. Stupid but cute. His eyes met mine, and whether I channelled a demon or not, he averted his eyes. I’m too hot to trot. Obviously not. He gazed at me like I was his cranky mother. Not the kind of attention I expected.
An engine rumbled in the distance. The bus arrived and overshot the stop sign. The elderly woman grumbled something about incompetent bus drivers. In my excitement, I couldn’t care. I viewed it as a mysterious journey. The sign on the bus said ‘City.’ It had been a month since I’d been to the city, and not for shopping. I served as a juror for an armed robbery, to be sequestered for a fortnight. We’d eventually reached a guilty verdict, and I reluctantly returned home to the usual routine.
I was the last on board and gave the driver a fiver. After taking a seat in the middle of the bus, I repainted the sky a boisterous shade of blue. After the driver started his engine, I thought I’d add a sun and imagine a brilliant day instead of the grey spattered gloom that was forecast to dominate the week.
The ride was uneventful, that is until the vacant seat next to me became occupied by a wheezy old woman. A petite dowager with lilac hair, she nodded and sat next to me.
“Lovely day for it, eh?” The woman winked. Her lips pouted with sarcasm, displaying the shaky art of lip crayon.
“Wonderful,” I replied. I detected subtle notes of lavender (talcum powder?) and cigarettes.
That was our conversation. I’m not one for public transport communiqué, not unless the passenger is handsome and, damn it, fuckable. But I hadn’t spoken nor sat next to any fuckable types lately. If I had to be anally precise, it had been three years since I entered a bus. Paul nags me about the cost of my car and I feign deafness.
I smiled at the familiar skyscrapers. I could describe the whir between my ears as the first rush of excitement as the beginning of the future. Paul was servicing his car, sipping coffee with his mechanic and dissecting the latest football results.
The old woman got up, hugged her ancient framed handbag with her left hand while clutching the handrail with her right. At that moment, I realised that I didn’t have a specific plan. I had maxxed out my credit card, had no real job, and arrived at the perfect place to make myself taste the misery of newfound poverty.
Avoiding the familiar stretch of toff-nosed boutiques, I alighted in the café district. It’s not an actual district lined with cafés, but it features more coffee houses and internet cafés for those who crave a city hit without overloading credit cards and disobeying budgets.
I brushed past a few standing passengers, stepped off the bus and breathed deeply. The biting air slapped my lungs around a little. A block ahead, I noticed a café-internet hot spot. Why not, I thought?
At first, I noticed the few suits and female personal assistants or receptionists, generally those who shopped at thrift shops, many of whom had on opaque black pantyhose with light coloured pumps. It was only after I crossed the road that I noticed the couples. Fat and thin. Dumpy and showy. Older man/younger pussy. Goth and goth. Their arms link and they’re fond of PDA’s – public displays of affection. Things I had craved. I was willing to settle for anyone…even an insatiable robot.
Image: Luis Royo
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