He’s not here to drink; he’s not here to eat. He’s here to think, to reflect, to predict, and to compose. She’s here to serve, to earn, and to get out. The others are here for plenty of reasons.
“If it’s meant to be, then it will resolve itself”, one over-zealous student tells her larger, glasses-clad, less worldly-wise friend over their Chai Lattes. “I mean, everything happens for a reason.” Then…
“Obviously I forgive you, now that I understand why you did it.” A story. His pen begins to caw frantically at his notebook. Then his gaze drifts to the old lady, who has finished her tea and devoured the article, “this year’s X-Factor isn’t a singing competition, it’s a freak show!” (“I couldn’t agree more!” she internally proclaims, raising an eyebrow from her cavernous forehead). Now she’s standing, hands clasped regimentally behind her back, looking out of the window to check that the cathedral is still erect.
He writes, tightly wringing all manner of loss and desperation from her posture. The Old Woman is now a metaphor for wistful decay. He smiles smugly, raising an eyebrow.
“You need to order downstairs.” A voice of impatient encouragement. She’s standing over him, looking at the notebook, calculating him. Is he writing for some high-class publication, reviewing her ‘homely’ establishment for the good of the country? Or is he a mere pretentious arse, using her chair and her table for some indulgent drivel? She’s silenced by a single nod, and carries her snarl downstairs. He panics, momentarily. What has me missed? Some cataclysmic shift in the potent atmosphere of this iridescent world? The two girls are still talking, nursing their drinks absently. The large one is looking down into hers. It holds no respite.
“Look, I’m glad you told me, honestly, Mary” His pen is reunited with the acid-free paper. He writes of friendship, betrayal, love, lust. They’re getting up to leave; the skinner girl places the other’s scarf around her neck. Begrudgingly, of course. And as they descend, their story concludes. He muses for a second about how there’s probably a third party somewhere playing them both for fools.
“Will you be ordering now, sir?”
She’s feigning politeness. She’s been nurturing that snarl and has learnt to make it appear concealed, but not vanished. He tells her ‘soon’, then looks back to the old woman for inspiration. But she’s leaving too, delicately folding her newspaper in half. She slips it into her bag, turning her attention to her coat. Beige. Then with short, premeditated steps, she takes her loss, desperation and sorrow downstairs and into the outside air.
Suddenly he is alone.
The pen wavers, but he cannot summon that familiar flourish. He searches for a story in each empty chair, but finds nothing. The room, once so full of vivacity, so full of life, is now solid, motionless and dead. He closes the notebook with affirmation. Obviously it’s not writer’s block, it’s just a natural point of conclusion. He slips the notebook into his jacket pocket and begins his own descent. She’s waiting at the bottom of the stairs, smiling, almost in victory.
“Are you here to order, sir?”
He’s unprepared. Empty seats downstairs too. There is no story here except that of the writer and the waitress.
“What can I get you, sir? A drink? Perhaps a savoury treat?”
What will be ironic? What will be satirical? He doesn’t want a Chai Latte, or a Flat White, or an Almond Amaretto Chocolate Deluxe Cheesecake.
What will be true? To walk out of the door. Maybe even with a flaunting “Nothing.” But that will obviously be undignified. Maybe he can endure a Coke Zero.
But he can’t endure the vacuum he is about to enter. His own personal purgatory.
Suddenly he is afraid.
You walk in the room and you either grab a chair or they’re already laid out for you and you sit down and you’re smiled at and told that it’s “nice to meet you” or if you’re in a big group then you partake in an exercise that involves learning names and removing inhibitions and proving yourself and team-work and you want to show you can do both so you try to gauge it correctly so you come across as both fair and determined but sometimes it’s difficult and you look either indulgent or reserved and eventually the tone shifts to something more contemplative as you begin to approach the text or concept itself and the room becomes open to debate as you consider potential methods and approaches and there’s always one guy who you think is an arse but you keep it contained because you may be working alongside him in a few weeks time and then the text is finally opened and you’re assigned a temporary role which means so little yet so much and as you journey through the plot you grow designs on a particular part and find yourself dropping timely hints that you suit it well and then the day comes and the laughter stops and the silence starts and they take their time and your name is always last and then that’s that, you now know.
You come to terms with it and map out the weeks ahead and whether you’ve got your work cut out or you’ll be sitting there watching but you tell yourself that might be ok and surely you’ll learn along the way then things seem slow because the cycle has begun again because you’re starting at the beginning because it’s time to get it on its feet and it’s exciting and you watch everyone tackle their role but you’re holding a piece of paper and so is everybody else and you become frustrated because you can’t move freely because you’re holding the paper and you promise that it won’t be for long and you either fulfil the promise or slowly begin to irritate everybody leading to glances leading to whispers leading to murmurs leading to arguments as the piece begins to take shape and you reach a point where you can step back and see a finished article and you go for the run and there’s the adrenaline and there’s the pride and there’s the fear as you’re doing it tomorrow and you’re nervous, you’re scared.
You’re in the wings and your heart is pounding and the lights are dim and you hear the sounds of those who have nothing at stake and can’t lose and you’re intimidated but you translate it into energy and you run and run and run over what you know so well and you look at everybody around you and it hits you what you’ve shared and you’ve experienced and you take a moment to appreciate the respect and the affection and the love and the downright will for success and the eye contact is knowing and loving and you wait for the cue and you step forward.
That didn’t work
He delivers that line well even though you were always irritated by it and you thought he didn’t really grasp the meaning of it but tonight it fits and she makes that gesture really clear and you know that that they know exactly what she means and you’re revelling it all and you know that your big moment is coming and when it does, you give it your all.
But then you stop thinking, and you start doing, and you start being.