identity, cafe, short story

We’re both alone here.


Everyone else I know has left already. She scraps the circumference of her coffee cup, scooping out the last of the foam. I want another but I know I’ll never sleep, and I know, I want at least a little break from all of this. So, I tear the sachets of sugar and drizzle them into my empty cup. The waiter pop over smiling, he probably thinks this is a date and not a desperate meeting


There was a time when this was easy, but we were lying to ourselves and each other. Banter and the need to fit in, desire and the need to be desired trumping all sense and reason like how whiskey dilutes you. Makes you easier to consume. These things I contemplate as she replaces the spoon on the saucer and her lips curve into a gentle smile.


I think it is for me but it is for the waiter still standing there. I hope she doesn’t ask for the bill; I am not ready to leave but I don’t want anything else.


“Nein, Danke,” she says.


Her German has improved. Two words that almost everyone might know but it was the care and attention with which they were delivered. She has surpassed me. All these years here, fruitless in language, fame and money. She comes after and beats me on two fronts already. I feel a pang of jealousy. It’s the first feeling I have felt for her in years.


All the things we ever had, and all the people we have been; students, lovers, couples, friends, enemies. To us ourselves as much to others.


And strangers. Strangers to ourselves once, and now strangers to each other.


I would have thought you’d done better for yourself.


If it had been delivered with a smirk, I could have endured it but the look of pity in her eyes left me with little choice but to swallow my pride and say nothing. I’d already said enough moments before, uttered silently under the breath of my churning mind.


She had me sussed. There was no pulling the wool over her eyes. It was she who had suggested this place. Me, I always clung to my old habits; I liked my favourite things, I wasn’t in a hurry to find new ones.


You still play a good banjo.


Was that a question or a compliment? She may have heard me play, or heard a tale of me. I just nod. Maybe this is a hand up. A helping hand to pull me out of the gutter of self-pity. I thought I’d been holding it together well. Does she know me? Or is she trying to wind me up?


I have to say something soon or she’ll leave and we’ll both be out in the cold and dark, only I am sure she has a warm apartment to go to.


I want to pay for her coffee, to save face but I think of what I’ll have to do without ten euro down this week.  I am running out of options here, trying to save face and save money at the same time.


I am not the man I was.  Nor do I want to be.  Then again, I am not terribly fond of this chap now who has inherited my body.


I think of her warm apartment.


I reach for her hand.


She makes a sound, exhaling briefly.


And I pull my hands back.  Embarrassed.  Defeated.


She looks toward the door and I feel her guiding me there.


When she turns to look back, I’ll be gone.