Hung Words

(another oldie, from early last year)

There is something I need to remember.

There is something I need to remember, something that keeps slipping away from the cliff edge of my mind, toppling away into the depths below, crashing down among all the other lost forgotten words.

It is nudging me again, a letter here, a syllable there, never quite shape-shifting into a complete word. My mouth starts to form the sound, gags on the unemitted gasp, swallows the crumbling letters, and the word tumbles away again over the yawning fall.

Down there with all the broken neglected words are the broken neglected people, the ones who made mistakes, never learned their lessons, never considered they had done wrong, and a few who tried to find the word before it trailed away, the same one I am losing all the time.

Once, very long ago, so long ago there is no known segment of Time to describe it, I knew the word. That, I can recall. I did used to know it, could utter it, could give myself a second chance.

Never taken, of course.

Of course.

That would have changed everything, would it not? Maybe for the better, maybe not, strange as that may seem. Would He have survived so long, if I had remembered the word, or would He have gone the way of all the others, cast aside once His diatribes grated once too often in minds fast becoming equals to His.

It is in here somewhere, flitting around, hiding behind the longer words, the ones which have many meanings, unclear, confusing, misread and miscued, and easy, so easy, to deceive with. Many of those I have used throughout the ages of my time. To mystify, to trick, to ensnare. This elusive word is smaller, difficult to catch among the multitude of letters strung together into the many syllable definitions of deceptive ideas and motives.

For a moment there I thought I glimpsed it, trying to inch forward, to let its first sound sneak onto my tongue. Once there I am sure I could catch it, speak its name, before it slips away. Or is it being pulled back? Is that the problem? Is something tug of warring with me, pulling the word away, jerking on its long tail, flinging it over that precipice, down again into the pit of churning bones and burning vocabulary, from whence it starts the long struggle back up, fingernails scratching holds on blood-rinsed rocks, weak muscles hauling upwards over shredded tissue and deleted sounds, its eyes ever locked up high at the prospect of rebirth.

Time is short now. He will not wait much longer. This is the final time.

I know.

He knows.

He has won.

But he is waiting to see if the word can be remembered. If my blackened lips can form the two syllables they have never pronounced together. At least not since the Beginning, when I broke one way, and He broke the other. Will my mind still be able to format the two sounds into the one word? Or will it fry my being like sunlight on a mythical vampire?

Wait. Wait. I see it. Crouched behind a concept hidden in the very darkest of the dark quarters of my dark mind.

I have it! It is trapped there, a mistake made, left itself no way out but toward me.

That concept, lying never used, irrelevant to me, a false god to worship if ever there was one. Until now. Yes, I have the word. It cannot back away. It sits, naked, exposed, fearful now of rebirth, scared of its implications. But I have it. My tongue snakes around the concept named Truth, pincers the shivering syllables, swallows first that notion to ease the speaking of the word.

I gorge on the feeling, warmth streaming throughout me. The word follows it, up into my mouth, rolling around between my red-dripped teeth, and is spat forth with the conviction of one realising rebirth can be.

‘Sor-ry.’

 

 

 

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Decaf scribble

(again, long time no write here, too busy with life and trying to edit two short novels, but here’s something written today, encouraged only by a decaffeinated latte…)

THE COFFEE HOUSE

Friday morning early, a coffee house faking Italian charm in a fake seaside town, historical fame long lost with the rising tide and crumbling cliffs.

Three sit with eyes fixated on screens, fingers tapping messages to no-one and blogging viewpoints to a readership only clicked through for reciprocated likes.

A barista chatters nonsense to a line of young women, eager for quick takeaways and even quicker getaways from chat up patter outdated in an age of legal minefields.

Older gentlemen sit, beige-coated, staring at passersby, remembering themselves long gone, chances not chanced, decisions wrong decided; pretty women bring a resurgence of desires with no hope of satisfaction.

A rush retreats, the room sits quiet, each seat an island of discontented content, preferred loneliness here to sat alone in a home no longer homely. A loud voiced conversation begins, phone to ear, private exchanges made public with deliberate intent, a proof they live a life unlike the other lost souls adrift in this coffee ship. Machinery hisses and spurts, milk tops pop, dregs disappear drained, one shot, two shots, extra shots, sprinkles and caramel, a vocabulary voiced across a counter stacked with packaged snacks rated red and red and red, all sold unwarned and unwary.

Classical strings harmonise a background, ill-fitted to a clientele dressed for pubs and clubs, layering the atmosphere warm with the unseasoned heating system soft hummed.

The hour hand stretches up straight, feet shuffle from different corners, timings timed to reach platforms as trains slide home and doors slide open.

Outside hot hand held cups are carried across a precinct still quiet as offices buzz alive with phones and bright screens, elderly women drag two-wheeled trolleys to catch the market full fruited and full bloomed, children toddle coat-clung to cigarette smoking mothers, too young for schooling, too old for early morning sleeps. Retired singles wander life lost, companions lost too early or never found among the rush of chasing money and reputations, shops and malls the only workplaces for them now.

The loud-voiced barista conducts his audience, half appreciated, half detested, a last day employed doubling his volume of adrenaline. Queues ebb and flow, each wave wavered in decisions of beverage and seating, no desire to share a stranger’s life, no wish to change their routined day, for better or for worse; no risk of failure brings no risk of success.

The coffee house churns out another day, another latte, another mocha, another another.

 

Opening Gambit part 2

(Just continuing this opening, and giving you three alternative endings which would lead on to three quite different stories/novels.)

What to wear to a bar named the Pink Feathers? Did the name hint at the clientele to be encountered? I went biker jacket and black jeans. Good call. The three foot wide guy guarding the door would have bounced me off the sidewalk in anything else; the ‘four feathers’ were painted on the club’s logo atop a dancing girl with curves Monroe defined decades past.

Inside masses mingled. By the time I made the counter I’d rubbed shoulders, literally, with more people than I would in a month of Christmas sales throngs. Ages varied; breaking teens to broken fifties. Encouraging. I hadn’t wanted to seem cradle-snatching if Lilly the shop assistant turned up.

8.20 p.m., I’d got here late, lost myself on a freeway to anywhere out of town. Now I searched with eyes wide. Ten minutes, or Lilly might do a glass slipper thing on me. And I wasn’t a prince, I couldn’t spend Sundays putting shoes on every female this side of the Hudson.

‘Robert.’

A voice connected over the hubbub of nonsense deafening my ears.

‘You came?’

‘Just in time, Lilly. Got lost. Story of my life.’

‘Getting lost or nearly getting lost?’

‘Still trying to work that out.’

‘Drink?’

‘Sure, that’s why I came. Claim the free offer.’

‘Not because of me then?’

Lilly looked blank. She wasn’t acting it, she seemed surprised I hadn’t said she was the reason. Her hair hung straight now, fresh washed and smelling sweet among the stale breaths and alcohol. She matched me in a leather jacket and dark jeans. Discounted from the store? Little make-up hid her face; she looked even younger than in the blazing lights of her workplace.

‘And you. I’ll take a rye and soda.’

‘Biker jacket and rye? Reliving your teenage years?’

‘Ouch, below the belt, Lilly.’

She smiled lazy.

‘Looks good on you, the jacket, hope the drink does too, paying for a taxi home isn’t part of the offer.’

She squeezed through to the bar, bought the drinks, a gin and something for herself, I think. I rescued the glasses on her return trip as two floppy-haired twenty-something guys fell across her path.

‘It’s quieter by that alcove.’

She nodded left. I held the glasses high to get through, found stools and perched the drinks on a shelf showing football stars with toothy grins and muscles to measure.

‘You’re not wearing the coat?’

‘Too warm in here, but I’ll put it on to go to work tomorrow. Thanks again.’

‘My pleasure.’

‘Something you do every day? You a millionaire?’

‘Ah no, so if you’re looking for a sugar daddy, try the best suited guy in here instead.’

‘I don’t want to be kept by any man.’

‘But you accepted my offer?’

‘It didn’t seem like something you usually did.’

‘How could you tell?’

‘I guess if you’d come in and thrown a pile of cash on the desk, or bought up the whole rail of coats.’

‘Maybe I didn’t want to overwhelm you?’

‘I don’t think you’ve ever done that sort of thing before.’

‘You sure?’

‘Pretty.’

‘Why?’

‘Your eyes. They were too alive. A wealthy guy used to throwing money around would have had a tired look there, or a regular ‘just another little person to help’ and make me feel good.’

‘So why’d you think I did it?’

‘Either you hoped it’d lead to something more. Like this. Or your tongue was ahead of your brain. You write?’

‘Ouch, shot me down in one, straight between the eyes!’

‘You’re a writer?’

‘Ha, no, not really. I don’t earn money from it, I tap keyboards, make up tales now and then.’

‘You sure? I’m not gonna appear in some sordid novel? I’m not a kind of experiment?’

‘Hell no, I’d never do that to you.’

‘Why not? You don’t know me? Do you? We’ve never met before?’

‘Never. I’ve been in the store a couple of times, never seen you in there.’

‘You tried this on the other girls there?’

‘No.’

‘So why me?’

‘As you guessed, just went with the moment. None of the others ever said ‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’’

Lilly drank long from her glass, her eyes fixed on mine. There was noise and movement all around yet it seemed we existed in isolation, unhearing, unaffected by everything else.

‘And I’m enjoying the free drink you offered, so all’s well.’

‘A $99 drink?’

‘I hope that’s not how you see it.’

‘And how does this end?’

‘A polite thank you maybe. A shake of the hands. Or…’

‘Or what?’

Lilly’s voice dropped low, her guard came high.

‘Or…we live happily ever after.’

I smiled, and couldn’t help breaking into a laugh as Lilly’s eyebrows shot skyward and she snorted liquid.

‘You serious?’

‘Being silly, I guess. Make a great tale to tell our grandkids though.’

‘Lol, we got grandkids now.’

We both laughed. Her face blushed, her eyes sparked. I noticed for the first time the slight gap between her front teeth. She flicked a loose strand of hair away, waved her glass side to side.

‘Another?’

‘Still free?’

‘No, you’re paying for this one, Robert.’

She took the glass from my hand. Our fingers grazed. The first time we’d touched. She took a step away then turned back.

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can think how I can dispose of my husband’s dead body. It’s lying on the carpet back in the apartment.’

ALTERNATIVE ENDING

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can work out how I divorce my husband…without him putting me in the morgue first.’

ALTERNATIVE ENDING

‘While I’m getting these…I think you’re an intelligent man…see if you can write the next chapter of our relationship…I want to know if the book’s worth buying.’

 

 

 

Opening gambit

(Long time no write here. Been busy with life, no time or desire to write. Here’s something anyway, just a start, based on a real moment. Well, the opening four lines…)

‘It’s cold today, isn’t it?’

‘Yeah, forgot my gloves too.’

‘Remembered mine, but I was still freezing.’

‘If you get cold, at least you got a choice of clothes to wear here.’

I nodded towards the racks of women’s coats strung like dead turkeys along a metal bar.

Can you fall in love over such a banal conversation?

The shop assistant checked her screen. Blue eyes flicked left, right, up, down, wavy light brown hair braided at the sides, purple tipped fingers stabbing. She looked up, saw the coats I’d indicated.

‘Oh, they’re too expensive for me.’

A light chuckle crept nervous up her throat. Her eyes glanced mine. I waved a hand at the racks of clothes.

‘Choose one, I’ll buy it for you.’

Her chuckle broke surface into a quiet laugh. Saturday 9.10 a.m. it wasn’t ready for head back raucous.

‘I mean it, choose one.’

She folded her arms, looked more direct at me. Movement to her right suggested a junior had found my click and collect order in a backroom.

‘Sure, choose one and you’ll pay for it?’

‘Yes, then I’ll give it to you. Be quick, the offer expires in about one minute.’

My heart was calm. Strange, it should have been stretching the fabric of my jacket to its limit. Half asleep still on a weekend morning? Still daydreaming the reckless character I’d read about the last two days in a hard boiled crime paperback?

The young woman stepped out from behind the desk, half halted, low heeled loafers scuffing the vinyl tiled floor. She moved on, more determined, fumbled coat hangers, found the size she wanted, slipped off the fake fur collar coat from the hanger, put it on.

I held out both hands like a seasoned salesman.

‘Perfect fit. Would madam like it gift-wrapped, or in a bag, only 20 cents extra?’

That gravel chuckle coughed up again. She stuck her hands into the pockets of the suede coat, pouted in doubt. At the coat choice or my offer, I wasn’t sure.

‘Here’s your order. Perhaps we should deal with that.’

She walked back behind her screen, took a bright yellow bag from a colleague who eyed up the coat with a quizzical look, and typed fast as she studied details on the package’s label.

‘Here you are. Robert?’

It was a curious routine of this store that they checked you were the right collector of a delivery by querying your first name not your surname or email address or card number.

‘That’s me. You are?’

I screwed up my eyes at the woman’s badge which hung on her chest. She probably thought it was part of my feeble act of chat up, but truth was I needed to, to make out the small print on the white shiny piece of card.

‘Lilly, is that?’

‘Might be.’

‘So, you want that coat? The offer’s close to expiry…’

‘If you’re serious, that’ll be $99, please.’

‘Of course.’

I took out my wallet, thumbed a credit card, passed it over. I’d felt Lilly’s eyes on me as I did this. She was still looking at me as her small fingers accepted the card.

‘You absolutely certain?’

I nodded.

She passed the card machine across. I placed it on the desk, tapped in my numbers.

‘You can change it for another colour, or another style if you want?’

‘And you can cancel your card payment too.’

‘No, the coat’s yours. It’s my good deed for the day.’

‘Oh, I’m a charity case now, am I?’

I gave a half-laugh.

‘No. It makes me feel good. And, you’re pretty and charming and, and, just nice. I, I, just felt it was the right thing to do.’

Lilly slipped off the coat, folded it into a bag and hung it on a peg behind her. She turned back, her face more serious.

‘That’s it? No follow up, no, ‘well, let’s have a drink later’ or ‘what time do you finish today?’

I shrugged my shoulders.

‘Coat’s yours. No catch.’

She crossed her arms again. It seemed to be her standard stance; maybe at work, maybe in life.

‘You bought me a coat. I’ll buy you a drink. Okay?’

‘You don’t have to.’

Lilly’s eyes moved to the right, she nodded to acknowledge someone’s words or gesture.

‘I got to go. I’ll be in the Pink Feathers, Cambridge and 222 Loxx, tonight, around 8.’

‘Right.’

‘If you want a drink, that’s where I’ll be.’

‘Sure. I can, can probably make that.’

I had an image of me standing like a fool, holding a glass of iced orange, alone in a crowded bar of couples, waiting for the no-show sales assistant.

‘Have to check with the wife first?’

‘No wife.’

‘Don’t be late. Offer expires at 8.30.’

Her eyes flashed. She scooted around the desk and disappeared among the hanging jeans and jackets.

 

 

Coffee people

(not a poem today, just a list of the people seen coming into one of my local coffee houses while I start the day there with my one shot latte…)

 

…a woman typing on her phone, not looked up once since sitting down; a man reading his book; an older man studying a newspaper, eating dunked biscuits; a woman outside reading her small screen and smoking; two men talking out there, smoking nonstop; two young female assistants chatting; a businessman buying a cappuccino, paper pad in hand with old fashioned pen clutched; an older man coughing, with two bags, with a double espresso looking like he needs it; a man on a mobile, very polite, disproving his dishevelled appearance;a  lady with a dog for takeaway coffee; a young man with skinny jeans buys a takeaway too; a woman with a child in a push buggy; two young women talking, one now on her laptop; two middle aged women taking up seats on the leather sofa; a short sleeved gentleman paying with notes from a wallet, with an American accent; each person’s order separated by ‘enjoy’; and a pigeon slaloming the chairs and tables outside…

Fantasy rewrite – Lucida

(One of the optional prompts for my next Writers Group was to produce a piece of writing in the fantasy genre. We have one member who has written hundreds of thousands of words on fantasy and I think this choice was to honour him and make the rest of us try out something we may not ever think of attempting. Oddly enough I did write a long fantasy story – about 12,000 words – back in around 2010 so I decided to try rewriting the opening chapter from that. It was originally told in the third person from the main female character’s point of view, but this time I decided to write it in the third person from another character’s viewpoint.)

 

The Prince of Shadows felt himself being drawn inexorably towards his destiny. Towards the blazing citadel in the distance.

Just a month earlier it had been so different…

The Prince slapped Stralgaldirth’s side and felt the horse leap forward at the familiar command. Behind him a body of men followed, increasing their pace to a thunderous rumble. The Prince swung his curved sword, two black shapes which had appeared in front of the plunging steed dissipated into the air. All around, his warriors’ red banners waved among a flood of darkness. More and more apparitions were cut apart by swirling blades. But no sounds uttered forth – the opponents had no mouths. A silent battlefield; apart from the noise of horses and the dying screams of men.

‘Come, Stralgaldirth, onward, boy, onward.’

The horse responded and crushed waspish opponents beneath his hooves even as deadly fingers reached up towards his helmed rider. A path was made which allowed the Prince to swing around behind the shifting mass of shadows. His bravest soldiers kept close to his charging stallion. Together they began to slaughter the enemy now trapped on two sides.

‘Kave, take the right. Swit, the left. Finish this rabble.’

Horses peeled off in opposite directions, their blue-clad riders striking down the backs of the enemy with long strokes of swords. Men poured through the gap created by the Prince. Dark shapes withered and faded away as the attack from the rear carved through their ranks.

The Prince reeled in his snorting horse. He surveyed the final melee. Dark figures rose here and there, falling upon men, plunging their taloned fingers deep into the solders’ souls. The cries should have shaken the Prince but he sat unmoved, concentrating instead on the enemy being trodden under hooves or rent into pieces by sword and spear.

‘Small losses, a great victory, sire.’

A horse pulled up alongside bearing a grinning warrior, black powder coated a lance where it had struck down the foe.

‘Every man down is a great loss, Kave. Learn that. We are not plentiful, they are.’

‘But the men will return soon, like they, and we, always do, and we will drink together before we die together. Again.’

The Prince shook his head, a cloud of dust falling from his helmet’s rim.

‘That is true, but every death is still a death when it occurs. I don’t just feel the pain of my own demise, I feel every one. Now, let us return, count the cost. If another swarm appears too soon we will be in trouble.’

The Prince saw Kave glance over his shoulder at the hills from where the dark shapes had swept down. His companion shivered then kicked his mount so as not to be left alone on the barren plain.

The Prince turned his horse away, trotted in the direction of his citadel, soldiers falling in behind him.
‘Sire, we have word of a new building, a new citadel!’

The Prince looked up from the table. Maps covered the stained and gouged surface. Alongside him stood Kave and Swit, their fingers placed at strategic points.

‘A citadel? Impossible. Explain yourself.’

The messenger bowed low.

‘Sire, to the west, just within eyesight of our tower. Captain of the night guard ordered a patrol be sent out after a sentry spotted the light yesterday evening.’

‘A citadel?’

‘Yes, sire. With a flame. A very bright flame.’

The Prince strode from the room, followed by his entourage, ran up flights of stairs, opened the tower’s topmost door and gazed westwards.

A flame burned. Even in daylight it flickered.

‘But there are no other lords, only my brothers and me.’

‘The captain reports a figure gazing from the top of the fortress. A woman.’

The Prince turned. He glared at the messenger.

‘A woman? You jest?’
And that is how it began. The Prince sent out spies, then delegations, then gifts. Tales came back of a beautiful young woman, clad in white leather, with hair as white as the winter snows. And a flame. Not only above her citadel but above her head when she left to ride around the land. Just like the flames which burned above the Prince’s and his brothers’ heads.

After another verbal report sang high praise of this newcomer, the Prince snapped his fingers at a cowering servant.

‘Bring me parchment. I shall write to this woman. And know more of her history.’

Hushed whispers fluttered around the room like moths startled from dark repose. Courtiers could not remember the last time the Prince took up the quill rather than the sword. Kave stepped forward.

‘Should we not ride out with soldiers, take the citadel, raze it to the ground.’

The Prince looked up from his silent study of the reports about the woman.

‘And what would that achieve?’

‘The Dark Ones. They might be attracted to her flame, overpower her fortress, cut off our access to your brother The Knight.’

‘Let us wait. We have spies watching the land around this woman’s citadel. If any of the enemy is sighted we shall saddle up.’

‘This is foolishness! You are a warrior, you do not write letters.’

Kave folded his arms, teeth biting his upper lip in controlled frustration. The Prince raised an arm towards a messenger.

‘There is something strange here, my friend. This woman, this…what does she call herself?’

‘Lucida, sire. She calls herself Lucida.’

‘Yes, this Lucida. I want to discover more about her. We shall act if necessary.’

Kave sighed, rubbed his jaw with a mailed fist and scuffed his leather-booted foot. He whispered just loud enough for the Prince to hear.

‘Let us hope we act before it is too late.’
Letter followed letter followed letter. The Prince became enraptured by the woman’s replies. The missives grew longer and longer, the Prince declined to ride out on Stralgaldirth, the horse stomped with boredom in the stables, the Prince ate less and less, his armour lay unused, his sword no longer gleamed from daily polishing, his men grew restless.

And then an invitation. From Lucida. To visit her citadel. Kave threw the parchment on the floor.

‘You’d be a fool to go! We should mount up, ride out, no men guard her tower, only two other women, rumoured to be her sisters, escort her.’

‘I must go. There is something odd here. Her words, even on parchment, lure me to her. She does not threaten in any way.’

‘It is a trick. A deception from the Dark Ones. Beware, sire!’

‘No, she does not come from them, I am sure of that. I must go, while I still have strength left. Prepare Stralgaldirth.’
Across the barren land walked the Prince’s horse, its coat now unkempt, its muscles weakened from inaction. On its back sat a man in rusting armour, barely able to lift his sword. Yet something enticed the Prince on.

Ahead he saw a woman on a white horse coming towards him. This must be the one they call Lucida, he thought.

She stopped a few yards away, raised her hands to her mouth and blew a kiss towards the Prince. It enveloped his steed then dissolved into the creature’s very being. The Prince sensed he was sinking. He glanced down to see his once noble warhorse disintegrating beneath his legs. Atom by atom. The Prince sank to the ground until he rested upon his knees. He looked up at the white-clad woman, a vision of angelic whiteness now close upon him. A sword hovered by her side, unattached to any belt.

She stared at him, seemed to look right through his body.

The Prince felt as if he too were fading away.

The woman moved closer and knelt. Her sword shifted, to hang above his decaying figure, as if ready for a final thrust.

‘Yes, it’s there, still beating strong. Your white heart beats within your decaying red one. I will whisper your real name, Prince of Shadows, and then I will ask you one question.’

She bent down. Her mouth almost touched his ear. Her nearness sent a shiver throughout his dying frame.

‘I speak your name. Asb’el. Now join with me or enter the realms of Darkness, never to return.’

The Prince’s weak eyes blazed once more, with recognition. Not since the Day of Outcast had he heard his true name. No one knew that name, apart from the Maker. How did this woman in her citadel know of such things? He looked into her eyes. He felt his fears melt away.

‘I join you.’

The Princess blew a kiss into her right hand and placed the palm over the Prince’s white heart. Warmth and light and strength spread throughout his body.

‘Enter my citadel.’

Lucida stood, the sword at her side, and turned her gaze to the distance. Darkness had crept towards the Prince’s tower.
Far away in the darkest corner of the world something shifted. The black flame of a candle was quenched. Talons clenched and released. A black tongue licked grey lips. Pointed teeth, ebony and sharp, were bared.

‘Ahthydreylh! A Fallen One is restored.’

Something moved in the darkness. Limbs stretched. An immense shadow heaved upwards. Glistening dark red lips parted. A tail flicked.

‘Fayll thiriflh! The Time of Times begins. The End is set in motion. Release the Fleydrll. Strike down the brightness.’

And one thousand creatures rose as one, silent wings gliding through the darkness. Blind eyes honed in on the bright-lit citadel in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It began with a coffee shop…

(Something I started writing back in 2015 after visiting a coffee shop in a nearby town. I’ve edited it a little, it’s surprising how my style has changed over the last two years. It’s still rather bland and just the opening scene but it’s better out here than gathering dust in a laptop folder…)

‘Excuse me, may I join you?’

That’s how it started.

I sat in the coffee shop, my cappuccino in front of me. Two paperbacks from the library lay on the table in a plastic shopping bag. It was my third visit here. Only 9.30 in the morning, but I liked to avoid the crowds and make certain there was a choice of seats.

Situated next to a small supermarket in a quaint Kentish town, a few shoppers drifted past with a number of middle aged women accompanying their silver-haired mothers. Around me, with their oversized cups of coffee, were a mix of retired single gentlemen and ladies, either seeking the company of the gentle hubbub of the pedestrianised passageway or stopping off for a rest before the walk home.

I usually headed back for my coffee. It seemed an unnecessary expense to buy when I could be home in five minutes and getting the same for free. But I had associated morning coffee in the lounge with my mother. It had been our time, a regular opportunity to meet up and exchange simple conversation. Now I felt the need to get out, to be surrounded by life.

I sipped from my cup. I gazed towards the shops across the paved walkway, imagining like so many others what type of life the people going by had.

Today I looked up, startled. A lady, in her forties, holding a cup in one hand and a handbag in the other, was hovering over the seat opposite me.

‘May I sit here?’

‘Er, right,  yes, of course.’

My eyes flitted around, spotting empty tables and chairs. I wondered why someone would want to sit with me.

The woman tugged the leather chair back, dropped her bag onto the floor and sat down, her cup still held above the table in her hand. Her brunette hair was stylishly cut down to an inch or two below her ears with longer strands hanging either side of her chin. She had one of those wide mouths that somehow made her instantly likeable.

‘I hate sitting by myself, and I’ve spotted you in here a couple of times, so I thought you’d be okay.’

I raised my eyebrows.

‘Er, I suppose I take that as a compliment, ‘being okay’.’

The woman placed her coffee on the table.

‘Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound, you know, patronising or something. It’s just, it can be awkward being a woman by yourself, especially if you want to sit around for some time. There’s always some man who’ll try and chat or offer to buy you another cup.’

I sat up straighter and self-consciously tidied my bag of books. I looked directly at her for the first time. Her hazel eyes had a sparkle, just like writers would say in a corny romance. But they did. They had life in them. I could quite understand why men would offer to buy her a drink. Or two.

‘I think you’re pretty safe in this quiet little town, most men in here seem retired and maybe a little bit tired.’

I nodded towards a couple of individuals near the window who were certainly scruffy, wearing crumpled beige summer jackets with their white hair sticking out over their ears. I couldn’t imagine a caring partner letting them out like that.

The woman drank from her coffee and replaced the cup on the table. Her lips were coated with a pale shade of orangey lipstick, something I always thought looked glamorous and seductive.

‘Oh, they are the worse, they just talk and talk, it’s terrible getting away from them. Part of me feels sorry for the old so-and-so’s, the other part is itching all over and wanting to run for the door.’

Her lips spread into a wide smile. I shifted my eyes to my own coffee and lifted the cup which in my house would have passed for a soup bowl. I’ve always liked women with those wide lips, just I like do women with cherub lips. Two extremes attract me it seems.

‘You come in here often then?’

In my head I couldn’t help but think what a corny chat-up line that was, but then I wasn’t chatting her up. Was I? No, I’d been enjoying the break from home and the chance to watch people around me. Women coming up and talking like this was a novelty. I felt out of my depth.

The woman adjusted her top, sleeveless blue with white polka dots, and rested her bare arms on the table. Her skin was slightly tanned, not I thought from hours spent soaking up the sun on a beach or by a pool, but probably from just being out and around in the fresh air. Or maybe it betrayed her origin or parentage. Her accent was very English, but that could be misleading.

‘Just in the last few weeks. There are so many coffee shops in this small place, it’s unbelievable. I can’t think how they all survive out of the tourist season.’

I nodded. It was a subject of many conversations among the locals, especially when some picturesque but unprofitable shop closed and was replaced by yet another outlet which placed its tables and chairs outside on narrow pavements and offered free wifi trying to recreate the insular camaraderie of ‘Friends’ or the bustling streets of Paris.

‘Yeah, there have been rather a lot springing up over the last few years.’

I took a drink. It had been sometime since I’d had a longer conversation with a woman, I didn’t quite know what to say. I didn’t want to bore her or drive her away but I wasn’t sure what she wanted; someone to talk with or just another body sitting on the same table to keep away unwanted offers of coffee and company.

A hand popped across the table.

‘I’m Immy, by the way. Short for Imogen.’

Her hand felt warm and soft. I hoped mine didn’t feel too sweaty in return. I noticed how slender her fingers were, longer than mine. The nails were coated with an orange varnish a shade darker than her lipstick.

‘I’m… Jim.’

I stuttered over the word. Everyone in the family knew me as Jamie, all at any work as James. Why did I go for Jim here? And Jim and Immy – it sounded ridiculous. Suppose I’d said Jimmy, she might have thought I was taking the micky.

‘So, you’re an avid reader then, Jim?’

She nodded down towards the two books I’d borrowed from the library earlier. One was inside the bag, the other lay face down on top.

‘I was, not so much now. I actually borrow them to check if the authors have mentioned their agents. I want to contact a few.’

Immy’s mouth dropped open, revealing near perfect teeth.

‘Really? You’re a writer? That’s way exciting!’

I laughed. She had a nice way of making you feel relaxed with her voice and expression.

‘No, not really. I have written a novel, or rather a very long story as I call it. I thought I might as well send it off, you never know.’

‘Wow, that’s amazing. You’ve written a novel, you sit around in coffee shops, with a pile of books in front of you, that seems like a cool life to me!’

As she rocked in her seat her shoe accidentally grazed mine. I moved my foot back, hoping she didn’t notice. It was a long time too since I’d had any physical contact with a woman. Even the slightest innocent touch might cause me to misinterpret the signs. But it was nice moment, I had to admit.

‘Well, not really. I only come in here about once a week, it’s a bit expensive, I live ten minutes away and coffee’s free at home. But it’s fun watching other people, writing can be lonely at times.’

‘Oh, I’m sure, it takes great discipline too, I imagine. But you must feel proud, having written something like that.’

‘Sure, if you’d said a year ago I would write over 100,000 words on one story, I wouldn’t have believed you.’

Immy’s eyes widened.

‘A hundred thousand. God, that’s unbelievable.’

‘Well, most of it, like any book, is sort of padding, you know. You have a basic story and just fill it out in a way.’

Immy took her cup and sipped her cappuccino, flecks of foam sticking to her lips. Her tongue darted up and along, wiping the white away.

I almost turned to see if there was a movie director around somewhere, it was one of the sexiest things I’d ever seen, and it happened right in front of me.

‘What do you do, Immy?’

She looked at her cup, tipping it towards her, the remains of the coffee swirling dangerously close to the edge.

‘Me? Right now not much. I’m taking time out, enjoying life. Regrouping, you could say.’

‘Right.’

Divorce rang through my head, it seemed the obvious explanation. Or a trial separation. Maybe her husband had had an affair. Maybe she had. I couldn’t help but think any man would be mad to cheat on her. I wondered if I should say it out loud, but I didn’t. It might appear too cheesy, or even suggestive.  It was just, one moment I’d been here pleased to be out enjoying the change, the next this was happening. I wasn’t used to such things. I wasn’t used to exploiting these situations. If a woman asked me to help her change a tyre I’d do it, but I wouldn’t follow up and ask her for a drink or a meal like some men would.

I felt it better not to pry into her answer.

‘And you’ve been coming in here much?’

Immy took another gulp of her coffee.

‘A few weeks, once or twice a week, or in another coffee shop. It’s good to watch people. I bet you do that for your writing.’

‘Um, yeah, I suppose I do, although not regularly, as I said earlier. Perhaps I should do it more.’

 

And so on… I wonder where this could go from here?