The Vase is Only Half Full

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
Two worlds collide in a scene of total normalcy.

Submitted: October 07, 2018

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Submitted: October 07, 2018

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Under a hot July sun, a man placed his hand on the door, hesitated, and then stepped into the cafe. The Flowers was especially busy today: a waitress bustled around, squeezing between tables and stepping over legs, pouring coffee and pulling out her pen and paper for orders. Women sat by the windows, sipping coffee and laughing. Jazz music filled the air, blending with the chatter and cigarette smoke. As the man searched for a place to sit, he noticed a figure at the back. They slumped in the darkness of the corner, and with the way his fedora fell over his brow, only a flash of eyes as he turned the pagethe man took off his hat and hoped it hid his trembling hands. He finally spotted an empty table, and ducking his head, he sat down. Inadvertently, his gaze drifted to the streets outside: past the woman holding a coffee cup with a gloved hand, through the glass, pushing past the street goers with their shopping bags and their colourful clothes, through car fumes and traffic jamsall of this sizzling in the heatuntil a derelict building on the other side of the square caught his eye. He could barely see it through the trees, as if it was a secret; but in the way it was boarded up and graffitied over, it was a profanity. His face pulled into a look of longing, noticing underneath it all

“Excuse me sir” The man jumped.  He looked up, at the young woman holding a pen and paper. Her caramel hair was falling out of place, her red lipstick fading on her full mouth. She wavered as she took him in. The man’s eyes widened, frozen in his chair.

“Um,” she said, “would you like anything, sir? Any coffee?”

The man only just managed to pull himself together to say, “Um, well…” He searched the room desperately, squinting at foamy coffees and dark, watery coffees and coffees in glasses. His gaze snagged on the figure at the back again, dressed in a terrifying colour of black. Blue eyes stared at him over the newspaper. The man tensed. “I’ll just have tea.” She raised an eyebrow but jotted it down, regarding him with uncomfortable scrutiny. The man shifted in his seat. He reached for his hat.

 

The caramel-haired waitress fanned herself quickly before shuffling the newspapers back together. She glanced at the headlines of each press: Tour de France ‘49: Heat over Italy and Rubble and Rabble: Auriol’s Deliberation. She’d pick some up for her grandfather after she finished work. Ding ding! She rushed back to the serving counter, weaving between bodies and tables. “This is the tea for that man,” her coworker said, leaning against the counter as if it wasn’t busy. She squinted at him. “He’s really weird, isn’t he?”

The waitress looked at him too. He sat curled up like a limp puppet, clenching and unclenching his hat. Her coworker continued, “I mean, I can’t stand the taste of tea. It reminds me too much of the wartime. Finally we have coffee for the first time in years and you order tea? He mustn’t be from here.” As the waitress took the saucer into her hands, she looked at him closer. It wasn’t just the fact that Parisians didn’t drink tea these days; it was more the fact that, on this sweltering summer day, the kind of day where she longed for an open window, he was wearing a long sleeved shirt and trousers. She moved her body in front of him to politely catch his attention. He could barely hold his gaze with her, his eyes flying around like a terrified animal. And there was a crookedness to his nose, like he’d tripped and broken it. The waitress set the cup and saucer down. “Your tea?” He muttered thank you so quietly she could only see it from his mouth.

As she moved through the aisles, picking up cups and straightening chairs, she heard it. Through the chatter and the clink of spoons on maybe the only fine china left in Paris, she heard it. The waitress sucked in a breath and ducked her face: The radio was playing Frank Sinatra. Her face started to crumple, cracking like an old building, slowly falling away. “I’ll come back for your order in a second,” she said to someone, stumbling behind the counter into the back washroom. Plates were piled all over the bench top and it was a mess. She hunched over the sink, clenching her hands into the sides. She breathed.

“Hey Mathilde, are you alright?”

She jumped, hastily wiping the tears from her eyes. “Yes,” she said, “I’m fine. I’m fine.”

 

Outside, in the middle of the cafe, all that remained of the man’s visit was a tea cup, not quite finished; and a folded newspaper on a coffee table in a corner, a ring mark around the headlines Riots in Paris.

All completely normal.

 


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