TheCafe

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young man is forced to confront an old mistake when he falls through a mysterious hole in the ground.

Submitted: September 17, 2013

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Submitted: September 17, 2013

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© J. Glantz 2013. All Rights Reserved

Café

I’m sitting in a café in with Sam at about noon, and it’s a second before I realize she just ordered me another vodka even though I drank more than I ever should have last night. The only thing I can think about is a single question: why am I here? I’m sitting in a café with my twenty six-year-old sister who has been drinking for about two thirds of that time. My sister, who can drink my dad under the table even though he’d never admit it even though it’s true. The skinny waiter arrives with two glasses:

“Right then, one Beefeater onna rocks, one Stoli tonic.”

“Thank you,” I mumble past my hangover and my terrible breath. 

“Enjoy!” he leaves with a smile and I notice a Manchester United tattoo on his tricep. If I was drunk or my dad, I’d make a crack about Chelsea or Liverpool, but the waiter, despite his skinniness, looks like he could kick my ass if he wanted. 

I look back at my drink, and for a second feel like I am going to fall in. The mixed vodka and tonic water floats into my nose and my eyes, and I can feel the puke from last night floating back up in my throat. If mom was here she would be asking the waiter to take the drink away and scolding me, if Adam was here he’d be asking if he could have it, if dad was here he’d have finished it by now. But I’m here, and so is my sister. She’s half done with her gin already and I think I’m gonna puke again because the idea of Beefeater at twelve pm is revolting.

“I don’t think I can drink this;” sickly.

“Are you just sick or just hungover?” inquisitive. 

“I’m pretty sure Stoli is one of those companies that’s in the olympics and hates Russian gay people or something.:

“Jesse, I paid for it, now drink it or give it to me.” And that’s the final straw. I will not be shown up by this bitch, I don’t care if she’s related to me, or older, or whatever the excuse is.

I will not be defeated.

I down half the vodka in one, then the rest in another. Big mistake. 

Now I’m swimming. Oh if only I hadn’t had a cognac, three pints, and a glass of absinthe last night. Oh, if only I had actually eaten something today. Oh, If only I hadn’t let my goddamn sister take me out for lunch today.

SLAM!

Suddenly my head’s on the table in between my glass and napkin. Jesus I hope I don’t puke. Oh Jesus, I don’t really believe in you, I’m an atheist, but please don’t make me puke right now. Sam is cackling that cackle that that all the women on my mom’s side of the family inherit and pass on. I hope I never have a niece, because she’d have that cackle and I’ll always associate it with Sam and this moment. Once I gain my head again I lift it up to look at Sam. I wish she was younger than me so I could be protective of her from half the douchebags she ever dated. I want a niece.

I look at the scar that she tries to hide in her hairline, but I can’t remember where it came from.

“How are you feeling Mr. Bukowski?” she asks me with that smirk that my whole family has, pretending she didn’t see me looking at the scar. I smirk back. 

“Not as terrible as I thought I would,” I reply as Sam cackles again. “I need to stop letting you take me out at night though.”

“Oh come on, you’re a sophomore in college now, ‘you must enjoy zee dreenks!’” she says, doing a bad imitation of Adam in his Dracula role from last year’s school play, hand motions and all. I wave her off.

“Sure, sure. Can we leave before Adam calls us?”

“Fine.” Sam chugs the rest of her gin and stands up. She reaches into her leather jacket, pulls out five quid, and slaps it onto the table. I also stand and we’re off. I’m excited; we’re headd to Forbidden Planet, London’s biggest and best purveyor of comic books, sci-fi, toys, movies, and general media that nerds like myself love, for their final summer sale. Yes, I went San Diego Comic-Con this year, but goddammit I’m in England and I want some goddamn stuff. Adam is already there by now, pretending not to hold a spot in line for us, but he is six-foot-four so he probably won’t be bothered. 

We’re walking with purpose now, and the vodka, strangely enough, is helping me. I’m not drunk but the alcohol is burning through my bloodstream in the best figurative way possible. Holy shit am I excited, and while I’m not looking, a hole opens up in the street appears and I fall straight in. Sam screams my name but it’s too late; I’m tumbling through darkness, and I’m pretty scared that this is the end of it all.

SLAM!

Ouch. Now I’m sitting in a chair, staring into fluorescent lighting and it’s hurting my eyes. Ouch. An eclipse hits the sun. Where am I? I close my eyes. 

“Are you ok, ma petit Américain?” My eyes open, and suddenly I’m staring at the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen, and my breath catches in my throat. I know where I am. She kisses me; I feel the warmth of her entirety touching touching me, thawing what was cold. She sits back down in her own chair, brushing her perfect hair out of her perfect eye with a perfect hand. She lights a Gitane, smiles at me as she exhales it. I look down at my hand and raise my own cigarette to my mouth, take a drag exhale. 

“I’m ok.” She smiles, definitely relieved.

“Will you miss me?” she’s suddenly serious, but her face never cracks with the imperfect stress that plagues me. My breath catches again, and I look around. No one else in the street side café is moving. Is this real? I’m not sure.

Wait a minute. I know where I am. Yes, it’s real, but it isn’t now. This happened already, I know what comes next. 

Now I’m looking at the conversation from a different table, outside the large windowed door that protects the café from the Parisian cold, but I can still understand what’s going on. I see Her ask again:

“Will you miss me?” Then I see me, across from Her in my jeans and my stupid red converse and my stupid black button down and my cheesy blazer I bought at college. Jesus, I can’t believe I had the nerve to be near Her in that state. I know what comes next, and suddenly I want to jump out of my seat and stop him but I can’t and I just have to watch. I see myself say this: 

“Sure, well-I guess.” Ouch. I can feel the stupid crash over like a tsunami or a bomb blast made out of pure fucking stupid. I’m embarrassed, then I’m angry, then I’m embarrassed, then I’m crying, then I’m screaming, then I’m embarrassed again. Then I see Her face and that all goes away. There’s an extreme look on Her face, but not of one sole emotion. If I didn’t know Her, if I was some ogling idiot considering Her as nothing but a sex object, I would think that She had an ugly crack in Her features. That is not what I see. No, I see the truth in Her expression. Only I can break past the glass, only I have the understanding, the passion, the arrogant possessiveness towards this woman to see the pure objective reality of Her expression. 

This is what I see: surprise. Sadness. Anger. Love, hopelessness, hatred, malice, shock, tears, hope, misery, confusion, love again. Sadness again. Hurt, betrayal, love, a third time. I think I’m crying. Am I crying? I hope I’m crying; maybe that’ll show Her that I love her. Jesus I’m stupid. So fucking stupid. I see Her stand up and She says something to me. I don’t react, the cigarette just keeps burning in my hand. She’s crying now, shouting, making others, no longer frozen in the café, stare. I know what she’s saying now:

“Aren’t you going to say anything? Bon sang vous merde!” She waves her arms furiously, brushing another strand of perfect hair out of Her face as quickly as it falls out of place. She’s crying still, and I think I’m crying. I am crying. But He isn’t. He’s just letting Her cry while the cigarette burns. I utilize the passion and arrogance and understanding again to look at His face. 

This is what I see: hurt. Insecurity. Confusion. Ambivalence, anger, apathy, shock, hopelessness, indifference. But love isn’t there, neither is real sadness, hurt, or any tears. Suddenly I find myself enraged, and suddenly I’m able to stand up from the table. I approach the glass door and slam my fist against it.

“Say something! You don’t deserve her! You’re wrong, now say sorry! YOU’RE ME AND I HATE YOU!!” I close my eyes again, keep shouting and slamming the glass as questions race through my mind. Why is this happening? Who opened that hole? How could I have done this to Her? Why am I only realizing how wrong I was now? I open my eyes and I’m surprised to the whole café is staring at me, and She is standing directly on the other side of the glass, tear-streaked eyes looking directly at mine. 

I’m breathing hard, trying not to start crying again and looking her. He is still unmoving, but totally frozen now, like I was a minute ago; even the cigarette smoke is utterly stilled. She’s staring at me with amazement, surprise, sadness, love, and She places her hand to mine on the glass and I can feel Her again and tears well up in my eyes again. Somehow, the words come out uninhibited: 

“I miss you more than anything.” Pause. “I miss you everyday and I hate myself for not being better.” Long pause, I don’t know if she’ll say anything, or? “I wish I still had you Serine.” There it is; the perfect name for the perfect woman in the perfect time and the perfect city. And then she smiles at me. Really smiles, like a star. And it’s all ok. Then the world starts to crumble like a stack of dominoes, and I fall through the hole once again. 

“No, I’m telling you officer, that my fucking brother just fucking vanished!” I hear Sam in the darkness, first quiet, then loud. I wonder who she’s talking to? Where am I? Am I still falling?

SLAM!

Ouch. I’m lying on my back staring up at the London skyline and I know I’ve returned to where I belong.

“Holy shit!” Sam says and I hear her rush over to me asking (shouting?) if I’m ok. I say I am, and I wonder if the hole spit me back onto the street just now and I fell for a second or if I just sort of appeared. I hope it’s the first one because that’s more exciting. Wait, my back hurts? I definitely fell. Sam helps me stand up. “Are you ok?” she asks again, and she looks me up and down. “Have you been crying?”

I stare at her, and I don’t know how to respond so I just let my mouth kind of hang open. I want to tell her what happened, about the fall and the kiss and the screaming, the two me’s, and the faces and what I saw in them. And, of course, about Her. But I can’t. I just can’t. I rub my eyes with horizontal index fingers, and Sam laughs, because Dad does it the same way. 

“Let’s keep on, we don’t want our poor brother Adam to worry,” I say in a bad British accent and Sam laughs again. We start to walk again, neither of us speaking, the only sound I’m focusing on is the click-clack made by her boot heels. I look over at a streetside café as we pass it, similar to the one I was just in, and for a second I think I’m going to get all sad and shit again but then Sam waves at me to keep up and I cheer up because I remember where I am and that I’ll always have Paris. 

The End


© Copyright 2020 Jack Glantz. All rights reserved.

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