The Cafe Omega

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Nothing remains the same. The cycle of life is endless. But, are some things worth remaining?

Submitted: August 12, 2009

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Submitted: August 12, 2009

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The Café Omega
Omega n.
the last of any series; the end
 
Café Omega sat nestled in a quiet back street. The dirty sun was obscured by thick grey clouds that sat heaped in layers and reached toward the stratosphere mixed with carbon monoxide. The dull light of day reinforced the dreary cobblestone paths worn from decades of use and the bleakness of the drab buildings.
KA-BOOM!!
Carefully placed explosives tore the foundations of another out-dated structure; it crumbled into the ground and the squatters searched for new shelter. The dust cloud settled, adding another film of grime to the dull dirty streets.
A man, smoking a cigarette, walked through the quiescent ordure. His greatcoat was pulled tight against his body, his face shielded by a hat. Without looking he crossed the road, only then pausing momentarily to notice the latest pile of rubble.
Like an arctic wind piercing the shoreline and icy gale blew through the narrow street. The man pulled his collar around his neck.
Café Omega: the only establishment still operating in the derelict forgotten part of the city. Modernization had left behind its origins and thrust ever inland, leaving its heritage for the homeless.
The man approached a large, steel-plated wooden door. In front of this a security officer who wore a double breasted suit observed his approach. The man stubbed out his cigarette and stood before the guard who scanned him for weapons.
‘He’s waiting for you, Mr Sludden’, said the guard.
‘Thanks,’ he replied, and lighted another smoke.
The guard opened the door and Sludden walked inside.
A narrow staircase, shadowed with peeled walls on either side led down to a small foyer where a petite woman, hair in a bun, sat behind a desk and filed her nails.
‘Good afternoon.’ she said without looking.
On the wall behind her head a flickering fluorescent sign announced:
Café Omega
-embers only –
‘Pia,’ he said in greeting.
Pia pushed a button under her desk and a steel door opened. Sludden walked through and the door closed behind him.
A few slouching people nearest the door lazily turned their heads toward the new arrival. Sludden removed his hat, and their stares bounced off his face back to their tables; to their shallow coffees and dried up conversation.
The Omega was dimly lit. A tobacco haze sat heavy and constant. The walls in the ‘L’ shaped room were draped with red velvet and the carpet was a worn crimson. Booths lined the outer walls, while round tables cluttered the centre space. Candle-like wall fittings, with dim green bulbs, provided the major source of light and these were offset with token candles in the centre of each table. The brown haze and the green glow combined to make the customer’s faces appear grey and pasty. Some groups conversed, while others looked to anyone but the people they were with.
All, like the Omega itself, seemed lost and out of place.
Sludden moved through the tables to the far end of the room and stood before a large counter. A bald-headed man busily operated the knobs of a large silver coffee machine: hot steam collided with cold milk and let off a rip of satisfying PHIS...PHISSS...PHISSSSSS! The bald man looked over his machine and said, ‘Sludden.’
‘Tony,’ replied Sludden.
Next to Tony, a gaunt faced woman prepared drinks, which waiters whisked to waiting mouths. Food was not on the menu at the Café Omega. Its established clientele preferred minimal distraction from their alcohol or coffee. Cigarette dispensers were situated in both toilets and next to the dusty jukebox.
‘Short black, Tony,’ said Sludden, who had perched himself against the counter. He eyed the crowd and dropped his smoke on the floor.
‘He’s at table five,’ said Tony, as he handed over the coffee.
‘Sorry I’m late gentlemen. Public transport frequents this part of town...well irregularly.’
‘Quite alright, still packing them in I see.’
‘They manage to find their way.’
‘Where do they come from?’
The three men sat momentarily in silence. Sludden observed his companions. Hal, who sat opposite, was a large man. His double-breasted suit wished it were a triple breast. Hal was a hard-playing businessman. His eyes pierced to the soul and probed for weakness.
To the left of Hal was Marlon. Sludden had never met him before, and as the three men sat in silence Marlon twitched anxiously and adjusted the patch that covered his right eye.
Sludden, who had been pondering, cut in.
‘People come here because it’s familiar. They don’t have to ‘try’ here. They can just be. Out there...progress. Progress means change and change brings unfamiliarity, which breeds unease. And you can’t relax if you’re uneasy.’
‘Can I get something to eat?’ probed Marlon.
‘We don’t serve food here.’
Hal chuckled, ‘So this café, this metaphorical teat, will soon be obsolete. From the rubble that surrounds this cave will soon emerge a richer formula from which to wean the masses: milk, windows and food.
‘I provide,’ said Sludden, ‘what is required. Sure, I could install ventilation and paint the walls but that wouldn’t be the Caf\"\" Omega.’
Hal looked deeply into Sludden’s eyes. ‘Your business is the only one left in this area. But it won’ be for long. When construction is complete the businesses will return. And your sub-level café...where will it be then?’
‘Here,’ said Sludden.’
‘This café may remain, but all around it will be the new world. Everything is subject to progress.’
‘If I may,’ squeaked Marlon,’ clearing his throat. ‘Humans need to believe in something. If all were equal and the world harmonious what would be the point? With nothing to strive for what are we?’
Marlon paused and looked around. Seeing the attention firmly on himself, he continued. ‘If humans were content then we’d still be nomads roaming the wilderness tracking herds and scavenging berries. But thousands of years ago man dreamed of a better quality of life, and sought to achieve it. And if that primitive man had not dared to change, then you, my friend, would not have a café to defend.’
Silence.
Marlon and Hal looked at Sludden, who with a furrowed brow, sat deep in thought.
‘Sludden,’ said Hal, “a round of coffees. I’m parched.”’
‘Of course.’ Sludden drew a deep breath, turned in his chair and indicated to Tony that drinks were required. He turned back to his companions and continued, ‘Yes, but if our heritage and origins are so expendable then why do we preserve art in museums? And spend millions of dollars excavating the deserts for cities of the past?’
Hal raised an eyebrow, ‘One can hardly compare this café with mankind’s history.’
Sludden retrieved another cigarette from his packet on the table. Marlon rested his chin on his hands. ‘It’s not a question of whether the Omega is important to the culture of the city, it’s a matter of business and common sense.’
Hal nodded. Sludden listened and watched through the smoke. The drinks arrived: two cappuccinos and a short black.
Hal said, ‘This café occupies the lower end of a building in the middle of a ghetto.’ Sludden took offense at this but said nothing. ‘This area,’ Hal continued, ‘is entering a period of redevelopment,  It’s a natural progression: the old makes way for the new.
‘My lease still has four years,’ pressed Sludden.
‘We have offered more than enough to buy you out.’
Sludden sipped on his coffee.
Marlon said, ‘Sometimes life isn’t how you’d like it to be.’
‘The building above you: empty and dilapidated. The owner wants it demolished,’ Hal said.
‘The owner,’ proclaimed Sludden ‘has a binding contract with me.’
‘We’d like you to reconsider,’ added Marlon. ‘Think about it.’ He shot a look to Hal who gazed around the room.
‘Sludden, sorry, but we have to go,’ said Hal.
‘We’re friends. This...’ he indicated the café,...’this is business. Think about what you could do.’ He finished buttoning his coat, gave a brief smile and finished his coffee.
The three men stood and handshakes were exchanged.
Marlon commented, ‘You really could do with some ventilation.’
Sludden led them to the steel door.
It clicked closed behind them and Sludden returned to table five and slumped in his chair. He drew deeply on a cigarette as Tony joined him, with fresh cups of coffee.
‘Thanks,’ said Sludden.
Tony nodded.
‘Even the Romans considered and appreciated to some extent the cultures of those they conquered. But these vultures, they’ll eat our bones so that nothing remains.’
‘Maybe you should take their offer,’ suggested Tony, knowing the statement to be futile.
‘And do what? Buy a house in the suburbs and tend to a garden? No, the lawyers will decide our future. No doubt they’ll decide that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Our café: a solace to those who know it and a structural eyesore to those who don’t.’ He pressed his lips firmly together. Tony, stirred, sipped, then said, ‘Can they not re-develop the upper level and leave this basement intact?’
‘This basement,’ snapped Sludden, ‘has car park written all over it!’
They sat in the green haze surrounded by the bustle of activity, blind to the harshness of its own mortality. Tony stroked his bald head.
Several hours later the haze still sat heavily. Scattered throughout it a steadily declining number of people huddled around tables, or were bundled in booths. Sludden sat behind his desk in his office, the entry of which was a door behind the counter, next to the shelves of alcohol and glasses. A disused orange peeling machine took up space and gathered dust.
The room was square and resembled the inside of a vault. It was lit by two floor-standing lamps and one dim bulb hanging from above. Against one wall, a safe sat on wooden floorboards, a filing cabinet beside it. The only furniture was the desk and a chair, upon which Sludden sat.
A poster of John Wayne decorated the wall facing Sludden. He stared into the Duke’s steely eyes thinking ‘what would the Duke do?’
On the table was a bottle of Wild Turkey. It was half empty (or half full) and a portion of it sat in a glass beside Sludden’s right hand. The room had no window so he gazed at the Duke’s fixed look.
He was also reading about Houdini in a Reader’s Digest. A black and white picture depicted Houdini on stage inside a glass box which was filled with water. Sludden would like to escape. But what would he escape to? Houdini could escape from anything. But where did it get him? Once freed, he was repeatedly re-bound and re-confined; always escaping but never evading.
Without the café a void would open. A void Sludden would struggle to fill. But, as he glanced over the article, he concluded that nothing would happen quickly. In truth, the walls had crumbled around him.
A knock at the door had Sludden replying, ‘Come in.’
Tony entered the room, looking tired and glistening from perspiration.
‘We’re starting to close up,’ he said.
‘Fine.’
Sludden still pondered over Houdini and an audience that would pay to see him disappear yet expect him to return and take his bow.
‘You okay?’ Tony had noticed his vagueness.
‘Why would a man in full charge of his destiny constantly invent contraptions from which to escape that could possibly result in his own death?’ Sludden indicated the article.
Tony leaned over and looked. ‘Ahh, Houdini,’ he said. ‘If one truly hides in a game of hide and seek, it would only be for so long. Eventually you would want to be found; to illustrate what a good hider you are. Plus, the people doing the seeking will only seek if they expect to find you. Looking for someone who is lost is a waste of time.’
‘Fascinating,’ said Sludden. He had a sudden keenness to get home, only so he could return the next day.
Tony returned to the floor and closed up while Sludden lighted another cigarette and topped up his bourbon. He would talk to the lawyers tomorrow. Everything would be ok.
An hour later, Sludden and Tony were on their way home. Tony in his car. Sludden on foot to the station, then a bus to his house.
In the shadows that loomed over the Café Omega, a man stood, silent and still. He watched, through his one good eye, as a truck pulled up outside the steel entrance. The driver joined the first in the shadows and they waited for the third. He appeared in good time from the back of the truck and the three men scurried away.
The timer counted down and the truck exploded; a crater where it had once stood. And into the crater fell bricks that were once a building. A building, that once housed a café. The café Omega.
 


© Copyright 2019 Paul J Burns. All rights reserved.

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