Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Coffee morning

She's thinking about her homework; she left the book on the breakfast counter instead of putting in her bag, and now she's thinking that if she hadn't done that, she could be doing her homework now.  It's boring, but it's surface level.  There'll be something more interesting a little deeper.  And so I push....
Ah, now we have something.  A figure, male maybe?  They usually are.  He comes into focus briefly and then shudders and hazes out again.  She doesn't want to think about him, which makes me all the more curious, so I push a little harder.
Ah, resolution at last.  It's not a man, it's a woman, a little older than her, wearing a bra and a skirt with toothpaste stains near the knee.  Ah, there's a toothbrush in her mouth as well, and a little foam on her lips.  She's leaning over the book on the counter, and spit-and-toothpaste are dripping on the book.
"Whatcha readin' this for, Marry?" she says.  "I thought we agreed it out; you're just clever enough as you are."
The woman hazes out again and a I feel a little pressure back.  She really doesn't like thinking about this woman.  I wonder about her name briefly, and then realise that with an American accent Mary can become Marry.
"I saw you looking over at me," says a light voice, just a hint of a tremor in it.  Someone nervous, not used to approaching strangers.  I open my eyes, and the girl whose thoughts I've been dipping into is standing on the other side of the café table, her satchel hanging loosely from her hand by its strap.  She's favouring her left leg, and to compensate she's tilted her head slightly to the right.  Her eyes are brown, wide and sparkly, and her skin looks soft.
"I looked at everybody, darlin'," I say, broadening my speech into a drawl, going for somewhere in the Deep South.  It was a stupid idea really, I can't keep an accent up for long, just like I can't keep myself from popping into people's thoughts for long either.
"I saw that too," she says.  "Is this seat taken?"  She gestures with casual indifference, someone who's sitting down because it's easier than standing.  Not yet inviting herself into my company, still waiting for an offer.
"Only by any as wants it," I say.  That doesn't sound right to my ears, so I throw a "Y'all" on to the end of it.  That sounds worse, but she doesn't seem to notice.  She sits down, shuffling the seat so that its rusted metal feet scrape on the scored tiles on the floor.
"I think I know you," she says now, leaning in to me slightly, her eyes raking across my face with an intensity that makes me sit back and sit up, stop slouching and start paying more attention.  There's something very intense about this woman.  "I think I dreamt about you.  Last night."
I force a smile, and then a laugh.  It sounds hollow, and I hope she doesn't notice.  "I should think you'd have better things to dream about than me," I say.  "I'm just passing the time here in the warm until they kick me out in the cold, and then I'll find another café and another coffee.  I sometimes think I'm just waiting here in this life holding a place for someone else, someone who's a little late to the party."
She's not listening, she's still searching my face, looking for something, so I dip back into her thoughts to see what she's looking for.
Oh sweet Jesus, she did dream about me last night, the dream is uppermost in her mind right now.  There I am, lying on my back on some kind of hospital gurney, strapped down at the wrists and ankles, and the woman with the toothpaste is leaning over me holding a knife of some kind.  She's saying something, but I can't hear what she's saying, there's too much noise, a siren of some kind, blaring like an emergency klaxon.  I look around, wondering where the woman I'm talking to is – people always inhabit their own dreams, whether they realise it or not – but I can't find her.  The toothpaste woman raises her arm and her sleeve falls back slightly, revealing a tattoo on her wrist, three numbers: 616.
"I dreamt you and I were in a library," she says, and I'll pulled back out of her thoughts to find that she's now looking down at the table top and talking to me.  Lying to me.  "You were showing me a book you thought I'd like."
"Well now, that can't be me," I say.  "I can't read, never have been able to.  My Mammie didn't feel that letters and numbers were entirely holy, for all that the Bible she slept with used them freely.  All that educatin' stuff was for God, and not for His children."
"The library is two blocks from here," she says, still not looking up.  "I thought... I know it sounds strange, but in the dream I really, really wanted that book.  Would you... would you mind coming with me?  It'll only take a few minutes, and perhaps that book is important to me."
She reaches out for my hand, and in doing so reveals her wrist.  A tattoo is there, the numbers 919.
"And how many names do you have?" I say softly, my voice barely more than the exhalation of air.
She looks at me, aware that she's somehow revealed herself without knowing how, and her face twists into a snarl.  She seizes my coffee cup and throws the contents into my face; the stone-cold coffee splashes like a fragrant wave on a choppy sea, and then I'm on my feet and running for the door.

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