Coffee Shop Girl 2
“I put this… here?”
“Oh god!” He can’t be doing that. “Mr Snaggles, please put that table down.”
“Is ok, I help. You want it in shop?”
“No, no.” He’s not going to change his mind, is he? “Oh, yes thank you in shop would be fine.”
“Is good. I help Kay.”
Yea, you help Kay get fired if the boss sees you lifting that.
“That’s wonderful thank you.”
“You want I lift chairs inside too?”
“No! I mean no that’s fine I can manage. Goodbye Mr Snaggles.”
“I bid you the goodnight.”
“Thank you, I bid you the goodnight too.”
Right six o clock. Do the chairs, mop the floor, sort out the register and then I’m home. What’s that? Oh no, Cynthia has left her handbag; she does tend to focus all of her attention on her food when she sits down. You’d think I worked in a soup kitchen, the speed and enthusiasm with which she eats. I’ll just pop it in the back office and…
“Hello Kay dear.”
I spin around.
“Cynthia, hello. Come for this?”
I pick up the brown leather handbag and pass it to her. She embraces it. I don’t think her children live with her anymore, still all the same, that’s a little bit too much love for a bag.”
“You missed it then?”
“Got all the way to the bus stop I did. Then Bill, that’s the bus driver, lovely man – well he asks me for my pass and I …”
What a strange place for her to stop talking. Should I wait for the old brain cells to reconnect or shall I finish the sentence for her?
Nope still nothing.
“…You looked down and found that you didn’t have your handbag?”
She’s just staring at me, tilting her head to one side and grinning so much you’d think she’d slept with a hanger in her mouth.
“Cynthia, you’re freaking me out a bit luv.”
That’s not Cynthia’s voice.
“What are you doing inside Cynthia’s body?”
My heart is beating twenty to the dozen. It’s been a good six months since the Grim Reaper tried to take me. Six months since my dead brother rescued me from him, and now…
“Aren’t you scared?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You don’t sound as scared as the first time we met.”
That’s because I’m putting on a brave face and voice. Still, the Grim Reaper should know that, shouldn’t he? He can see inside me, or at least he could.
“Well I am scared. Your reputation is secure.”
Silence again. Don’t know how much of this I can handle. Well say something Captain Creepy!
“So what … what do you want with me?”
“Then I looked down and found, oh deary me, my bag. I’d left it in Kay’s coffee shop. That or the bank, but I hoped not, I mean the bank is closed now and…”
“Cynthia! You’re back!”
I throw my arms around her then let her go and step back.
“Sorry about that Cynthia. Are you ok?”
“Oh yes, I’m fine dear, now that I have my, you know.” She pats her bag then walks out of the shop and into the pouring rain.
The pouring rain.
I don’t have my umbrella. Maybe I die of a cold on the way home, maybe I step into a seemingly innocent puddle and the Loch Ness Monster is patiently waiting inside to announce to the world that he’s real and… hungry.
Maybe I have no idea what’s going on.
The only thing I’m sure of is that this isn’t the last I’ll see of him.
Ok, just hang in there Kay, clean the shop, do the tills, walk home… avoid puddles.
I’ll put the radio on, anything to take my mind off – him.
A bit radio four, some comedy that’s what I need, comedy.
Hello Kay, death here. Our conversation was cut a little short earlier.
“What, you’re on the radio now? I was looking for a comedy show.”
If I’d stayed in Cynthia any longer I would have had to perform my duty and take her to the land of the dearly departed.
“That’s not funny.”
Except I couldn’t if I wanted to.
“Ok, getting funnier.”
You see, I’m dying Kay. I have been here for an eternity and never in that time have I ever failed in my duty, that is until your brother stepped in and pulled you back from my side.
“What was it you said to me last time? Not my problem!”
Consider it Kay. A world without death. Right now, in Western Australia a site foreman has just been decapitated. He should be dead, but no; his head is confused and dizzy and rolling down a hill – about to scare little five-year-old Suzie by joining her in the family paddling pool. Not quite the beach ball she’d asked for.
“Gross, and still not my problem!”
And his body is running around, wondering who turned the lights out.
“Yea not to mention his builder buddies who probably think they’ve woken up in sleepy hollow. Still not my problem Mr Reaper. Look, I don’t get you. Six months ago, you want me dead and now you’re dying and you come back and want what?”
Please Kay. If you don’t then…
I can’t believe it, the Grim sodding Reaper is asking me, asking me to willingly jump into his little boat and ride to the river sticks. Wait a minute, if he’s asking that means he can’t force me.
“If I don’t’ then there’s not a damn thing you can do about it is there?”
“Then go screw yourself. What exactly is my motivation here?”
You’re listening to radio four comedy hour, now for another thrilling instalment of The Archers.
“Hi Munchkin. Have you been good for grandma?”
A hug from my little man. He can’t understand how welcome that is right now.
“I made poo.”
I’m so proud.
If not disturbing.
“In the kitchen putting my poo on the fridge.”
God, I hope he’s not being literal.
The customary embrace and kiss on the cheek.
“Hello love. Seen what your son has been up to? He wanted it put up on the fridge so you could see it when you came in.”
Oh, Winnie the Pooh. That’s a relief.
“That looks lovely, though he has three ears.”
“Don’t get me started. He insists that he needs the third as a spare in case of a honey emergency. Are you ok love?”
Nope, the Grim Reaper is back and he’s after my blood.
“Yea I’m fine mum, just been a long day; ironic how people go to a coffee shop to relax and unwind, yet the people who spend the most time there, i.e. me, are the most stressed. I’ll be fine.”
“Of course you will. Well, I’ll have to get going or your father will be getting the party poppers out, thinking I’ve been abducted by some man in a big black cloak and carrying a scythe.”
I glare at my mum.
“Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that!”
I practically run toward her and hold her in a tight embrace. I’m nearly crying. Pull yourself together Kay.
“Hey, I’m not going anywhere.”
She stops to think.
“Well I am, I’m going to your fathers but I’m not ready to push up the daisies just yet. Besides I’d miss this young man too much.”
She picks up Logan and he starts trying to draw glasses on her face with a crayon.
“Sorry about before.”
I fumble for an explanation.
“Just been a long day.”
Good explanation, non-committal, doesn’t need much in the way of clarity.
I watch from my upper flat window as she walks out the front door and toward the bus stop. Night is creeping in fast. A single street lamp flickers on giving just enough light for her to find her way home in the pouring rain. I worry, her traveling back on nights like…
Who’s that? I didn’t notice him before.
The man standing under the lamp.
He looks like an elderly auditionee for the phantom of the opera. He’s tightly clutching onto a long cane. I can imagine, if it were removed that he would tumble over and drift away on the tide of rainwater that leads down the street and into the gutter.
My heart rate increases as I try to look at his face, which is shadowed under the cover of darkness. I now know exactly who it is, and want to go out and remove the bloody stick! Instead I close the curtains and go into the sitting room to be with my son.
“Hello baby, did you have a good time with Grandma?”
Asleep on the couch, perfect; If that’s not quality I time, then I don’t know what is. Well, I don’t have the energy to make any food.
T.V. then fall asleep next to him I think.
Brad and Angelina in a car crash and being rushed to hospital. The dude on the telly doesn’t sound too hopeful that they are going to pull through. I thought they split anyway. Still a shame I loved those two.
One news story is interrupted and replaced by more breaking news. The image on the screen is a little blurred and the reporters voice is fading into non-existence. I’m too tired. Just close my eyes for thirty minutes then put Logan to bed.
I wake to the sound of a ringing telephone. My answer machine flashes that I have 27 messages waiting. I am a popular girl.
Dad, Calm down. What’s wrong?”
“Mum? No, she left when I got home. Didn’t even stay long enough for a cuppa. Well, have you tried her mobile?”
Mum didn’t come home last night and with all the riots and everything, dad is worried that… Wait a minute. Riots in South Shields? Over what, the price of fish?
“Don’t worry dad I’m sure she’s fine. I’ll go look for her.”
I pull the curtains open and daylight floods the flat. The street is empty, though Mr Reaper is still across the road and staring directly at me, looking worse for wear. I don’t have time to concern myself with that right now. Logan is asleep in my room. He must have woke in the middle of the night and… Ok, get Logan dressed and get out. I press the button on the answer machine.
Hi Love, Dad here. Tell your mum to stop with the digestives and come back home will you?
Dad again. As much as I love the single life, please tell your mum to come back home.
Kay, It’s your Dad. This is getting beyond a joke. No one is answering their phone and I’m getting worried now. Call me!
Hello love, it’s your mum. I’m really sorry…
She’s crying. Mum? What’s going on?
… It was when I got off the bus, some boys with knives and..
They attacked me;
tried to steal my purse and when I said no they –
Then I woke up. I must have blacked out.
I don’t remember.
I’m by the Mardsen Inn. I’m injured, I think.
I’m so sorry love.
Shit! Mum I’m coming. I dial for a cab but no one is answering. Are you frikking kidding me here? The Police! I’ll call the Police. I get to the second 9 on the dial screen and there’s a – I won’t even call it a knock, a kind of feeble scraping at the door, like the end scene from Lassie Come Home. I run down and yank it open.
“Oh, my God mum, look at you!”
I take off my cardigan, wrap it around her shoulders then guide her in and upstairs.
“What the hell happened to you?”
My mum just shakes her head and glances over to an empty teapot on the table. Unbelievably British – Brutally mugged, bruised, bloody and she still thinks a cup of tea will make everything alright. I pick up the phone and dial dads number whilst I put the kettle on.
“Dads on his way over mum.”
I hand her the mug of steaming tea and gently cup my hands around hers as she lifts it to her mouth. Her hands are ice cold, her face as white as a sheet, her hair damp, in tatters and smelling of seaweed. There’s a dark bloody patch on her torn blouse and around her lower abdomen.
“What happened here?”
She grimaces as the tea goes down.
“One of the boys, he had a knife and”
“I’m just going to have a look.”
Mum nods and places the mug down on the table.
When I move the bottom part of her top to one side I see three stab wounds, almost side by side. I don’t understand why there’s no blood coming out from her body but there’s plenty over her blouse. I look up at her and try my best not to burst into tears.
“These look bad, I have to call someone mum, an ambulance.”
“I’m sorry love.”
Will you stop saying that?
“You’ve nothing to be sorry for. You have your tea. I won’t be a minute.”
I consider calling dad first but I don’t want him to have an accident driving over, besides he’ll be here when the ambulance arrives.
It takes forever to get an answer on 999 but I eventually do. They’ll be there as soon as they can; they think forty-five minutes. Since when did the emergency services share the same time frame as a pizza delivery shop? What the hell is going on with the world today?
“Right mum, they won’t be long” I shout through from the kitchen and into the sitting room.
I pop my head around the corner, just in time to see mums half-filled mug of tea fall from her hands and onto the carpet. In my mind’s eye, it almost happens in slow motion.
I run in. Her eyes are closed and her head is bowed down. Am I too late?
“Mum!” I shout.
Reluctantly, I feel her ice-cold neck for a pulse, for some sign of life.
I break down and burst into floods of tears on her lifeless lap.
“No, you said you wouldn’t go, you said…”
“I’m sorry dear. I must have dropped off.”
I snatch my head up to see her smiling face looking down on me.
Her eyes are open but glazed over.
I’m confused, relieved but scared.
“Told you I’m not quite ready to push up the daisies just yet love.”
She places her cold hand on my head; a failed attempt at a comforting gesture.
“But your pulse, you have no… how are you..?
“She’s dead Kay, except she isn’t. She can’t. Nobody can. Not anymore.”
He’s behind me. I can hear him, feel him and if I turn around I’ll be able to see him.
“Why me?” I yell.
“What the fuck have I done? Nothing that’s what! Can you save her?”
“No. It was my job to take her. You know what I need?”
“I don’t.” I snap sarcastically. “But I’m really interested, why don’t you stay and tell me about it when I’m not here? The ambulance should arrive soon.”
“You think that wise? She’s dead and still breathing, still walking, like countless millions all over the world right now. She’ll be their science project to begin with and eventually taken from you as she becomes societies burden, like so many others.”
“Who are you talking to dear?”
“Kidnapper, murderer, child killer, The Innocent Reaper. The last one makes me laugh. You’re far from innocent!”
The warden stands a few feet from me in the Death Watch area, clenching his fist. I smile at the satisfaction he would get from beating me to a pulp right here and now.
“The press get it.” I answer. “The idea is that I murder the innocent, well nobody is innocent, are they? In a sense, I am saving them.
He tenses his fist even tighter and his face turns a lovely shade of beetroot red.
“You wanna be careful, you’ll die of a heart attack before you get the chance to see my execution. Third time lucky.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
The phone on the wall rings and he answers it.
“Right. We’re bringing him through now.”
“Ready, are we? Handed out the popcorn for the eager spectators? Is my useless pleb of an attorney watching?”
“I notice you declined your last meal and chaplain again.”
“Watching my weight.”
“We had to fight off the press. This was nearly the first truly public execution in over one hundred years. To be honest, I didn’t object too much, but unlike some others I don’t break the law, however much I want to when I look at scum like you. Shall we get going?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Stand up Johnson.”
He walks me to another, smaller room and two guards strap me to a gurney while he watches.
“Wrists and ankles warden?”
“Kinky. Brings back some happy memories. Would you like a box of tissues?”
He smiles, thinking that this is some pathetic act of bravado and I’ll break down like Jimmy Cagney in that old movie with the Dead End Kids in it. He can go fuck himself.
“Who’s behind the curtain?”
“You’ll find out soon enough. It’s mostly press. Some of your victim’s parents have showed just to make sure we do the job properly.”
It was a smaller room than the last. The window in front looks almost like a bay window, and with the curtains drawn could almost pass for my own living room first thing in the morning; except for the prison guards, warden, doctor and four other guys with hoods over their heads, lining the wall behind me like sacrificial monks.
“Them the ones that’s gonna be doing it?”
“That’s right. We have a lovely cocktail prepared for you.”
He instructs the doctor to put an IV drip into each arm. I’ve never been a fan of needles but I suppose I won’t have long to ponder it.
I feel something cool enter my body and shudder.
“Doesn’t feel so bad.”
“That’s saline solution.”
I don’t know what that means but I guess it’s like the comedian that comes on before the main show at a concert – not the reason everybody came but a delicate reminder that something bigger and better is on the way, and soon.
The phone on the wall rings and we all look over toward it. The Warden sniggers before picking it up.
“You don’t honestly think you’re going to be pardoned, do you? This is for me.”
“Didn’t think it was. Just if it was the pizza place I wanted to get an order in there too.”
He grunts, shakes his head and picks up the phone.
“Yes, all checked. Open the curtains.”
They are pulled open and I see a load of people sitting staring. Most of them I don’t know. My dick of an attorney is there. How I’d like to get my hands on him, Bart Simpson could have mounted a better defence. Look at their faces, I feel like a star attraction at an aquarium.
The warden does his best to hide his inner smile then reads the charges and the sentence.
“Craig Johnson, do you have a final statement you would like to make at this time?”
“Can I read War and Peace?”
“Just get on with it Warden.”
He gives the command and the sacrificial monks come forward and each inject something into the IV.
“I don’t feel sleepy” I say, slightly panicked. “Aren’t I supposed to feel sleepy?”
It’s like they have injected fire into my veins. It hurts. I grit my teeth and shake my head. I won’t give those bastards the satisfaction!
The monks step back and I shout at them.
“Is that the best you’ve got!? Come on!”
The Warden looks worried, and a little scared. Good! He tells them to do it again and increase the dosage to 5,000 milligrams. I don’t know how much that is but I’m guessing it’s enough to floor an elephant.
The obedient hooded clergy oblige and the fucking pain! I can’t help but to scream. I expect it to end at some point and for me to fuck off and die but it keeps going, on and on till… it stops.
I’m still alive.
Look at everyone, they don’t know what to do with themselves. This is bloody hilarious!
The Warden orders the curtain closed and I’m wheeled out of the execution room.
I close my eyes and a vision of a girl explodes in my head.
My head is spinning, I almost lean on the Grim Reaper to steady myself, then think better of it. Physical contact may be all he needs to get his power back and suck me into oblivion.
“What was that?” I gasp. “I’ve just seen an execution!”
“Are you sure?”
“Wel,l I thought I saw something. It felt like an execution.”
I’m out of breath.
“Execution, the very nature of execution implies a death does it not?”
The realisation is hitting me. In a twisted way, this is all my fault.
“Yes, he survived and will soon be set free to continue the fine work he started before he was imprisoned.”
I shake my head.
“Well he certainly kept me busy for a while.”
I don’t even want to hear this.
“Seven years and thirty-five documented victims; all young girls, all suffered in petrified agony and confusion before he eventually slit their throats and buried them.”
“Oh, how dreadful.”
I’m crying but trying not to. Why do I feel so fucking guilty about this? I didn’t kill them!
“There were more?”
“Thirty-seven. They missed his first, when he got a real taste for it.”
“How is it that I…”
“You are connected now, and will remain that way till one of you leave this mortal coil”
I look at my mother ‘asleep’ on the chair and contemplate.