Coffee Shop Girl
I’m going to die.
Wish I could say I’d made peace with it, but I’m terrified.
Just a waiting game now.
The bell at the top of the shop door tinkles every time a customer comes in.
A repetitive clanging, a chime of doom a…
Chinese water torture, that’s what it is.
Trouble is, I don’t know who it will be, could be anyone. If the next guy comes in wearing a big black cloak and holding a scythe, then that’ll be a clue I suppose.
See how I make jokes? Must mean I’m okay with it now. I’m really not.
“Hi Kay. Can I get another coffee please?”
A coffee? A coffee? Does this drooling moron not realise that I won’t see the end of the day? And she wants coffee. Bloody coffee! Where the hell does she think she is?
… A coffee shop I suppose.
“Yea course, Sandra. Same again?”
“Yes, Oh and one of those tiramisu slices, they look like heaven.”
I’ll be able to compare and let you know for sure soon.
“Yes, they do look good.”
Always liked the name Sandra. My first-grade English teacher was called Sandra. She was so, so pretty.
She’s dead now.
“You look a little tired if you don’t mind my saying.”
“Yes. I haven’t had much…” any “Sleep.”
“Oh, why. Are you okay?”
“It’s nothing. I’ll be alright (in the afterlife).”
Well, that’s her off to chuff her desert, after my typically British response to a very British question. Dunno why people even bother asking if someone is okay. Everyone lies. As long as we all share the same lie I suppose.
Oh God, look who’s come in. Please say you’ve lost your voice.
“Hello dear. It’s so wonderful to see you. How long has it been?”
Not long enough! Miss Talks Forever, making me want to tear off my own ears, just to have something to throw at you.
“I’m simply fantastic, thank you for asking.” I’m really not. “I hope you’re doing well.” Couldn’t give a shit.
“Oh, I am, yes. My Johnathan has graduated from university; got the third highest in his class, and that was at Oxford. Suzie has decided what she’s going to take for her options… I’m thinking all the sciences, maths and English of course…”
Is she aware I stopped listening ten minutes ago?
“So, what can I get for you?”
“Just a tea please dear.”
“Sit down won’t you, I’ll bring it over.”
See, my potential last act will be one of kindness.
“Oh, thank you dear. You are a good girl.”
Though I’m doing it to shut her up mainly. And what does she mean girl? I’m twenty-five not twelve; though I suppose compared to her, every female is a younger version.
How is it that she gets to live so long?
Thinking about it; her saying ‘you are a good woman’ sounds kinda sexist, or sexual. Girl is fine.
I’ve forgotten her name.
I don’t care. Just put the tea down on her table and…
That man is just staring at me. He’s not even trying to cover it up. You know the way you do. Pretend to be looking at something else once the person being stared at notices, or give a quick smile then stuff your head in a newspaper or something. Not him, though. Wide eyes, expressionless face. Just sitting there right in front of me. Should I say something?
“Can I help you?”
Okay, stop looking at me now! He’s weird. It’s a struggle staying polite. I want to take Cynthia’s tea – Cynthia, that’s her name! – and splash it over his face.
“What time do you finish here?”
Could this guy be any more monotone?
“We close at six tonight.”
“Is that when you leave?”
Yes normally, but you’re creeping me out big time dude, so I might pull the tables together and make a mattress from the napkins, rather than walk home.
“No, plenty to do after we close.”
“Would you like me to wait with you. Walk you home?”
“No, thank you.”
Is it him?
Okay Kay, just turn around and walk back behind the counter. Customers are not allowed behind there so I’d be safe from any vicious attack.
He’s watching me as I walk back. I can feel his eyes burning, boring a hole in my head. One more step and I’m home and dry, the sanctum of the staff only area. Just one more…
Shit, I recognise that voice. I don’t want to turn around.
Why is this scaring me so much? I thought I was prepared.
“It’s been a long time.”
“Thought I’d lost you for a while.”
“You certainly tried.”
“I haven’t slept.”
“You must have slept a little. I wouldn’t have found you otherwise.”
“Yes, you would.”
“Yea, I would. Though it has been fun watching you try to stay awake just in case I can only see you when you’re in the realm of the dream. You’re nearly right; except that’s the only time you can see me not the other way around. I’ve always been with you.”
“At work, at home, in bed… in the shower.”
“You’re a pervert.”
“I’m a certainty. What’s the saying?”
“Yes, taxes and well, you.”
“Don’t you want to look around?”
“Because I don’t want to see you.”
“I get that a lot. Have you said your goodbyes?”
“I have a son.”
“What about him?”
“Not my problem.”
“He is mine.”
“Not for much longer.”
“I need help.”
“Do I look like a childminder?”
“To stay alive. Please. I thought I was ready, but I’m not.”
“I’m like a bailiff for the soul. I don’t make the decisions, I just have to carry them out. You making peace with it just makes my job easier, but it happens regardless. Look out, you have a customer.”
“Two Americanos made with soya, one hot chocolate, no cream and a green tea.”
This guy must be thirsty. I’d best get behind the counter and turn around, keeping my eye from wandering over toward the door. I can do this.
That’s no customer.
“You can’t avoid facing me indefinitely.”
Long overcoat, check.
1920’s Trilby hat, check
And a dark creepy shadow where his face should be. Ch.. ch… shit.
Just like in my dream.
“Okay, so I can see you.”
“Look at me properly.”
“I don’t want to.”
I’m now taking a sudden interest in everything, except the haunting image in front of me:
Cynthia, sipping at her tea as though it were her last drink. The fucking irony! The lovely Greek couple, sitting staring lovingly into one another’s eyes; Sandra, practically licking the tiramisu plate clean and the bad-tempered biddy, who parks herself in the corner day after day, desperately looking for something to complain about. I’ll swap with you luv!
And that other guy. He’s still staring at me. What the… Where do I know him from?”
“I can’t take you if you don’t face me.”
“Well, there’s a little loophole you almost didn’t mention.”
I’m now staring right back at the creepy guy. Well, he was doing it first after all, but at least I’m not looking death in the face. Ohh shit, he’s getting up and coming over.
This is it, that’s how it’s going to happen. I thought it would be my heart giving out, that’s the most natural choice given my medical condition, but no, this guy is going to come over and… my brother?
“Took you a while to recognise me.”
“But… you died in childbirth. It can’t be.”
“Means you’re close now, else you couldn’t see me.”
“What are you…?”
“Come to get you.”
I tilt my head, without actually looking at Mr. Reaper.
“Jimmy I’m too young.”
“I wasn’t exactly a pensioner.”
“I have a son.”
“And he’ll grow to be a fine man.”
Reaper coughs and Jimmy corrects himself.
“…I would imagine. You can’t cheat death.”
Jimmy sighs, and I just wanna throw my arms around him. This is so strange, I love him so much. He didn’t live to be more than ten minutes old, but I know him as well as I know myself. I have to keep my distance, though. I’m not going to die. They can’t make me, they won’t.
“Mum and Dad are here.”
“Give them my best when you go back won’t you?”
Oh, Reaper is joining in now.
“You can keep out of this as well. This is between family. One question, though. Why is everyone carrying on as though everything is normal?”
“Look at Cynthia.”
Cynthia has finished her tea and is standing to put her coat and scarf on whilst her table is cleared by… me?
“That’s your body.” Reaper said.
“And this is your soul.” Continued Jimmy. “You started separation after you first noticed me sitting there. I’ve been here for hours waiting. I’ve really missed you.”
“Can’t I go back in?”
“No, sorry, not once you’ve split from the body.”
“How long does she… I have?”
“Minutes,” Said Reaper.
“I don’t want to go.”
“I know. There’s nothing I can…”
“Jimmy, surely you can?”
He shakes his head and looks at Reaper
On instinct, I follow his eyeline and end up staring Reaper right in the non-existent face. There’s a crash as the tray behind him falls to the floor, alongside my material self and a collection of dirty cups plates and glasses, which shatter as soon as they hit the ground.
The screams from the customers seem to fade into a kind of surreal ambiance as I stare deeper into Reapers face. What was once so frightening now seems almost comforting.
“My boy will be fine.” I eventually say, softly, and I know that he will.
Jimmy holds my hand.
“I’ll still miss him but…”
“You’ll always be with him.”
“He’ll feel you when he most needs to.”
“And I him.”
The coffee shop dissolves from my mind and I am happily lost in the emptiness of Reapers face.
His shadows suddenly become defined and facial features begin to form. The rapid transformation into a fully functioning face is quite unnerving.
The eyes open and the lips move but no sound comes out.
“I can’t hear you,” I say.
He mouths a phrase; the same phrase over and over.
“Can’t hear you.”
I move in closer, till I’m almost at kissing distance with the Grim Reaper.
My eyes shoot open.
A crowd of … Sandra, Cynthia everyone. I’m not dead, but how? I turn my head and Jimmy is here, right by my side.
“That’s right.” He smiles.
“You fell, fainted I think.” said Sandra “Lucky for you there was a doctor in the house.”
“I thought I was dead.”
“You were.” Said Cynthia
“Turns out it’s not your time after all.” Said Jimmy.
“Thought you said I couldn’t cheat death.”
“You can’t. Me on the other hand…”
“Well, I’ve done what I came to do. Now you have a little boy to be looking after.”
I have no words, but he understands perfectly. Jimmy rises to his feet and opens the door. The brightest sunlight floods the room from the outside. He turns once and smiles before walking out.
“I’ll be seeing ya. Though not for a while hopefully. You take care of yourself.”