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Shift (3/4)

Coffee and conversations. Laughs and tears. I access human interaction, while wiping down drink stains, crumbs, and fingerprints. I also have access to many cups of cold beverages. I dispose of them in bins, standing around the perimeter of the shop, which everyone can access themselves.

….‘Maybe we are technology. We’re machinery of a different kind, made of organic matter rather than plastic and motherboards.’  The students pack their books into their bags, and get up to leave. Thankfully, they put their cups into the bin. I wipe the spot they sat in, next to the window.

….A man, one of the regulars, possibly a writer, sits further along the window table, reading through his scribbles in a brown book. Our eyes meet momentarily, then he continues to read the hieroglyphics. I could be the next major character in his work. Several customers sit alone, reading novels or typing into their tablets, sipping away at their coffee.

….I go over to the area where the clean napkins and packs of sugar are stacked. Crystalline granules create a constellation on the wooden surface, before my cloth swoops down to destroy it.    

….Two women sit close by, a younger one and an older one.

….‘This is serious. How do you think it’ll go?’ says the older woman.

….‘Well, it’s in an hour. I just hope it all works out.’ The younger woman clasps her fingers around her cup, like a clamshell.

….I get some more napkins out of the cupboard below, and refill the holder.

….‘I’m sure it will. You’ve dressed well for it. Everything starts with appearances.’

….‘What if it’s a no? No one can help if it’s a no. It’ll be over. Not even my good shoes will save me, despite what people say.’ The younger woman closes her eyes and begins to take some deep breaths for a few seconds.

….The older woman looks around, probably checking if anyone is listening. She sees me. ‘Could I get one of those, please?’ she asks. I smile, handing her a napkin. She turns back to the other woman. ‘Dear, you’re being a little dramatic now.’

….The younger woman becomes quiet, probably on the verge of tears. Talk about coffee shop drama. She picks up her handbag, and gets up. ‘I think it’s time I made my way there,’ she says.

….The older woman sits there, drinking the rest of her coffee. The other woman left her cup on the table.

 ….Someone taps me on the shoulder. I turn around. It’s Thomas. He flashes a grin at me. ‘Are you going to stand there all day, gaping at stupid packets of sugar?’

….‘Hello to you, too. I wasn’t gaping.’

….‘Honey, you should just work here full-time and you can stare at all the sugar you want,’ he teases.

….I take my apron off, and get my jacket from the back. I say bye to everyone still working their shifts. I make my way to the door, grabbing the cup left behind by the woman and throw it away.

….As I walk away from the shop, I see the younger woman waiting at the bus stop, on the other side of the road. I continue walking, another stranger on the street.

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Interlude (2/4)

The curtain came down.

….Light was restored in the auditorium, and the low humming in the air dissolved into chatter and the shuffling of people moving from their seats. The swinging, double doors brought the smell of popcorn and sugary sweetness through them. Katherine took in a deep breath, letting her tastebuds revel in a sugar crazed frenzy.

….She turned to face James, who gripped his armrests tightly. In his chair, he seemed to be bracing himself inside a NASA rocket ship, ready to take off. 

….‘How did you like that?’ Katherine asked. James seemed to snap out of his little rocket ship role-play, become reanimated, and adjusted the beanie on his head. He took in a deep breath. Katherine waited.

….‘Yeah. That was something.’

….‘We’ve had this conversation, James. If you don’t like theatre, then you don’t have to come.’ She waved her hands towards the stage, ‘I have friends who would love to come and watch this.’

….‘Don’t see the problem here, Kat. You’re always saying “try something new” – so here I am, trying something new.’

….She took a mirror out of her clutch bag, flashed her teeth in it, then brushed the blond hairs framing her face with her fingers. James’s phone beeped beside her.

….An elderly couple sat in the row in front of them, chuckling vivaciously, enjoying a wonderful evening together at the theatre.

….She armed herself with her Chanel lipstick and began recoating her lips in a fresh layer of colour. Satisfied, she put everything back into her bag, and sat limply in her chair.

….Now, the elderly couple leaned closer to one another, probably chatting intensely about the play.

….‘So… what did you make of the strong female cast? I love seeing powerful women on stage,’ Katherine said.

….James’s phone beeped again. The screen of death appeared on his iPhone. Score: 45. His thumb hovered over the play again button.

….‘You can score higher than that, James,’ she said.

….‘Yeah, almost beat my high score.’

….‘The one I set.’ Katherine stared at him. ‘The female cast?’

….‘They were good… Weren’t women always powerful?’ he asked, picking at his phone case with his fingernail.

….If they were, the world wouldn’t be this way. Katherine fiddled with her fingers, as he scanned her face. He sat back, and faced the stage.

….‘When’s all this going to be over?’ he said.

….‘I’m beginning to ask the same question myself.’

////‘Huh?’

….She sighed. Katherine pointed to James’s phone. He flashed the screen at her.

….‘The play begins in about ten minutes, or so,’ she said.

….‘Oh. Want a drink?’

 ….Katherine shook her head in response.

….‘Then I’m off.’ Like a NASA rocket, he blasted off, down the aisle, and out the double doors. The flow of people moving in and out through them sent wafts of warm air flying around the room.

….Alone, Katherine glanced around the auditorium. She repeated the mirror checking routine again: hair, teeth, and lipstick. The elderly couple continued their deep conversation. She leaned forward in her chair.

….‘But, the whole concept of acting is quite peculiar, don’t you think?’ the old woman said, pushing her gold-rimmed spectacles up her nose. ‘We watch actors perform the real in a fake setting.’

….The man contemplated this, rubbing his beard.

….Katherine picked her mirror up, again. It reflected everything behind her – rows and rows of seats going up like a set of stairs. The people at the top scurried around like ants, zigzagging across the rows. 

….‘What’s fake? Us or them?’ she whispered.

….James plopped down into his chair, a cup of ice cream in his hands. She dropped the mirror on the floor.   

….‘Hey, where’s my ice cream?’ She pouted. James licked his tiny spoon.

….‘You didn’t say you wanted any.’

….‘You asked if I wanted a drink!’ Several heads turned to look at her.

….Light faded from the auditorium, and the curtain lifted up. The double doors stopped swinging, and a hush fell over the audience. Katherine shuffled around in her chair, trying to locate the mirror. James poked her arm. 

….‘Shh, it’s starting again,’ he said, then continued to lick ice cream off the spoon.


Story number two from the City of Echoes collection