Writing in dark cafés

March 23, 2010

Since Joe’s return, the house felt fuller, the kitchen warmed to new aromatics and old comforts, and seeds of conversations grew word by word. These were the good things. Audrey wasn’t ready to complain about the rest, but every so often she ran away from home.

Photo by Pam Wells ©2010

She’d discovered a coffee house near the local college. It was so dark inside, dark as espresso, that she had to stop and let her eyes adjust. She ordered Earl Grey tea (being afternoon) and a savory bagel, and sat at a square table by an electrical outlet. As she plugged in her laptop, a man nearby answered his phone. Audrey was surprised at his low, resonant voice—an actor’s voice, a broadcaster’s voice. He spoke of meetings but was dressed to clean out his basement. A radio man?

She opened a document of long-simmering notes on her novel. The beast lurked in the background of everything she did now, and an outline for the new draft was taking shape. A couple of young women—students? no, a little older; one with long auburn hair, the other brunette wearing a newsboy cap—sat down at the adjacent table. They jabbered on about cute hair, workday injustices and disloyal ex-friends. Audrey didn’t miss the emotional judgment days of youth.

“I don’t think that’s appropriate here, do you?” a man said behind her.

“You fool,” another man answered. “What’re you doing interrupting somebody you don’t know?”

“I will when he’s doing what you’re doing,” the first man said.

Audrey looked up. What was this? Two men, two grown-up men, arguing in a café? What was happening? She glanced at them: a trim, silver-haired man stood over a nerdy guy with a computer on his lap. Was he looking at porn? In a coffee house? Nobody would do that… would they? Audrey exchanged looks with the young women, who looked equally uncomfortable.

His game called on account of decency, the nerdy man left. The older man talked quietly to the woman behind the counter. Audrey tried to focus again on her work, but the young women were wading now into the abyss of romantic relationships. One described her knotted affair. The other worried about her upcoming marriage. Did they think she couldn’t hear, or was she supposed to hear? Revelation in the presence of strangers… in coffeespace, in cyberspace… maybe it was more exciting. Somewhere in all this was a story.

• • • • •

The scent of cumin met Audrey as she opened the door. Joe was assembling vegetable burritos and had corralled Evan into making the salad. She sat down with Carl in front of the college basketball playoffs.

“What’d you do today?” he asked.

“I took the beast out for coffee.”

©2010 Pam Wells


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