He gently lowered the cup and saucer onto the table. Chairs and tables in outdoor cafes were often an uneven footing and he hated slopping his coffee. He lifted the saucer slightly and wedged the paper napkin underneath. A late afternoon breeze ruffled the corner, a triangular pennant responding to the air, agitating for escape.
Even though texts did not seem to work in this upland country town, he pulled his phone out and tried again. ‘I’m getting a coffee at that big bakery cafe at the end of the main drag. Want one?’ Hit send, but nothing happened. Some little symbol was grey. What did that mean? Grey usually meant not working. Service unavailable. How many Gs did his provider provide? Not enough, obviously. Well, last time he rang and that worked, so that’s the strategy. As he went to Favourites he wondered what she’d think if the message miraculously arrived as he spoke to her and she saw he was saying the same thing.
Hi. It’s me. Where are you?
Talking to a woman from Essex who sells jewellery from around the world.
This really is a bourgeois little town, isn’t it? Trying to keep the goldrush going I guess.
She came here for a year and stayed.
A life sentence. Transported to the colonies. Sundered from kith and kin.
Shall I order you a coffee?
Sure. Be there in ten.
After ten minutes he ordered the coffee. Her tens were usually fifteen. Or twenty. He stirred his own and sipped. Lukewarm. At least it wouldn’t make much difference, cooling further while he waited. The heat loss flattens out, quicker at the beginning then tapering off. Like relationships.
The bag with the secondhand books he put on an empty chair at his side. Not to hide them, exactly, but not making it obvious either.
More books, she’d say, her voice carefully neutral. And he’d make some remark about being so much better at culling things these days.
How many unread books in the house? She’d smile to prove it was OK, that she wasn’t having a go.
Too many, he’d reply. And grin. Half grin.
The coffee arrived. Two shots: one decaf, one caf. Skinny milk. Napkin of recycled brown paper between saucer and cup.
I wouldn’t leave it too long. They don’t seem to be able to make a hot version.
He drained his own cup, she pushed hers away from her. A brown trickle leaked into the saucer, making a darker stain on the napkin.
I think I’ll stick to water. It’s still a bit too warm for coffee.
He thought about drinking hers too, but that would be too much, even though it was half decaf. Instead he gazed across the street.
Still want to try fish and chips from that place? I checked, they’re only open between five and seven.
Sure. Now or later, when it’s cooler?
Let’s check out the Ice Creamery first.
Such an odd name. A place for the creaming of ice.
He ran the teaspoon around his empty cup, collecting the coffee froth for a last phantom mouthful, then stood. Picked up the bag with the books and scraped back the chair. It squealed on the concrete pavement. Walked down the street, glancing back to make sure nothing was left behind. Just the small square table tilting slightly towards the street, an empty coffee cup sitting near the edge. A brown paper napkin fluttered under the saucer like a pennant.