Caf de Marquis (short story) by me


#1

Caf de Marquis by R. E. Bearlee

Caf de Marquis. Fuck that sweet little small business a couple streets off of a main street in the downtown district of a tiny but cosmopolitan city. Fuck that place. Fuck that second ring suburb it resides in. It is because of that hellhole, that portal of Satan that life sucks right now for me. It is where I met her, where I met that weird bum. It is where I waste little bits of money consistently and even more time. It is where my hard drive crashed and why my clothes reek of cigarette smoke and brown beans. It is that stupid coffee shop that I wind up in when I dont even plan on it. Its that fucking-

Really it is not the Cafs fault. It just attracts assholes or something. Must be the low low prices. Must be the good drinks and the nice relaxed atmosphere. There is something to look at everywhere and no one shoves you out of the way to get to the door. Actually the caf is fine, a pretty good place. It is my favorite coffeehouse in the area. I really go there too often. A comfortable environment goes a long way. A clean, well-lit place goes a long way.

The caf is where I go to get work done when I am not in a hurry. Ive found it best to stroll through my assignments; giving my mind room to wander. It helps me come up with better ideas. At least I get more ideas to turn over and inspect mentally. Im certain Im more effective with a long leash. In the caf I let my eyes scan around the museum of a coffeehouse. When I spot a 19th century dageurotype of an extensively bearded man I feel free to leave my seat behind and examine it further. Here the clock doesnt leer over me. Here idle minutes do not feel like wasted potential. Here I eavesdrop on the conversations of fellow patrons greedily, like I cannot stop myself. Making sure not to turn and face the subjects and making sure not to display outward reactions to outrageous, disgusting or highlarious anecdotes.

Heather. Shes the reason. Like that stupid song on the radio. She was the reason I thought I was ok. I would rationalize it in a If Ive got a girl like that I cant be too big of an asshole sort of way. She was an element of my life that I felt I had a grip on. Shit she was the reason why I shaved. She never knew because I never told her. I never told her because I didnt know either. I cant worry about that now though.

I think of her at the oddest moments. While in the break room taking that tentative first sip of coffee, wondering again what Heather puts in hers that makes it so tasty. Tasty like a dessert. Earthy and sweet. Sweet like her.

If he doesnt have the decency to call you back after you call him then he isnt worthy of your attention girl! Calling him a bunch, chasing him like hes something special gives him the feeling that hes the best you can do!

Two young professionals behind me last week. It seemed for women the relationship game was a power struggle. A contest of worthiness hidden behind planned smiles, little favors and reading a million little cues correctly. Secret character pop quizzes. Last week while listening to the two ladies I concluded for men the relationship game was about finding treasure. For me it was about holding on to my treasure in a foreign marketplace full of whispering pirates. For some of my friends it was a mission to feel her insides before she found out too much about the explorer. Of course she had to know something about the person to consider them worthy and that was the race. To be a marksman, aiming for the spot between knowing enough and knowing too much.

In the caf I feel like a cup being filled. That is how I chatted so effortlessly with Heather about chakra alignment the first time we met. I did not know anything of chakras and I blamed it on growing up protestant. I was able to infer and mime knowledge based on the information she casually dropped. I wish I could turn on this empty cup mode whenever I wanted to. I wish I could turn myself off more often.

At this caf I am filled with my surroundings. If I sit in the right place long enough I smell like roasted beans on the elevator home. Here I can wonder why there isnt a coffee bean cologne and not feel childish.

Im telling you I loved Laura man! It just felt like.it just felt like deep down she didnt love me ya dig? Yeah she said she did.
Two guys in front of me yesterday. One asian guy with the back of his bowling shirt to me. A black guy sitting across from him in a t-shirt with cartoon skulls on it. He is the one talking, looking at his friend squarely while his eyes are searching for recognition. The man of eastern descent is tapping his sneakered foot with his arms crossed under the table. The african american gestures passively with one hand.

It didnt feel real. Sometimes it felt like the love of a past lifethat is when it felt real! Like curled up next to her in bed. Or when we held hands in the darksometimes it was eerie. Most of the time though.more often than not it felt like she was playing a roleconcerned girlfriend ya know? Like her heart wasnt in it half the timelike I was just filling a spot. Still doesnt excuse what I did.

Fuck no it doesnt! Ive figured you all out! You see a problem in your relationship that seems deeply rooted. You ignore or explain away this problem until it becomes too big to ignore. Then once that happens you take it as a sign the love affair was doomed. Now with the self indulgent knowledge that things just werent going to work out in the end anyway you promptly shoot your relationship in the head! You kill it! You do it! Then you use the mop of fate to clean up all the blood. The ship is sinking anyway so you blow it to hell. You sir.sicken me!

The bowling shirted one must have smiled because the skull shirted one flashed a quick mirrored half smile. Then the negro dropped all pretenses, staring at a plank in the floor with a faraway face while his friend leaned back in his chair, finished his rice krispie square and being to gesture with both hands.

But there is hope-

Id finished my tea by then and had enough scribbles in my notebook to tell myself that I had worked without any high pitched objections from dark corners of my mind. I got up to leave. I tucked my chair in behind me and gathered up crumbled napkins. I didnt want to think about whom Ive made cry and signs of doomed love affairs. I was clutching my treasure chest with both arms.

=====================

I remember the day I met him. It was a cold spring day; the wind had more bark than bite and the clouds just wanted to pout in the grey sky. When I woke up that day I could hear the wind through the windows as I stared at the ceiling. I was going to Caf de Marquis of course, I had a few minutes to kill and a few bucks to toss away on some overpriced Chai tea. I always feel better after tea, and after breaking up. I was going to do both that day.

Such a good day isnt it? The bum was looking directly at me as I passed by him on the narrow walkway so I couldnt ignore him. I decided to humor him for a few minutes.

Yes. The wind isnt bad at all. Change from my pocket clinked into his bucket.

How are you doing? You look like youre about to make somechanges in your life.

Im fine, and yes I am. The world is always changing.you have to change with the times just to make it. Im so horrible at small talk. What I said doesnt even make sense. It isnt like the average person listens during small talk anyway. I thought it was universally accepted that everyone is just waiting for their turn to speak during small talk. Their turn to impress, wow, confuse and dazzle. I enjoyed my shot at it.

True. But some things need to be preserved. The bum was good at small talk too. Circles of bullshit.

Here hold this. The bum handed me a worn flask while he tended to his suitcase of artifacts. The flask felt very dirty right then, and right then I knew it was just because I thought he was dirty, a stereotype. He didnt smell and his clothes were clean. But the flask felt very dirty, I had to fight an urge to drop it and jump away as if it were a hot coal. But of course I was still holding it. I couldnt just drop it like thathe asked me to hold it for him.

Dont let her go.

Oh! I-I wont. I wondered what he kept in the flask. He looked like a vodka man to me, but I didnt feel comfortable enough to ask or check.

We stood there for a few moments in silence, me holding the flask of a complete stranger while car tires strode through puddles still in the street. It looked like it was going to rain again, but it always looks like theres about to be rain here.

Dont let her go.

Here you can just take it back. He seemed done fumbling through his belongings so I gave him back his flask of fire water. He took it from my hand and it disappeared beneath a layer of clothing. The bum then just sat there, staring out at the sky as if it were the only thing worth watching. He wasnt moving so I just stared at him. I felt like he was done with me. I wanted to grab my change back, but I didnt. How much did I give him again?

Have a good day.

Thank you, you too.

The bum said nothing more, so I gave him a passive wave goodbye and headed to the caf.

=====================

This isnt going to work for me. Her voice was flat, the flattest Ive ever heard it. I remember picturing her rehearsing that line before I got here, gathering up the nerve as she paced in front of the huge mirror she has. She probably had a shot of liquid courage; she always used it to loosen up. Not that Heather was an uptight person. Not that Heather had issues speaking what she felt. She could speak her mind effectively; you just had to wade through a bit of pleasantries and worthless conversation dressing. Most of the time she was subdued, scanning a crowded room while the spotlight was one someone else. Listening to the conversation and commenting mentally but not being a part of it. Ive always had to fight the urge to be that actor trying to stay in the spotlight. The gift of gab, I could turn it on and off like a switch. Most of the time I just left it on. I have no problem filling the air with my voice even when I am saying nothing. I had no problem running in circles as long as there were people to watch me do it and smile.

What? I just wanted to make it harder for her. I wanted to see her pause, look down and hear the slight panic in her voice. Old timey jazz was in the background on her stereo. I turned away from her to look around awkwardly; all of her books were either in the bookcase or stacked on top of something above her shoulder. While she sighed and inhaled dramatically I noticed she had barely eaten her Chinese food on the table. She had been nervous for a while.

This relationship is not going to work for me Gary. Her voice was still strong and composed and it hit me then, the sense of rejection. The sense of loss. The severing of a knot. It started at the center of my very being and just floated outward, a wave of tingles that inched through every corner of me. Im sure my mouth hung open. Im sure I looked dumbfounded. Im sure I just stood there with a blank face. After all, I came to break up with her. I had my speech planned. I was going to drop the bomb (were too different/we have different goals/were heading in different directions), mention something about still being friends and then make my exit. My plans washed away along with the sturdy composed look on my face. I was being broken up with to Benny Goodman. There was no relief.

I never felt like you gave a damn about me or about us. AndIm tired of trying to make you care. I shouldnt have to persuade you to care about me you know? She looked directly at me with her head to the side slightly.

You know I care about you.

Sometimes. Sometimes Im sure Im only there because I want to be and you dont care either way. The inconsistency lends me to believe that what we had wasnt real. If it was real it was unhealthy. I can do better than that.

Her eyes were pleading with me not to contest, not to beg and not to struggle. I obliged her.

I know. We were now improving. How I loathe being put on the spot.

Is there someone else? I blurted it out, I said it without looking at her and in a voice so flat I wondered if it really belonged to me.

Do you want the gifts back? All I could manage at this moment was talk of possessions.

You can keep them. And Im keeping yours.

By this point my hands were deep in my pockets and I was looking at her old, tan carpet. My body felt cold and foreign, a suitcase for my soulall that mortal coil stuff we heard someone read in high school English. Pretty bad shape for someone who intended on demonstrating his control over the elements of his life. Being the one who hurt instead of getting hurt. The one who made the clean breaks every time. She eventually kept talking but by then I was far away, inspecting my suitcase for damages. It doesnt really matter what she said anyway. She already said what needed to be saidmission accomplished.

I couldnt stop the tingles jumping through my body, I couldnt stop the sinking feeling coming in waves. I didnt know what they meant so I ended up just feeling generally uncomfortable. Which made the whole situation even more uncomfortable. Which made my feet do that stupid shuffle thing. Which made my eyes look for something to look at besides her searching eyes. Which made the words stay behind my teeth and my hands in my pockets.

I eventually crawled away from her apartment, she watched me leave from her window and felt satisfied. She had told the truth, just like the man on the bench down the street told her to.

I walked home in the rain and the bum didnt say anything to me as I passed him by.

=====================

Here we aresitting in this same damn caf but this time we are ignoring each other. This time the hodge-podge of styles in the caf dont feel comfortable and warm, but tacky and not properly thought out. Im just projecting my own feeling on the caf again. This time I caught myself doing it. This time there is a wall that isnt coming down. Its over. What we had is over, and I feel like it didnt even matter to her at all. She got her clean break and I am just torn and frayed. This tea is terrible and I regret paying for it. I regret even coming here. I wasnt even thirsty. Just my luck I happen to run into the person I want to see the least in my favorite place.

She sits with her back to me, reading a book with a half empty smoothie resting on the table. Her fresh pack of cigarettes lay beside it. Heather always liked this place because she could smoke here. Im sure there are other reasons but that is the main one. I wonder did she even see me come in, did she even look up. I wouldnt blame her if she didnt.

It is probably for the best. She is better off without me. I was distant and fake to her. Im distant and fake to everyone. It was how I played the game. I just did poorly this quarter. After a time-out Ill be fine. I look up from the paper just in time to watch as my ex-girlfriend gets up to leave, taking slow but sure steps out of Caf de Marquis.

Dont let her go

The words spring to the forefront of my mind, in the bums voice but nothing else. Why am I thinking about that stupid bum right now? Heathers walking away. Shes leaving me and caf. Shes finishing her clean break. I threw it away. I dropped the ball.

Dont let her go

The line echoes again in my mind. I realize that it cant end like this. I realize that Ill go nuts if I dont do something. Before I know it Im out of my chair and following her, my steps are little and cautious. Im scared. For the first time in a while I am just scared without trying to hide it. The tingling feeling starts to fan out again. Im sure I look retarded, or crazy.

I follow her out. I amble out into the street like a cautious deer approaches the highway; my head darting around as if reality were too tenuous. Wait reality is quite tenuous. The street isnt crowded but I cant find her. I must have waited too long to follow her out. Shes gone. Shes been gone.

The weather is hopeful and eager, light blue skies with many thin trails of perfect white. She couldnt have gone far. I just want to tell her Im sorry.

My eye catches a flash of black and white polka dots that is quickly swallowed up by the strolling, shuffling, trotting crowd. A second later I see her legs in black stockings. I am no longer a cautious deer. I will be the recent past you run into downtown. My pace quickens as I zip up my jacket. Once Ive crossed the street I still dont put my hands in my pockets.

She has not looked behind her once. Such a progressive lady.
One foot in front of the other I get closer to her. A majority of people walking the street have such annoyed expressions. So many look distantly irked and so many seem hidden inside themselves with a default face of slight discomfort. The ones laughing and smiling while walking hand in hand suggest to me that Im missing something.

My fists are clenched as the thought of calling out to her breezes past. No it would be obnoxious. If I just get in close enough I can deliver a polite tap on the shoulder. She stops and throws her arms up, her smile bright. A tall man in grey suit embraces her. I see 4 rings total on both hands. I see a watch that sparkles and doesn’t have numbers on it. He looks Italian with the dark hair and skin and not poor due to the jewelry, buffed hair and clothes that fit like they were made for him. They stay held in each other for longer than friends do. After they hug they are still holding hands. The two of them facing each other, paused on the sidewalk to inquire of one another. People glide past them as if it is not an inconvenience. I make a sharp left turn, brick walls of a dry cleaner assisting a successful retreat. The rock in my stomach is back. The tingling feeling has returned.

Before I know it my hands are fumbling with loose change and gum wrappers in my pockets as I progressively jog to my parked car. The sky is still optimistic.

Once inside my seasoned sedan Im oddly still, inhaling a quick breath of air and holding it. I want to hold it until my chest goes into a controlled burn. I needed to see that. I have to reach out but only grasp empty air. It is the surest way Ill learn. It was too late after all. I dont think Ill visit the caf for a while. I need to train myself to go to the supermarket more anyway.

~END

-_-


#2

Hey thanks for that. My fav line - “I will be the recent past you run into downtown.”