Thursday, 8 January 2015

Stories from the Cedar cafè

(this story is also in short story blog, it has been reverted to draft to preserve it for publishing)

The Cedar cafè was full and humming with the sounds of quiet conversation. A few business men were sitting in the Free WiFi area and a group of schoolgirls were squashed together on the large brown leather sofa near the window. Margo walked towards the counter with her collar turned up and her hands deep in her pockets. She had pulled her fair curly hair into a tight knot and covered it with a blue woollen hat. She had put on her old black glasses instead of using her contact lenses.  She felt a bit like a spy or a secret agent, but she was just following the advice from her Creative Writing course.  She realized that the young girl at the counter was waiting for her to order.

'A very large hot cappuccino, with cinnamon and a Danish snail pastry please.'

Margo had never been to the Cedar Cafè before, it was on the other side of town. No-one would recognize her here, it seemed perfect. She took her coffee and pastry to the only free table. It was tucked in a corner and she sat with her back to the other customers, took out her notebook and pen and sunk as far as she could into her woollen jacket, shoulders hunched.

According to her Creative writing course she should jot down pieces of conversations overheard in cafès or bars, waiting rooms or wherever. Yesterday at the doctors' she'd listened to a long boring conversation about a New Year diet and an old lady complaining about her big toe. No Blockbuster novel material there as far as she could see.

Yesterday evening she'd told Angus. He had looked at her in astonishment.

'It sounds really nosy Margo. Eavesdroppers never hear any good about themselves and all that. I wouldn't like anyone to listen to my conversations. Didn't they give you any other ideas?'

'Well I'll go to a cafè on the other side of town where no-one knows me.  I've tried all the other ideas, they said to turn on the radio and  I did that too and listened to a programme about Japanese grasses attacking the hedgerows of Britain. Maybe this isn't the right course for me either.'

Angus laughed,  then he spoke to her in the low deep voice that he kept just for her, his thick Scottish accent rolling around the words like caresses.

' Why don't you teach a course instead' Something like 'A thousand ways to keep your man happy, by Margo Malarky? You 're an expert.''

Margo put her arms round his neck and ran her fingers through his thick curly dark hair.

'Oh Angus, as long as I keep you happy, that's all that matters.'

They'd gone to bed then and  Angus was gone when she awoke. He was working so hard. He always had done, all through their marriage but lately she felt like she hardly saw him all week then at the weekends he was worn out.

Margo sighed and opened the notebook.  If she didn't get any ideas here at least she would have had a nice break. She spooned off some of the creamy froth on top of her cappuccino and then took a bite of the Danish pastry. She listened to the schoolgirls on the sofa. They were huddled together and all staring at their screens.

'Oh no look, he's put on a photo with her. Do you think they're together? She's got her hand on his arm.'

'She does that with everyone, I don't think it means anything. Look at this photo of Briony, do you think it's a selfie? She looks a bit photo- shopped to me. Her hair isn't that blond.'

'Oh look at these shoes, aren't they cool? 10.99 in the sale, a bargain.'

'Shall I send out the invites to my party on Fb or  What's app?

'Do it on what's app or create a group so only who you choose can see it. You have to be careful. Did you read about the couple who came back from holiday and found their house wrecked''

Margo took a gulp of her cappuccino. She couldn't see what the girls were looking at, but apart from talking about facebook and What's app their conversation didn't sound much different to the ones she used to have with her own schoolfriends. It seemed a long time ago. She'd had time to bring up a family since then and now here they were on their own again, Angus and Margo, at home, on their own. Their son Charlie was up at Aberdeen studying Engineering. He'd wanted to be near his grandparents and get in touch with his Scottish roots.  Their daughter Fiona was a nurse in London and by her account practically running the hospital single handedly.  It was  Margo's fiftieth birthday next week and  yesterday her sister-in-law, Judith  had rung to see if she was organizing anything.

'Margo I'm sorry to have to ask you but you know how busy we are. I keep putting off accepting invitations for that day in case you have a party. The Anderson's are having a house warming and the new Rowing club is opening. Then the Tennis club ball is the next day and the Book club annual dinner the day after.'

Margo had sat down on the kitchen chair and looked at a robin hopping about on the terrace.

'I'll let you know in good time if we do anything. I'm sorry to keep you hanging on, maybe on the day Angus and I will stay at home and then in a few weeks time I'll arrange a family party. thank you for keeping the date free. I''ll talk to Angus and get back to you this evening. Come by for coffee whenever you like, Judith. I'd love to catch up on your news.'

Her sister-in-law's phone calls always made her feel sad and empty. She wished they didn't. For as long as she could remember Judith had had this effect on her and she couldn't understand it. She loved her elder brother Steve and they'd always got on so well. She'd tried to warm to Judith but so often felt pushed away and felt that Judith  didn't really like her.

Angus was always dismissive but reassuring.

' How could anyone not like you, she must need her head testing, it's her bad luck if she can't see  how lovely you are.'

Steve was also reassuring, 'You're the best sister anyone could have, funny, warm and kind.'

She had never dared ask Judith in case the answer was no.

There was a scraping of chairs at the table behind her and a clatter of cups and a lot of sighing.

'Do you think I should have bought the larger size? It didn't look too tight did it?

'We can go and change it if you're not sure but I think you looked sexy like that.'

'Are you sure? I'm scared of looking like mutton dressed as lamb'

'You looked more like a lioness ready for the hunt to me.'

There was giggling then silence as cups were picked up.

'Phil's started drinking again.'

There was a long pause.

'Are you sure? I thought he was going to AA.'

'He stopped.  A man from work started going and he said he felt embarrassed. Since the twins have left for university the house seems so empty. We've never had many friends because of the drinking problem. People seem scared of us as though it's catching. I don't know what I'd do without a sister. You're my saviour.'

'Oh poor Phil.  But actions speak louder than words. Go on lioness you can do it. Get your claws out and convince him to go back to the AA.  If  you like I'll ask  John to pick him up.  He can take  Phil to the meeting and then maybe join in and bring him home again.'

'Oh would you please ? That might just be what he needs. Thank you so much, I don't know what I'd do without you.'

Margo felt tears come to her eyes.  This all seemed too personal to write in her notebook.
 There was the sound of chairs scraping again. Two people came and sat at the table right next to Margo, she couldn't help overhearing their conversation whether she wanted to or not.

' It must be all my fault. What shall I do now?'

'It's not your fault at all. these things happen. Men like Mike, handsome doctors working as  cosmetic surgeons,  have so many temptations around them all the time.  It's not your fault at all.'

'Do you think he loves her? I really want him back, I still love him.'

'Ask him. Get the question out of the way. If he says yes I'll be here for you. If he says no, then it was just a mid-life crisis and you'll have to forgive and forget if you want to make a go of it, and I'll still be here.'

'I don't know what I'd do without you.'

There was a sob.

'There there, where there's life there's hope. I nearly left your father once you know, when you were about fifteen. He said I never listened to him anymore. It wasn't true but I was so wrapped up in looking after Grandma.'

There was a silence and then what Margo liked to think was a big comforting hug.

Margo drank the last of her cappuccino and picked up the remaining crumbs from her pastry with her finger.
 She felt drained. How did women get from being the young girls on the sofa to being so sort of let down and in difficulty.  Her fiftieth birthday loomed ahead. Everything seemed to happen at once in a woman's life. Your children left home and you got empty nest syndrome,  your parents grew old and needed you and  then your husband went through a mid-life crisis when his ego  needed constant attention.
 Just in one corner of a small cafè in a town in the West of England and in one hour she had heard enough to be able to write  her assignment for the Creative writing course, if she wanted to.
 She didn't want to though. She felt that they weren't her stories to tell.   One thing that shone through the conversations that she had listened to was how much comfort and strength we get from our friends, mothers and sisters, maybe she could write about that.

Someone sat down at the table behind her. Margo gathered up her notebook and pen ready to leave. She was about to stand up when the newcomer spoke.

'What a very attractive woman sitting at the table next to me. I wonder if she would like to come and spend a week in a Croft up on the coast of Scotland  all on her own with me?  I promise I will ravage  her. There will be a roaring log fire and a jacuzzi, champagne and wonderful walks and views.'

The sound of her husband's rich warm voice filled her with a joy and delight that rose up through her, warming her, filling her, overflowing, pressing on her so she could hardly breathe.

'Oh Angus, how did you know I was here? '

She leapt at him and flung herself onto him, burying her head in his thick overcoat and breathing in the warm male smell.

' Your car's parked outside. You wouldn't make a very good spy. Shall I take that as a yes?'

She pressed her lips on his and revelled in the familiar yet always new sensations that being near him gave her.

'Oh yes, yes please I'm beginning to think that. being fifty might not be so bad after all.'

The schoolgirls were at the till waiting to pay. As Margo and Angus arrived the girls turned to look at them. In their eyes Margo saw a sort of admiration and what looked to her like hope.


Welcome to the Cedar Cafè

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