The café was full that day. Every table was taken and some people were even standing with their coffee. The coffee was that good and the weather was that bad that it was probably worth it. I, on the other hand, needed to sit down with my coffee. Something of a ritual you might say. It had started raining a couple of minutes before I got inside. I didn’t bring an umbrella out with me. I had come down because I needed to get out of the house. I’d been trying to write again. I was having the same old bricks and mortar blocking up my brain. I thought that having strangers around might help the creative process. I got my coffee and went into the smoking room in search of a table. There were no free tables and a couple of people were standing at that work surface area that has the ashtrays and the sugar and all that stuff. I was just about to go back out and look for a seat somewhere else when I saw this pretty, weird looking girl sitting at a table reading this huge Emily Dickinson book. She was on her own and had a free seat next to her. Her bag was sitting on the seat like a guard dog. She had all of her things laid out in a line on the table. Her coffee, her cigarettes, her lighter, some sweeteners she probably brought from home and her phone, which looked like the same one as mine. She clearly didn’t want to share the table. But I didn’t want to stand. Not with my knees being the way they are these days.
“Is this seat free?” I asked, pointing with my free hand at her bag. She looked up at me. She studied me for a minute with a little suspicion, as if we were different creatures that posed no real threat to one another.
“Yeah, I guess” she said, moving her bag and sitting it o0n her lap.
“Thanks” I said, taking off my mug and sitting my tray on the work surface next to the standing people. I sat down and looked at her for a second. She had her hair tied up and held in place with a bic pen. She had odd earrings on. One was gold and one was silver, but they were similar in style. But definitely odd. Her hospital-wall-green dress, if you could call it that, had “Orange County Sanitarium” written across the chest. I looked around again in case there was somewhere else to sit. There wasn’t.
I pulled out my notepad and started to write about the way she looked. It started to flow out of me. I had other stuff to be getting on with, but I had to write about her. I thought that it might come in useful one day. I wasn’t doing it in a malicious way or anything. But you don’t see people like her every day. I was looking up from my notepad discreetly every now and again, taking in something else. Her face was shaped like an upside down tear drop. Her eyes were darker than her coffee, but they had that same brown ring framing the inky black. Her nose had one of those little perks at the end that made smelling flowers so easy. She was stroking her bag as if it really were the guard dog she wanted it to be. I was scribbling quickly. It was as if my hand couldn’t keep up with my brain. I tried to make my handwriting as messy as possible in case she saw what I was writing.
“Are you writing about me?” she asked, still looking at her book. I stopped and felt a little tremor go through my hand. I looked up at her. “I don’t mind if you are. I kind of like the thought of it to be honest” she said, looking directly at me with an almost undetectable smile on her face.
“No.” I lied. She pulled the pen out the back of her hair and put it between the pages. She sat the book down on the busy table. Her hair came down to her shoulder at one side. It came above her ear at the other.
“I don’t believe you.”
“I’m not. Honestly.”
“Can I see?” she said, peering over at my book. I could see her little nose twitch a little.
“No.” I said, covering the book with my hands. They were really shaking now. I pressed them hard on the page to stop her noticing the trembling.
“So you are writing about me!” she shouted, clapping her hands together gently with a big smile on her face.
“No” I whispered, leaning in to try and contain her.
“Go on! Let me see” she whispered back. “You can’t write about me and then tell me it’s private. I’m private.”
I just looked at her. Her eyes had more than a streak of crazy in them, but they seemed safe crazy. At that moment my phone started to ring. I held up my finger to her as I leaned to get into my pocket. She leaned back into her chair and started to stare at me. Still smiling. Still looking a bit crazy.
“Hey, yeah, yeah, no, I’m in a cafe right now.” She looked down at my notepad, I spread my hand across the page and gave her a little smile. She gasped her mouth and her eyes widened. “I’ll be home later. I don’t know when. I won’t be long though. No,” I looked at her. ”I’m on my own. Of course, okay, take care. Bye.” I hung up and sat my phone down on the table next to hers. The phones were exactly the same. iPhone 4G. I looked back at her.
“So my face is like an upside down tear?” I looked away, taking a sip of my coffee and checking for another table. One had freed up on the other side of the room. “That’s not very poetic.”
“What would you say it was like?” I replied quickly, defensively. She thought for a second, gently rubbing her hands through the longer part of her hair.
“I’d say it was more like a cartoon heart.”
“And that’s better?”
“Well, maybe not better. But sweeter. Yours is too sad.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Well I do. And it’s my face. I don’t want it associated with crying.” She plucked a cigarette out of her packet and put it in her mouth. I pulled out a lighter and held the flame in the center of the table. She leaned in. I could hear the first burn as she sucked hard on the filter, blowing the smoke quickly from her nose. I saw her little nose ring wobble.
“What’s your name?”
“Eh….” She waved her cigarette like a little wand. “Jolene”
“Yeah. Jolene. Why not?”