Tuesday, 11 May 2021

People Watching

 

by Tony Domaille


latte

 I’m a people watcher. At my café window seat, I watch a steady stream of people passing by. Every kind of character and walk of life. It keeps me entertained. And Lord knows any entertainment that costs is beyond my resources.

I also like the posters outside the theatre across the road. They advertise shows I’ll never be able to afford to see, but I sit and imagine what it would be like. Being poor means I have to be satisfied with watching the world rather than being part of it.

So, mostly I watch those outside the café, but today is different. Among the boiler suits, aprons and anoraks inside, there is a couple worth watching.

He is Cary Grant. Of course, he isn’t but he has that look. Tall, slim, perfectly cut hair. As I watch him, he takes a cigarette from a silver case and puts it to his lips. He can’t light up in here, can he? Then he obviously thinks better of it and puts the cigarette down.  The woman opposite him appears not to have noticed.

Her clothes are strikingly different to his dark, tailored suit. She must be of African heritage.  The blaze of orange, yellow, green and red of her huge dress is eye popping. I can see her hair is braided and covered by a turban like headdress of as many colours, but it is her skin that draws the eye. She must be in her sixties, but her complexion is a flawless chocolate brown. The whites of her eyes stand out in beautiful contrast.

This is people watching at its best. What on Earth put these two on the same table? They don’t appear to be talking. They don’t look like they should be together. There are other tables free, yet they are sitting opposite each other.

Then he speaks. ‘Do you mind if I…?’ he doesn’t finish the question but shows her the cigarette between his manicured fingers.

She shrugs, and he puts it to his mouth again.

I want to jump up from my seat and complain loudly. What’s the matter with him? How long has there been a smoking ban? But I stay still, not wanting to do anything that interrupts the scene.

‘Do you have…?’ Again, he doesn’t finish his question.

She rolls those huge, brown eyes, reaches into her large handbag, and produces a zippo lighter. The unmistakable click of the flip top being opened seems improbably loud and I expect other café patrons to object. Nobody seems to notice.

She turns the friction wheel with her thumb, once, twice, three times. The lighter sparks, but there is no flame.

‘Sorry,’ she shrugs.

‘Never mind,’ he says, and puts the cigarette away again.

‘Those things will kill you,’ she tells him.

He laughs, showing a brilliant set of shining white teeth.

‘Death is no laughing matter,’ she says.

He allows his smile to fade as he nods an agreement, and then asks, ‘May I know your name?’

‘Delores,’ she answers.

‘Harry.’ He offers her his hand across the table, and she takes it briefly. ‘Do you come here often?’

She throws her head back and laughs very loudly. He looks pleased by her reaction.

‘Harry, if I was twenty years younger, and closer to your age, I might think you were chatting me up. As it happens, I’m not, so let me give you the benefit of age and wisdom, ‘do you come here often’ is a cliché that went out with…’

‘With what?’ he asks.

‘With a whole lot of other dated questions and expressions,’ she says.

He considers her response for a moment and flashes that smile again. ‘I’m a man out of my time, it seems. Look, I’m going to order more coffee. Can I get you something? Tea, coffee? Perhaps some cake?’

She laughs that laugh again and pats her ample tummy. ‘Not for me, thank you. My doctor says, any more cake and that heart of mine is going to take me out.’

As if by magic, the cigarette is between his fingers again and he draws on it, even though it is unlit. ‘Doctors,’ he says. ‘Always fussing. Always trying to spoil our fun.’

She nods, and they lean closer together across their table.

Now I am straining to hear what they are saying. The voices are much lower, and their smiles are gone. They have only just met, but now I watch them locked in intense conversation.

His grey suited arms are rested on the red and white checked table cloth. The bare flawless skin of her arms makes the white in the checks look brighter, and their fingers are almost touching. I desperately want to know what they are saying, but whilst their lips move, I cannot hear the words. 

I feel bad. People watching is one thing, but now I am almost voyeuristic. For a moment, I consider going over and asking to join them. Ridiculous. How lame would that look? But the compulsion to know more about what they are talking about is overwhelming, so I do the only thing open to me. I go to the toilet. If I sidle past their table slowly on the way there and back, I’ll surely pick up something.

On the way to the loo, I linger as long as I dare and I hear him say, ‘Big body, big heart. Beauty isn’t skin deep.’

She says, ‘More clichés, Harry. More clichés.’

I walk into the toilets. They have redecorated since I was last in here. The smell of new paint and pine disinfectant is a strange mix, but not a bad one. And they haven’t just painted; they have hung photographs on the wall. Photographs of stars of the stage. People who have appeared at the theatre across the road over the decades. I recognise many of the faces. People I would love to have seen perform, if only I had the money. Then I see two photographs, side by side, on the wall near the door.

One is her. Delores Campbell. She is smiling at the camera and the legend at the foot of the photo reads, ‘one of the finest singers of her time.’

The second is him. Harry Carmichael. His face is brooding and the legend on his photo says, ‘award winning actor.’

I smile. Because I never get to see the shows, I realise I don’t know all the stars. I have just spent half an hour within feet of two famous entertainers without having a clue. I’m going back in there, marching up to their table and asking for autographs.

I exit the toilets at a rush and then stop in my tracks. They have gone. Their table is empty. I scan the café floor, in the vain hope they have swapped tables or gone to the counter. They haven’t. I rush to the window and look out into the street, both ways. They aren’t there and my disappointment feels crushing.

I move to the café serving counter. ‘Can I pay my bill, please?’ I ask.

The man in an apron starts pressing buttons on his till and says, ‘Cheer up, mate. It may never happen.’

I shake my head. ‘Sorry. I’m just a bit disappointed. I was going to ask those two stars who were in for their autographs, but they left whilst I was in the loo.’

‘Stars?’ he says.

‘Don’t tell me you missed them as well,’ I say. ‘They were sat at that table there.’

The man shakes his head and hands me the bill. ‘Two twenty, mate,’ he says. ‘And we haven’t had anyone at that table all morning.’

‘Harry Carmichael the actor, and Delores Campbell the singer were sat right there,’ I say.

He laughs. ‘Yeah right.’

‘No, really,’ I say. ‘I didn’t recognise them until I saw their photos in the toilets.’

The smile on the man’s face dies and is replaced with a frown. ‘I don’t know who you saw, mate, but it wasn’t them two.’

‘It was.’

‘No, mate,’ he says. ‘I may only be a café proprietor, but I do know my theater. Harry Carmichael died in 1953 from lung cancer. Delores Campbell died of a massive heart attack on the stage across the road in 1979.’

I look back at that table. I think maybe I see the faintest wisp of cigarette smoke, but then it is gone and realisation dawns. Not a penny in my pocket, but finally I have seen the stars.

 About the author

 Tony has written a number of award-winning plays, published by Lazy Bee Scripts and Pint Sized Plays, that have been performed across the world.  He has also had many stories published in anthologies and magazines. You can follow him here -https://www.facebook.com/tonydomaillewriting/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, 10 May 2021

Silicon

 

by Jim Bates

English Breakfast Tea

Kay’s phone rang. She checked the screen and smiled. Mandy, her only daughter, lived in Seattle with her husband and two children. She managed a popular coffee shop and was ‘busy, busy, busy, all the time,’ as she laughingly told her mom whenever they talked. Kay appreciated her taking the time to call.

“Hi Mandy. How are you doing?”

            “Hi Mom, all is well. I’ve got a couple of minutes waiting for Jessica’s soccer practice to end, so I thought I’d call and see how things are going with you.”

            “I’m glad you did, sweetheart.”

            “I’m actually wondering about Dad. How’s he doing?”
            “Oh, he’s fine.” Kay appreciated her daughter’s concern. She and Mandy shared a close relationship, and it was nice to chat frankly about her husband Don. “I told you before that he’s kind of been at loose ends since the pandemic.”

            “Yeah, I hear you,” Mandy commiserated. “Who would have thought something like this would ever happen? It’s been a real challenge for us out here. We’ve finally been able to open up at fifty percent capacity, so we’re starting to get some money coming in. The kids can go back to playing soccer but have to wear their masks.” She paused. “We’re getting by. So, what about Dad?”

            “Well, remember he took early retirement from the police force? That was six months ago, just before Covid hit. He did some projects around the house. Dug up a new bed in the garden. He started to read all those classic books he always said he wanted to like Moby Dick, which he barely got through.” Kay chuckled, “To be honest, between retirement and Covid, he’s had a lot of free time.”

            “Get in your way, a little bit?” Mandy laughed. It was their euphemism for her father getting on her mother’s nerves.

            “No. Not, too much.” Mandy heard her mom sigh and smiled, thinking, Right, Mom, but didn’t say anything. Kay continued, “But, he has a new hobby now.”
            That got Mandy’s attention, “Really. What?”
            “Well he was reading some science magazine and it said that silicon was used in making glass. You know your fathers always had a soft spot when it came to science.” Mandy furrowed her brow; she’d had no idea. Her Mom continued, “The article showed some photos of Chihuly glass, you know that fancy glassblower?”

“I know Chihuly really well, Mom. He’s got a showcase display here in Seattle. He calls it a garden. It’s a garden made of glass, and it’s stunning.”

“I saw the pictures. His work is amazing. Well, one thing led to another and to make a long story short, you father started taking classes on glass blowing. Fourteen lessons so far. He’s kind of obsessed.”

            “Dad? Making glass?” Mandy chuckled, “He’s not the most creative guy.”

            “No kidding. I remember when you were young, he was stumped by playdough. Couldn’t make a thing.

            “I remember. Drawing for him was arduous.”

            “Right, he had a tough time making stick figures.”

            Mandy laughed, “Absolutely. They were pretty bad. So, where’s he taking classes?”

            “At the Artist’s Coop in northeast Minneapolis. It’s just him and the instructor and their masks. He’s over there now.”
            “Has he made anything?”
            “Not yet. But I guess today’s the big day It’s going to be his first project.”
            “Let me know how it goes, okay?”

“I will, honey.”

“Look, I’ve got to go. The soccer practice is over.”

            “See you sweetheart.”

            “Bye, Mom.”

A few days later Mandy called. “Hey, Mom. I wanted to know about Dad’s glass blowing project. He sent me a photo. I told him I thought it was nice, but honestly, I have no idea what it is. The deep red was kind of pretty, but the shape was awful. It looked like a bloody heart; you know, like something you’d get at a butcher’s shop.”

            Kay laughed. “You’re being too kind. I think it looks like a cross between road kill and something the cat upchucked.”
            “Ewww. Mom!”

            “You disagree?”

            “Not really. I’m going to tell you one thing, though, I’m not going to show the kids. They’d have nightmares for the rest of their lives.”

            “I hear you. I think your father got the message. He told me his instructor’s been called away on a family emergency and doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone.”

            “Probably for the best.”

“I agree.”
            “So, now what’s up?”

“Well, you know your father, he likes to stay busy.”

“Got another project planned?”

“Yep. He wants to learn how to bake.”

            “Bake?” Mandy laughed. “The man who couldn’t boil water?”

            Kay grinned, “The one and only. I tried to talk him out of it, but he’s determined. He pictures himself as Chef Don.”

Mandy laughed. “Chef Don. I like that. You could get him a monogramed apron.”

Kay chuckled, “Not a bad idea.”

“Well, at least baking is harmless enough, sort of a no brainer.”

            “I agree. I’ve got him started on cholate chip cookies.”

            “Good choice.”

             “Thanks. It should…” She was going to say, “It should be pretty easy,” but, instead, said, “Opps. Gotta’ go.”
            “Why? What’s up?”

            “I smell something burning.”

            Good old Dad, Mandy thought, and said, “Better hurry, Talk to you later, Mom.”

            “For sure. Bye for now, sweetheart.”

            “Bye.”

            Mandy hung up and sat for a minute looking at the photo of her father’s bleeding-heart glass project. The more she studied the odd shaped piece, the better she liked it. It was different. She liked the deep red color. He’d never be Chihuly but you had to start somewhere. Maybe there was some talent there after all. There was only one way to find out and was for him to keep taking lessons.

She about ready to call her mother, but then hesitated. Better wait a few minutes, she thought to herself. There was that issue with the burning cookies to deal. Best to wait until the smoke’s had time to clear.

Maybe until tomorrow.

About the author 

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. All of his stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.