Single Americano - hold the cream
Jan looked around the Bistro; little vases of white and yellow flowers in the centre of each table stood out against the pristine, green tablecloths. She had seen the same cream walls and dark wood beams in a small bar she had visited in France. The canopy above the window outside sheltered most of the diners from the glaring sun but on one small table in the window corner, the sunshine streamed in. Jan took her cup and sat down there. She allowed the sun to play on her face as she watched tiny particles of dust dancing in the light through the window. Her mind wandered aimlessly. Enjoying the break, she sipped her coffee slowly.
“Hello Jan, this is a surprise.”
Jan jumped at the familiar voice and looked up to see Mark standing in the doorway; he held his arms wide as if to welcome her. She stood up and smiled weakly. He hadn’t changed, the same old Mark.
“Mmm, not forgiven me yet I see?”
“What do you expect?” She allowed her coldness to confirm his suspicions but her hands trembled as she watched him saunter across the floor and join her at the table.
“Let me buy you a fresh coffee; this place is new, I’ve not seen it before?”
“Yes, fairly new,” she smiled as she added, “ I hear the food’s good.”
A family with two small children came in noisily and joined another couple already seated at a large table at the back of the room.
“Excuse me,” Mark twisted round on his chair and called the waitress without seeming not to notice them.
“Two coffees and two Welsh Rarebits, please love.”
As she came across to take the order, Jan widened her eyes and looked directly at her over Mark’s shoulder, shaking her head with the smallest of movements, she fleetingly touched her lips with a forefinger.
Mark turned back round to face her.
“I can’t eat alone, you must eat with me.”
Jan checked her watch,
“I only have half an hour. I’m not hungry, a coffee will do fine.”
Ignoring her statement, he asked, “Now, what have you been up to?”
“Since you walked out on me you mean?” she cut in coldly.
“Ah, come on Jan, we agreed to a trial separation.”
He leaned across and picked a hair from her lapel and watched as it drifted to the floor. She was beginning to get irritable as she relived all the emotions that Mark had unleashed in her on his leaving. But then, she had done all right for herself. OK, she was still single but she liked it that way and she’d done a lot that she wouldn’t otherwise have done; she’d gone to college for instance.
“So where did you go?” she asked.
“I was in Australia for two and a half years and then…”
“You mean you went … on your own!” Realising she had raised her voice, she dropped it again and whispered, “Why, after all our plans, why?”
“I’m sorry, please forgive me?”
Mark looked down and brushed imaginary dust from the tablecloth.
“I dunno, I guess it had all been getting too much, I, I really don’t know. I nearly wrote to you several times but, you know how it is!”
“Two Welsh Rarebit and two coffees.”
Jan smiled and nodded her head at the waitress. “ Thanks, Emma.”
“Ah,” said Mark triumphantly, “still eating out I see, not learnt to cook yet then?”
“Meaning precisely what?” His assumptions tangled in her stomach.
“Well, you were always pretty hopeless at cooking, you have to admit it. Even that dog wouldn’t eat it, remember?”
Jan recalled the picnic; how the sun played on the river’s surface. A small dog that she had thrown a stick for had jumped in and scattered the sparkling water. They’d fed it a sandwich and Mark had given it some of her quiche. He’d cut a small piece and, unknown to her until they’d got back home, had smothered it in pepper before throwing it for the dog to catch. How he’d laughed as it ran away sneezing. He’d laughed for days afterward every time it came to mind, ‘it’s only a joke about your cooking.’ he’d said.
“Long time ago now, come on, eat up.”
He picked up his knife and sliced the toast in half, in half again and again until he had eight little slices on his plate, he then picked each piece up with his finger and thumb before eating them noisily. Jan watched and sipped her coffee in silence.
“Eat up,” he repeated.
“I did say I didn’t want anything.”
“You didn’t mean it, come on, eat with me.”
Mark was insistent.
“If you want it you have it, I’m not hungry.” She watched as he slid her slice onto his plate and proceeded with the cutting ritual as before.
“I went through Italy, had some really good food there. Mmm, love this.” He added and stuffed another slice into his mouth.
The mocking voices of insufferable people echoed through Jan’s thoughts. The warm smell of toast materialized the tiny kitchen of their flat, friends sat around chatting, Mark’s friends. Geoff had said something and she turned to listen. The toast she was making for everyone caught fire under the grill. Someone laughed and from that point on it had been a standing joke. ‘Visiting Mark and Jan, we’d better bring a take-away.’ Mark had laughed too.
“Pity you never learned to cook, you never know, I might not have had to go so far for a decent meal.” Mark was laughing at his insinuation.
His voice scattered the images.
“Mark, look, I have to go, I’m sorry, I’m working.”
He finished the last slice of Jan’s Rarebit and felt in his coat for his wallet.
“Oh damn! I’ve left my wallet…”
“It’s OK, have this one on me, I owe you that much.” Jan got up and walked across to Emma, she whispered something and they laughed. As she turned to leave, Mark held his arm out for her but she brushed him aside and chose instead to walk before him. Outside the door she turned.
“When will we meet again?”
His arrogant, self assured face smiled at her and the knot in her stomach untied. Jan leant across, gently kissed his cheek and smiled back at him.
“Actually we won’t; I won’t, and by the way, I’m OK and doing very nicely, thank you for asking”.
Mark opened his mouth to speak. Jan gestured with her eyes to the sign above the door, held up her hands in front of her, winked, and walked back into her Bistro.
Marie Fullerton writes short stories, children’s stories and poetry and has had poetry and short stories published in anthologies and e-zines. Since gaining an English degree six years ago she has been working on her first novel.
Marie has painted since she was a child; it wasn’t until she was in her thirties that she began to sell her watercolour paintings. Marie has edited and illustrated school magazines as well as designing the artwork for the school badge and headed notepaper. Since retiring from teaching, Marie now sells her acrylic and watercolour paintings and her illustrations have been published in children’s books written by Trevor Forest.