“And passing into my purer mind, with tranquil restoration, feelings too of unremembered pleasure…” The patron was reciting Wordsworth, a poet I detest, but ironically am still capable of identifying from a single line.
“How can he be remembering something unremembered?” a drawling boy asks. “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” The boy looks far too tired for somebody of his age.
I touch the metal shell of my kettle to see how hot it is against the tip of my finger. It is hot enough to burn me slightly, so I pour the hot water out into the coffee pot and deliver it to the table. I display my best rosy-cheeked smile to the patrons as I put it down. I then take the breakfast orders, scrawling them down on my worn black notepad:
Full English – pud x1
The kitchen is clean and dirty at the same time. There are no dirty plates and counters are pristine, but age old grease stains line the wall besides the oven. There is a single small window at the top corner of the room, open. Fresh but cold air feeds through only slightly dampening the lingering aroma of cooked breakfasts: beans, fried meat and eggs. When the Café ‘just off of the island’ was new, the kitchen would get into a state far worse than this. That was before the coffee chains swarmed into the area, and before everybody had a home Tassimo machine.
The toaster pings. I butter the bread with speed and precision, before sliding each piece of toast into a metal rack. I carry it into the room where the customers are sitting. The room where there aren’t any grease stains on the wall, and where the entire front of the shop is tiled with glass panes, where the tables are clean, where the walls are decorated with brand new prints of old photographs.
1948: A horse surrounded by trees munches happily at a patch of grass.
Supposedly, according to my mother, my Great Grandmother had served tea at a stool in that park all her life. “Must be in the genes”, Mother always tells me.
“Redeveloping the greenbelt! About ten thousand more homes in the area! There’ll be no bloody countryside left!” moans Clarence, a local whose been coming to this spot since it was a blacksmiths about seventy years ago. In his hands he holds a copy of the local newspaper. He pokes at an old picture of rolling hills.
“The usual, Clarence?” I ask.
“Yes please love!” he shakily hands me an assortment of loose change. He is short by about a pound, but I don’t tell him that.
I have to get Clarence another chair from the back, but by the time I’ve made his pot of tea, Dr Jones and his students have disappeared anyway.
“Broken glass all over the pavement on the way here; bloody kids I bet. Somebody might hurt themselves”
Clarence drinks his tea, reads his newspaper, and eats his tea cake, all the while he indulges me with occasional sporadic rants about anything from “the bloody kids coming out of school causing trouble” to “the outrageous price of milk in that new corner shop on the estate”. When his tea pot is empty, he stands up and leaves with a joyful “ta-ra”, the same “ta-ra” that he has echoed around this room every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the past twelve years. For the four years before that it had been his late wife Mary who said “ta-ra” whilst Clarence only nodded and smiled. Back then I was still sending poetry to publishers, keeping contact with school friends, spending most of my wages on nights out up town.
The sun recedes from the sky behind a large grey cloud. I look through the glass panels of the shop front over at the island. Cars pile up behind the pelican crossing. The tree in the centre of the island looks different today. Almost all of the leaves have browned and most of them have dropped to the floor.
Drop drop drop
Soon enough it’s chucking it down, and with the likeliness of more customers low, I decide to go for a walk, abandoning the chairs scattered in disorder around the room.
A flash of blue in the corner of my eye, and a foreboding rumble. I leave the shop. Rain batters my coat.
I take the same route I’ve taken my entire life, but this is not the same walk. This walk begins with a door slamming and the impact of a shock of heavy rain against my skin. This walk has an angry Mercedes owner blasting his horn at me as I cross in front of him at the zebra crossing. This walk has a lighter that won’t light, and another packet of cigarettes half-smoked in the rubbish bin outside the post office that I used to steal sweets from after school. This walk has rain seeping through my shoes as I step through a large and growing puddle. It has broken glass scattered over the pavement, and the flash of a first kiss in my mind as I pass the alley that goes onto the bridge behind the school.
When I reach the pub, I look back down the street. From up here I can see for miles; clusters of houses that stretch on and on outline blots of green. Grass, trees and shrubbery. Without my glasses on, the trees in the distance seem to blur together as if they have been drawn into the landscape with the broad strokes of a paintbrush.
On the walk back to the café I don’t take note of anything at all. Absently I move forwards towards my destination, one foot then the other, one foot then the other, one foot then the other, one foot then the other. It’s as if I’m on autopilot. Yet, still, I can’t help but focus on the great crane in the distance ahead of me, looming above the houses. Yellow and metallic.