1 May

He’s there already, thought Saphie as she carefully made her way towards the café where she’d met the stranger Rusty yesterday.
She paused and smiled.
He must be keen to give me that phone back!
Her hip gave a twinge and she winced. I hope that darned thing doesn’t let me down, it would be just too bad, proving I’m an old crock with one foot in the grave…
“You’re punctual,” she said as she drew near, and he looked up. His smile was uncertain. Was it welcoming? Or nervous, like a teenage lad going on his first date and wondering if he’ll manage to get a squeeze of her breasts? Or was it regretful, sorry that he’d come but needing to give her the phone back. Maybe wishing he hadn’t noticed it in the first place?
“I believe in being on time,” he replied, and his smile broadened and became more positive.
“It must have slipped out of my bag,” she murmured, indicating the phone he was holding. “I’m sorry if it’s put you to too much trouble.” She heaved herself into the seat opposite him and was surprised when a waitress brought two coffees.
“I hope your poison doesn’t exclude cappuccino,” he said. “I thought I’d order before you came.”
She shook her head, and smiled. “I like it,” she said, and took the phone from him. “It’s what I would have chosen myself,” she added.
He grinned at her. “I thought that’s what you had yesterday! I hope I didn’t disturb you, phoning last night like I did,” he said,
“Not really, there wasn’t much on the telly, but when the phone started, it made me jump! I don’t get so many phone calls these days. My circle of friends is really quite small,” she replied, trying to sound contented with her life, and probably failing.
“Same here. But I had to return the phone and it took until the evening to charge it up. It was dead flat!”
“I hardly use the thing,” she sighed. “I pay so much every month and really ask for nothing in return.”
“I guess it’s much the same with me,” he smiled.
“There weren’t things like mobile phones back in the good old, bad old days,” she sighed. “My first love was Colin and when he became ill so very young I’d have loved having a mobile phone with me. But I didn’t, I couldn’t, there was no such thing, and so I was nowhere near him when he died … one of us had to work, though we never actually married. Living in sin was so naughty back then! Anyway, the hospital tried to contact me at the end and it took ages … it was a different age then.”
“That’s why I’ve got mine, for emergencies,” he told her. “Why did he die, that first love of yours?”
“It was the cigarettes that killed him,” she sighed. “Even when he knew he was ill, when he was coughing up blood, he smoked. Silly man, but he wasn’t the only silly person back then. And we’d said we wanted to live our entire lives together. We’d promised, like you do when you’re young, when you know you’re immortal and that old age is so far away you can discount it. Then death creeps along and it’s such a nasty shock.”
“Connie was my angel,” sighed Rusty. “I still expect to hear her voice in the morning or see her coming home with her bags and stuff, up the garden path. But she passed away, and I’m a lesser man for it.”
“You said … I understood you to say, rather, that you … helped her on her way?”
He sighed and fidgeted with his own fingers. “I shouldn’t have told a total stranger that,” he confessed, “but I’ve needed a mother confessor ever since, and nobody ever tells the Agathas of this world anything … she begged me to help her end it. And when I looked into her eyes and saw the pain in them, those eyes I’d loved down the years, the soul within them, the soul that was bleeding… how could I refuse?”
“It must have been a nightmare,” she whispered.
“It’s a continuing one. But I know I did the right thing when I helped her overdose on morphine. She was weeping through her last few days anyway. There could be no way back to life for her even if a magical cure was discovered the next day! All she had was the remorseless pain and the way her mind was mushed almost out of existence by medical science’s best attempts at numbing the pain… and I helped her when she begged me. And when she died I knew she’d found peace.”
“Did she believe… in an afterlife?” asked Saphie, carefully. She had no intention of treading on religious toes or causing a stranger grief by grafting her own spiritual doubts onto his grief.
Rusty shook his head. “She knew that the end was the end,” he said quietly. “I wish it wasn’t, but it is. There is no afterlife, no Heaven, no Hell, no God, no devil, lest that devil be in our own hearts…”
“I was a nun once,” she told him. “A bride of Christ. Until they discovered that an unnatural life might lead to unnatural desires and I was found in bed with another nun! And I can confirm, I think, that it’s all mystical gobbledegook.”
“You a nun?” That’s a hard one to believe!”
“They chucked me out. They insisted that I left and divorced me from Christ! Isabel was an angel. And I did like her, maybe for a time I loved her. It’s strange who a person will turn to when the overwhelming power of human instinctive needs are involved! I dared say that, back then and at a pinch, you might say I was bisexual. I hope that doesn’t shock you.”
“No more than being a murderer makes me feel guilty. I rather like the idea of love, true love, because that’s what I had with Connie. And if it is true then it’s wonderful no matter who it’s between…”
“You’re rather broad-minded for a man of a certain age,” she grinned. “What are we going to do about it?”
“Do about what?”
“This sudden friendship based on mutual confessions,” she whispered, so quietly that he had to lean towards her in order to hear. “I’ve got my phone back and I suppose I ought to offer you something in return for your honesty and kindness.”
“That’s all right!” he told her. “I’m not a thief!”
“And I’m not a cheap trollop who doesn’t repay kindness,” she smiled. “Do you fancy a nice glass of wine one evening? And maybe a good long chat?”
“I suppose … maybe … that would be nice…”
“Tonight?” she asked.
“In a pub? Which one?”
“No. Not a pub. Round my place. I’ve got quite a few bottles of good Italian fizz in, brought back from Lake Garda where I went on holiday last year, and I’m thinking one of them is begging to be opened…”
“Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t suggest it if I wasn’t! And I’m not suggesting anything more than a glass of wine and a chance to talk the evening away. How about it?”
What am I doing? This is what the kids do at the drop of a hat, one glass leads to two and one bottle to three… but we’re too old for that!
“Then I’ll come,” he said, somewhat awkwardly. “I’m going to see Agatha this afternoon and even though she’s well out of it I’ll really enjoy telling her I’m spending an hour or two with a real lady!”
“How you must hate her!”
“She’s not a pleasant person, but I was so bloody lonely,” he said. “So very, very bloody lonely…”
© Peter Rogerson 11.03.14


One Response to “A LIFE IN COFFEE”

  1. pambrittain May 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    I still love this series.

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