Just tell me it’s not the end of the line

The Greasy Café is where we go most Sundays, Mum and I. We go there because you don’t have to walk far if it’s raining, or if Mum’s feet are bad, as they are at the moment. And it’s near mini-Tesco’s, in case of a Ryvita and currant-cake famine. Actually, the things we end up buying in Tesco’s seem to have little to do with what Mum has in her store cupboard or even what she likes – they are more likely to be what her internal elves instruct her to buy, and in whatever strange quantities they stipulate – four currant-cakes when once home she will say she doesn’t like cake, a single yoghurt when she eats at least two a day, meat cat food when the cat prefers fish, no bananas when she has no bananas. I have learned not to argue, on the basis that it will do no good in any event, and any food in her cupboard is better than none at all. I am not sure whether she remembers to eat it, or what she eats, but she seems to stay around the same weight so she must be eating something.

But, before that we go to the Greasy Café. We always have to have the same thing – two Choice One. The frothy coffees are free. It’s really a breakfast meal – two slices of toast, one underdone tomato cut into quarters, two potato cakes and a mountain of rubbery scrambled egg, which I suspect starts off as yellow powder in an industrial-size tub. The café is run by Cypriots, a husband and wife team, with occasional weekend waiters or waitresses. Every other week Mum asks me in a deaf person’s whisper where I think they come from, and whether they are Indians, and I pretend not to hear since they are only a foot or so away. If there is a waiter he will learn how handsome he is – could have been a model. If there is a waitress she will learn how slim she is – surprising with all this food around. People are enormous nowadays. Great wobbly things. Look at his stomach! And why do the women wear those long dresses?

The café owners know us well. We walk in and they wave at us, he from the kitchen and she from behind the till. The usual?

Are you going to give them our order? I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute with the coffee.

But she hasn’t come to the table with her notebook.

They know our order. We always have the same.

I don’t think they’ve seen us.

They know our order. They’ll be along in a minute…

And then we sink into silence and wait, because Mum doesn’t like to wear her hearing aids, and can’t hear me. And anyway, we have nothing much to say, having got through any ‘business’ over mugs of tea before we came out. I have a notebook and biro in my bag in case of emergencies.

We’ve been waiting for half an hour. Are they very busy?

The café is empty apart from us, the Cypriot owners and a couple of middle aged men commenting the sports pages of the newspaper. They are always here. Seem to be friends of the boss. And outside, there are the vapers – a strange-looking couple who sit at one of the outside tables in all weathers, vaping. Lady boss takes coffee out to them at intervals.

It’s only been ten minutes. She’ll be here with the coffee shortly.

Do they know we’re here? She didn’t come to the table with her notebook.

Outside is the shopping precinct. It was built long after I left, on the land which used to belong to Mum’s school. They demolished Mum’s school. The playground is now a bookmakers, and a Wilco store. Behind that there is a pet shop where Mum sometimes buys cat-biscuits because she feels sorry for them, and a bookshop which I am not allowed to go into because Mum doesn’t do browsing, and a charity shop side window. I make sure to be facing the window, and every Sunday I look out at clumps of fat people going past, the women in the long frocks my mother so dislikes, the children in hoodies, on skateboards, the men with their big bellies in long shorts and tattoos. I am just too far away to read the titles of the second hand hardback books stacked in the bookshop window, but in any case I have been in there on my own and know he overcharges. And I know they’ll be unweildy histories of naval battles in the Second World War, and indexes of all the films ever made, and craft books showing you how to make floral covers for paper tissue boxes, or Easter Bunny peg-bags. And in the charity shop, the same three dresses – a red one, a very short blue one and a longer, beige-coloured one. Always the same three, in some tiny size. Obviously there are not enough small women around here. Oh yes, and a handbag. A battered brown handbag, very large, with black clasps. A homeless handbag.

Our coffees arrive. There is a spoon each to spoon off the froth.

I’ve got three bags of sugar.

Oh, I’ve got two this time.

But I don’t need three bags of sugar.

Put them in your handbag for later, then.

It’s not the done thing. And they might need them for other people.

Leave them on the table, then.

But why have I got three and you’ve got two?

I don’t know. Sometimes I get three and you get two. Sometimes we both get two…

Do they know we’re here? She hasn’t been over…

Our two Choice Ones arrive. I shall be feeling queasy all afternoon. I am thinking, I’ve got a bit of a headache. The toast isn’t too bad, though. I’ll leave half the egg.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it? The one with the beans we used to have. So many beans they used to spill off the edge of the plate. And they made the plate wobble. I could never keep my plate still. Yours never seemed to wobble. Why did I always get the wobbly plate?

I don’t know. Maybe it was a wobbly table.

There’s a dead fly on this table.

It’s just a mark. Look, I’ll poke it – it doesn’t move.

It looks like a dead fly.

But it doesn’t move.

It won’t move if it’s dead.

There is no fly. Look, it’s a mark on the table.

This is better than the beans, isn’t it?

They’ve turned on the radio. Music, to soothe a savage breast.

It’s very noisy in here. What’s that noise all of a sudden?

But I am floating away on a tide of music, and none of it matters any more, not the three same dresses and the homeless handbag, not the unreachable books or the fat people, or the hooded children on their skateboards, not the people in wheelchairs, the people smoking, the tattooed men, the grey clouds overhead, the likelihood of rain, Tesco still to come…

I drew a broken heart

Right on your window pane

Waited for your reply

Here in the pouring rain

Just breathe against the glass

Leave me some kind of sign

I know the hurt won’t pass, yeah

Just tell me it’s not the end of the line…

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