observations and opinion
A Saturday in the middle of everything. The dreaded winter not quite dead, the splendid spring not quite born. Not warm, not cool, everyone has a jacket, unzipped. The rain hesitates, never really coming down, halting. Yet everything is wet, like the world is sweating. The asphalt black and shining, the sky grey as gravel, the black stick trees reaching upwards, thirsting for sun. The cars are coated in raindrops. The pale breeze barely pushes balloons. It is the very best day of the year to go for a coffee. People do. I do.
Starbucks. A white mug, three shots, a splash of milk. My earbuds. A cluster of friends have pulled the red armchairs in a circle; they’re greying and laughing and their kids have all moved out, you can tell. On the bench by the wall, the guy in the black t-shirt, hunched over his laptop. His fingers rap on the keys. His phone rings every few minutes. He bellows advice about filing deadlines. “Okay, see you.” The phone rings again. The guy does people’s taxes in Starbucks? My earbuds aren’t good enough. I change chairs.
The window seat. On the street, kids in red Wellingtons bounce down along ahead of Dad. The road jammed, cars awkwardly backing into spots. Very married people get out of their cars, they move like they’re standing at the bottom of a swimming pool. The music store across the street is always busy: are a lot of people drawn in by the sale on ukuleles?
Starbucks is filled with the din of voices and cups, like the kitchen at a party. Cutlery rattles, indie music tries to push through the crowd of noise. There is a loud shlurrrrrp of the titanic espresso machine, shuddering out the black liquid gold. Everyone stares at a screen, text books splashed out on the tables, a girl with a row of different-coloured highlighters, carving out the words on the pages of her book.
I always hated highlighters. For me books were never tools, but always totems: even stupid fat texts about real estate or tax law, must not be marked. The sound of a highlighter was enough to make my spine curl. “Do you hear that squeak, when you push your highlighter across the page?” I used to say in school. “Hmmm?” the offender would ask. “That” I would say “is the book screaming!” That was then. Now, it’s cool just to see a book. Go ahead, scream.
Behind me, a conversation: He says “so I phoned and asked, how this all started.” “Oh…” she says. The young man talks. The young woman tries to get a word in, but fails. They aren’t a couple. They don’t know each other all that well – it is too polite, too fast, too loaded with facts but empty of nuance. A conversation with no silences is all work. He has his laptop, they look at things. He says “microsites” and she says “yeah.” He uses the word “employees” like he has a hundred of them. He doesn’t, trust me.
They talk about their parents, something people do at this point in their lives. You wish he would talk less and listen more. She’s pushing hard to get her stuff out there, she mentions her grandma, but he’s only pretending to listen while he prepares his next spiel. Be quiet, man! Dates are auditions, I suppose, but they shouldn’t be one man shows. He certainly finds himself fascinating and maybe he is, but will she think so? She barely has a toe in the pool buddy, and it would be easy for her to step back. At some point she might use the dreaded words, “my boyfriend” and well, I bet he shuts up then.
Across the room, tax guy is still taking calls, churning it out on his keyboard. The guy next to him, in my old seat, holds the pink Financial Times up across his face. Maybe he finds the tax guy’s phone calls interesting? All the people with laptops, heads down, hunched like convicts pulling ropes in Les Miserables. Nobody sings, though.
Outside a crazy-happy lady in a white jacket sells cupcakes on the corner. For a cause. The icing is the same colour as her coat. She bounces and laughs, she takes money and says “thanks.” Her eyes well up. She must love the cause. She hands the money to the girl with her. A big fat marker sketches out their take on orange cardboard: $740.67. She hops, they high-five and jump about on the wet brick walk. Their balloons sway.
The red armchairs are empty. The old friends must have left. The grinder goes; a pound of Verona. The din is softer, more women than men now. A new shift of customers has crept in. This is the Starbucks circle of life. The coffee at the bottom of my cup is cold. Time to go. I hit “save.” Spellcheck objects to the word “Miserables” and wants it changed to “miserable.” Sorry, no – Spellcheck, you’re not changing it. That’s one word we’re going to “Add”.
And behind me, the girl says “my boyfriend.” A lull. It’s like watching a deer get shot. His voice gets softer. Audition over.