Second Chapter to the WiP: Three Minutes
| A mug of coffee is in front of him, he can’t see it; but he know it’s there, he can feel it cooling between his fingers. Sue, the waitress, will clear his table in a couple of minutes; he knows she will.
He reluctantly drains the remaining dregs from the gaudily logoed mug and savours a final sip of his favourite rich roasted blend of Kenyan beans. She will ask him if he want a top up; his ears are in the present, but he saw her lips make the words. Lip-reading is difficult at the best of times and he often struggles to juggle the complexities of simultaneous reading, watching, listening and playback that he doesn’t make the effort often.
Jed’s ears witness Sue’s approach; her inappropriately high heels clatter over the scuffed linoleum, her sweet perfume washes over him as each stimulus strives to keep him in the present.
“You want a top up, honey?” Sue, the frazzled invisible waitress grunts as she pushes a rebellious lock of bottle blonde hair from her brow; her kids must have been playing up again last night, she looked like shit. Jed forces his best smile to where he saw her three minutes ago.
“No thanks, I’m all done.” Jed’s light brown hair is drying into an unmanageable spiky haystack that partially allows Sue to look into watery blue eyes that are a long way from smiling.
“What? Only one cup today, Jed,” she asks, while making another attempt to push the errant hair into place.
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do today.”
“How’s your Mom?”
“No change. Not sure if that’s a god thing though. At least she doesn’t seem to be getting any worse.”
“So, you going today?”
Jed nods in reluctant agreement. It’s not that he doesn’t want to go, but he knows the daily pain will be rekindled.
“I go over every day,” says Jed.
“I know,” says Sue, “I sure hope to god my kids care as much about me when I’m old.”
“Mom ain’t that old.”
"I know, that’s what’s even more depressing,’ realising she had probably crossed a line, Sue blushes. “I mean.”
Interrupting her embarrassment, Jed says, “It’s okay, Sue. I know what you mean. It sucks.”
“I need to get moving, Jed. See you later.” It wasn’t a question, or a statement, or was it? Only Sue could know, she seemed to say it even if she knew she wouldn’t be seeing him. Sue thinks he’s blind or probably daft or something, she treats him nice enough; but more like a broken puppy than her landlord. But she has more than her fair share of troubles as a single Mom to three pre-teen girls.
“Sure,” says Jed.
“Oh, by the way I’ll drop by with the rent later if you’ll be in,” says Sue.
“Don’t worry about it, Sue. I’m off to the nursing home soon. Go buy something for the girls with it. I’ve had overtime this month and am a little flush,” this was a lie, at least the overtime part was.
Jed knew she was juggling the impossible demands of single motherhood, life, kids and survival, and besides, she was a decent tenant and neighbour, he had had far worse of both. As far as Jed was concerned the rent was not as important as having folk around him he could trust not to take advantage, and there were few enough of those.
“I pay my way, Mr Hanafy I’ll have you know. Always have, always will,” the determined set for her jaw and hand on hip telling him to back off more than her words ever could.
He curses his perennial affliction with foot-in-mouth syndrome and decides she is just being friendly despite her own shitty life.
“Okay, okay. You win.” Jed holds his hands up in mock submission which wins him a weak but genuine smile from Sue before she moves to the next table.
Jed visits this same grubby coffee shop nearly every day. It’s not that he loves the place, it’s pleasant enough and the coffee is surprisingly good which is at odds with the harsh fluorescent lighting serves that highlights awful nineteen eighties wallpaper that’s been there so long it’s coming back into vogue.
Other customers come and go, dripping water as they arrive and cursing the weather as they leave. They are in a rush to get to work; none are on their way home from work. Most folk on their way home at this time of day are in a rush to get to loved ones and bed. Jed doesn’t have anyone to rush home to.
Success in relationships with the opposite sex has not been an enduring feature of Jed’s life. A bitter experience with a girl when in fourth year at high school taught him the meaning of the word premature. Walking her home from the cinema he already knew she would kiss him and found himself licking his lips and surreptitiously checking his breath. She was sufficiently creeped out that all he ended up with was a peck on the cheek and a polite but unfulfilled promise to call him. Subsequently, in similar situations he found it safer to keep his eyes closed, but then he just looked like a weirdo and it was unfortunately that reputation that followed him for the remainder of his school days.
Jed has discovered that routine is a good foundation for an uncomplicated life, but last week when he first saw that Landrover on the street outside his flat routine was nudged sideways. The two men in the car – just sitting there watching the building, spooked him out even more so as the frequency of their appearances increases.
His personal projectionist loads a new reel and the dark Landrover pulls up across the street from the cafe. Jed begins his preparations for leaving the cafe and picks his departure with care and begins to count.
For the rest of us leaving would mean nothing more than collecting your coat and stepping out. He watches the door, the route to the door, the sidewalk and the road outside for sufficient lead time to prevent disaster. The imminent arrival of the Landrover has rendered leisure inappropriate.
Jed’s head hurts, the permanent state of dislocation between what is and what he sees forever in conflict in his brain. Sights of the future mixed with the sounds and memories of the present battle to confuse him.
Once, in his haste, he did not wait and after bowling over Sue, putting his hand through the plate glass door he finally tripped over a hurrying shopper and into the path of an oncoming taxi. He was lucky: a couple of cuts, a graze and a badly dented pride; oh, and a mild concussion. He was not about to repeat that experience in a hurry, he couldn’t have changed it – he saw it happen, but he should have paid more attention.
Jed slides a few coins onto the table, displacing a small sea of salt gains and toast crumbs. He hadn’t seen them, he hadn’t looked, and looking now would be a waste of time, but he could feel them.
On his feet making for the door, Jed steers past chair he saw being moved minutes before and now betrayed by the grating scrape of the feet on the floor. Out the door. Without pause, he knows his path is clear and where to place his feet. He steps onto the road trusting his three minute replay vision memory that the now heavy rush hour traffic will come abruptly to a stop. It will be stationary for exactly twenty three seconds, plenty of time to cross.
“Jed!” a familiar but unwelcome voice cuts from behind him. He’s early. He must know I don’t have the money for him yet.