Written so long ago... if feels like the start of something bigger. Present day Film Noir?
|CHAPTER 1 - The Undertown Cafe
It seems lately, when I stroll my way through the streets at night, I find myself at the Undertown Café. It’s a small joint, originally owned by some local free spirit, now bought-out by some idealist with faith in the American Dream. There’s been talk of Live Music Wednesdays and bathroom renovations, neon signs and a new flavour of cheesecake. Changes they say, but so far it’s all been talk. You can tell the place has seen hardship, but I guess there are few of us who haven’t. My table is the small one in the corner; three legs, two chairs. If it‘s taken, I get my drink to go and when I walk, I walk alone. Although the coffee is decent, I can’t say that’s what draws me.
Most nights, I’m carrying the essentials: pen, notebook, novel, hairpin and a few coins for coffee. Most nights, I’ll bring along my old pink Walkman and listen to the music I once fucked to; mellow tunes that bring me inspiration, but only when the notes hit me.
The Undertown is one of those places where you could run into just about anyone. It brings in the intellectuals from the library, the street walkers from the cold, and the young college students to sober up and cram for exams. Of course you also have the regulars. Routine is a hard thing to break and you can tell it’s riding the back of many, perhaps me included.
You’ve got the starving musicians, none under forty, who reminisce/brag of the few gigs they’ve played and then pull out a guitar and/or harmonica. Once in a while they’ll start up a sing-along and the whole place will be filled with vibrations. Up front, by the window, the young crowd “hangout”. High school cliques and girls done-up, look eighteen, giggle and gossip. They drink frothy lattés and bat long lashes when center stage stares are given. The baggy-jean boy (quarter-back perhaps?) was amongst their crowd but he’s not much around after he started dating the boy who works cash. Now he’s more often found at the counter-top. All lined up on their bar chairs, they chat about sports and current affairs. The Philo…..neo-**insert choice thought**…..sophical, flock to the couches, dropping names and debating Socrates, Mathus, Jung, Marx, you name it. Half are high, half are intimidated, and not a one wants to show it. Elite but not above the kids who work here and their friends who get discounts and the occasional give-away. Rounding out the room loom the loners. They come by themselves, not to socialize but to feel like they are. Reading books, people watching, occasionally being chatted up by one night drop-ins. Mostly it’s a getaway but you can tell a few of us might have motives.
Motives. A hard thing to track; any law student or people watcher could tell you that. I tell myself, when I arrive, je suis, that I’ve come: to think, to write, to read, to watch. But truth be told, it’s not. I hide behind my book, my pen, with secret hopes of seeing him. Knowing fully well that flesh and blood might as well lie six feet underground. He won’t come.
The Undertown was where I first saw Leon. Sitting, reading, he was a casual drifter, seeking refuge from outdoors. Laid aside, on the patched hard floor, a shoulder bag with faux fur hidden on the underside of the strap. His worn wool cap with initials hand stitched in red sat on his knee playing a balancing act. It was cold that night. The mug on his table brimmed with black coffee steamed slightly, foreshadowing how much warmth there lacked inside. Of him: An engrossing figure, bohemian perhaps, eyeing me from the corner of Atlas Shrugged. There was something strange about those blue eyes and what lay behind them. Desire? Despair? Hate? Fear? A window to the soul, they say- but who were They to make such a universal claim. His gaze followed me as I walked to the counter for a refill.
As if I had been compelled by some childish dare, I glanced in his direction half expecting to make a connection that would go beyond a look or a stare. I imagined he would read me; word by word, deconstructed through hermeneutics. My flesh grew warm at the thought, undecided if such a moment would be considered an intrusion or intimacy.
With filled mug in hand, I floated back to my chair, picked up my novel and read words. Ideas lost, mind unfocused, great imagery was reduced to a colour-by-number. I swallowed a mouthful of coffee and attempted to focus on the warm lump that moved down my throat.
A facade of resentment emerged as his silhouette transformed into a distraction; he was still looking in my direction. An inner voice tried to plea- "The Undertown is my house of refuge; the one corner where I can expand on my thoughts and pick up on the ideas floating around in the air. I need this space and it seems entirely unfair that this diversion should intrude on my personal territory." That inherent desire, that bold lust, was unconvinced. I fought that pull, the natural attraction that made the world revolve exclusively around him, but I lost.
His stare probed for acknowledgement and that's when he caught me.
Like the little grey mouse, who snapped it's spine sniffing the farmer's cheese, I had no idea what I was in for.
CHAPTER 2 -
Leon picked up his bag and carried his coffee over to the table. With an aura of arrogance, he pulled out a chair and sat.
"What'cha you doing later?"