The Southside Cafe

He looked old; hell, he was old, but so was I. I’d probably always think of him as a boy: doughy, stumbly, soft around the edges. It had been maybe ten years since the last time. He was still drinking then, and it showed. His face looked wetly eroded, the jolt of red hair reduced to a dull patch of rust. Arrogant-me took stock. I was a little grayer, a little more settled into my bones, but otherwise the same. But he cut that down quick. “Guess we’re not kids no more, huh, David? Your forehead’s grown.” His quick grin showed that he meant no harm. It was true. We weren’t kids. But it showed hard on him. He was more… angular, I guess. It wasn’t that he lost a lot of weight – he had – but that his face had changed. It was more defined, as if years of drink had carved it down to the essential bone structure.

We talked about our jobs. He was working out of a rented garage, doing small appliance repairs and carpentry work, sometimes working on road crews to pick up a few extra bucks. Times were tough. I told him about my work at the newspaper, writing small stories, scandal-free and boring as paste, that I was thinking of quitting, going back to school. It surprised me how unsettled I was, how unformed my future.

And then, because someone had to say it, he asked if I’d seen her lately.

“Couple of months ago,” I said. “She was working in the Southside Cafe. You know the place, beside that old laundromat where the skateboarders hang out? She was hustling coffee and blended teas. I didn’t even know she was still in town.”

“She doing okay?”

“She’s all right. Well… you know. She said she found a new apartment. It was clean, she said, and so was she. But Jesus, this cafe. It had this organic, New Age kind of music in the background, and it felt like some fucked-up yuppified utopia. She didn’t look unhappy, but the place really didn’t fit her. Or maybe it did. But it was… surreal. I kept thinking there were androids in the back, boiling soylent green or something, that it was some kind of Ridley Scott production.”

He laughed. “You’re weird, David. But she was okay?”

“She was okay. We exchanged phone numbers. But, you know, time drifts away so goddamn fast.”

“Yeah. It does. Jesus, does it ever.

And it occurred to me. We didn’t have much in common anymore, not really. All we had was her. And that broke my heart in a lot of different and frightening places.

***a work-in-progress***

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