This very short piece was an exercise in starting a new story completely from scratch. The idea for this one came from a dream I had.
I had never been in the café before. I’d noticed it often enough when visiting the city in the past and I had liked its old-fashioned look and feel – the linoleum floor, the Formica-topped tables, all decorated in bright colours or simple patterns. It could have been there for the last sixty years, while multi-national coffee shops, fast-food eateries and expensive sandwich franchises came and went around it. The quintessential British ‘caff’, simple, solid, no nonsense.
I was surprised to find it open so late. It had been a good night, visiting old friends and catching up over a few beers. So many beers that I missed the last train and would have to catch the early train home in the morning. Of course, I could have called someone and asked to bed down on their sofa for the night. Back in our younger days, that would have been fine, but nowadays, with families and responsibilities and careers, it didn’t seem right to impose.
The middle-aged man behind the counter was smart, with a black apron and shirtsleeves carefully rolled just above the elbow.
“What can I get you?”
“Just a tea please – milk, no sugar. Will you be open much longer?”
“Yes, we’ll be open for a while yet. We do a late night now and again. That’ll be one-fifty.”
I paid for the tea and took it to a table halfway down the room. I had taken a couple of sips when the door rattled and another man came in. As he walked towards the counter, he paused and turned to face me.
I was no longer holding my teacup, but I almost sent it flying anyway as I jerked from my seat and stared at the man. Andrew was one of my dearest friends back in my college days and I would recognise him anywhere.
The only problem was that he had been dead and buried for over twenty years.
“Won’t be a minute” he said, “just going to get a cup of tea and I’ll be right back.”