“It is a good thing this café.”
Night fell long ago, only one light was left shining on an empty street. One man drank, one served. Each in their own sphere where the other could not reach, except to order and to pour. The old man sipped his brandy and did not reply. He never did. He was deaf and had not heard anything under a shout in nearly a decade. He liked the night. It came with quiet sounds; each had their own vibration. Near the end, life takes all but the little pleasures.
“There’s something to be said for cleanliness,” The waiter at his elbow continued. Out of eyeshot, and therefore unheard. His words little more than ripples in the old man’s pond, another soft layer of small happiness. “And so it is a good thing this café. Polished tabletops, swept floors, a clean saucer for good brandy.”
The waiter obliged, then continued.
“The world is so different now than it used to be. No one cares for places like these. It’s all darkness and decay. Where young folk hide from each other everything about who they are, even from themselves. They think a picture is enough. These… selfies with so little actual self. They seek the soul in a hook-up, a brief liaison. But they are all strangers.”
"The closer we get on these social media, the further apart we drift. My grandkids, when I do see them, all they talk about are Snapchat and Instagram and wherever else they expose themselves. It's all skin deep."
This pour was careless. Brandy sloshed over the rim of the cup onto the saucer, dripping on the tabletop below. Neither the waiter nor the old man noticed. The waiter lost in thought; the old man in drunkenness, and so both remained satisfied.
“You remember it don’t you? Times when places like these were on every street corner. Perhaps their disappearance is part of why you tried to ki-no, I imagine that is your own secret prison. Not my place.”
The trees across the street bowed with the wind, as they had done for years. Their boughs do not break, merely crackle and groan as they had for years.
“They will still be growing older even when my children are forgotten. If they are allowed to. I wonder what we will value then.”
Sips, then silence.
“Perhaps, I’m not being fair. To myself or the present. Perhaps the light of the past was a lie. Our openness a façade. What did we hide with the truth?” The waiter looks at the spotted, pale scalp of the old man he serves. “Why did you try to kill yourself so close to death’s door?”
He does not turn. He merely drinks. His movements grow slower and slower.
The waiter yawned. He was tired. Tonight he might even sleep, if only an hour or two. He waited a few minutes for the call he knew would come.
This time, he did not immediately serve. But walked around so that the old man could see his eyes. More importantly, could read his mouth.
“Last call,” He did not speak loudly, or slowly. The waiter knew he was understood, and poured the man one final drink. “After this, we both go home. Yes?”
The old man grunted, clearly not ready to leave. But nodded. He acquiesced, even if he did not agree. In moments, that last brandy was gone. He rose, unsteadily, but did not fall, leaving a collection of bills on the bar. The waiter, himself an older man if not old, did not need to count it. He knew there would be enough, and a generous tip besides.
The small figure grew smaller in the distance, and was swallowed by shadows. Then he was truly alone.
He went to the back and closed shop. Wiping the spilled brandy from the table, mopping the back bar and sweeping a day’s worth of crumbs from the floor.
De rien. He thought. Tout c’est rien.
Tomorrow the same people would come and make the same mess, and the day after that they would come again, and the day after and after. Eventually they would stop, and so would he. And others would make their mark on the shore. And the tide would come and wash that away as well.
He ascended the stairs to his three room flat overseeing the small café he owned, stocked and manned singlehandedly. On a whim he opened his laptop and checked Facebook, where he only ever created a profile to satisfy the whims of his young grandchildren. Not that they ever messaged him anyway. True to form, there were no notifications. Only the pictures of other people living their separate lives, with no regard for his own.
No. He decided, lying in bed, eyes wide-open. I guess I won’t sleep after all.