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26/06/2017 / hbrowne4

Sketches From An Irish Cafe by Stephen Brady

The man in the corner looked just like anyone else. He had come in at opening time and sat at the window table. He’d ordered a cappuccino, and drank it straight down. The cup was still there, two hours later, desiccated foam clinging forlornly to the rim.
Beata had been watching the man. She liked to observe the customers. To imagine who they were, their inner lives, their histories and dreams. She’d written poems about them. One day, she hoped, they would be published in a slim and tasteful volume called Sketches from an Irish Cafe.
“Miss!” A poke in her shoulder. “Stop dreamin’. Go and ask Freaky Jean there is he wants somethin else.”
Gerry was the owner. He was a heavyset man who wore Deep Purple T-shirts and was comprehensively in debt. He wasn’t bad as bosses went – Beata had had worse, especially back home – but she was keen to stay out of his reach.
“We should leave him alone, I think.” She moved away from him and pointedly rubbed her shoulder. “He looks like he is busy.”
“He finished that ‘cino at half ten. It’s nearly lunchtime. We’ll need the table.”
“He is not doing harm.”
“Go and ask him if wants somethin else, I said. If not, tell ‘im to ship out.”
“I don’t want to disturb him.” Beata still found it difficult sometimes to express herself in English. Especially when she felt… disquiet. “He is writing, or something. Maybe we should leave him alone.”
Gerry wiped the counter with a tea-towel, then flung it in the sink.
“This is not a drop-in centre. You tell Shakespeare over there, buy somethin else or skedaddle.”
Moodily, Beata complied. She went to the corner, straightening her apron as she went.
The man at the table was pale and thin, with a poor complexion. He wore loose, dark clothing, and Doc Marten boots caked in soil. He was scribbling intently in a hard-bound notebook.
Beata said, “Excuse me?”
“Yeah?” He didn’t look up.
“Um… my manager wants me to ask you if would like something else.”
“It’s… well… we are going to need the table. Is nearly lunchtime.”
“I’ve no money.” Still scribbling. “So I won’t be having nothing else.”
Beata looked around. Gerry had gone into the kitchen.
“Sir… you have been here long time. If you won’t order anything else, I must ask you to leave.”
He looked up.
His eyes were deep-set and rimmed red. There was something in them that made her want to take a step back.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
She held his gaze. “I think you should leave.”
“You think I should leave?”
“This how you treat your customers, is it?”
“You had one coffee. For two hours.”
“I’m working.”
“So am I, sir. Now please-”
“Where are you from?”
She sighed. Men were always asking her that.
“I am from Latvia.”
“Your English is really good.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re a poet, aren’t you?”
Beata froze. “How did you know that?”
“Look at this!” He held up the notebook, at the first page. A pencil sketch of a young, dark-haired woman in a long gown.
“You are an artist,” she said.
“Who is she?” Beata couldn’t help but ask. “She is beautiful.”
“Yeah, she is,” the patron said. “The most beautiful thing I ever saw.”
Beata had moved closer to the table. The man was staring at the picture, an odd look on his face. “It takes real heartache to know real love. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes. I think that is true.”
“Look at this.” He held up the notebook again. “This is a series, yeah? Drawn from life. I’m gonna make an exhibition outa this one day. Look, watch.”
He began to flick through the notebook. On each page was a drawing of the same dark-haired woman. The poses varied – walking, sitting, lounging at windows. Always in the same loose-fitting dress, her hair falling free.
In the early pictures, her expression was wistful and serene. But as the pages turned, that began to change.
Her look turned slowly to one of alarm. Alarm turned to panic. Then, she was screaming.
“What is this?” Beata whispered.
… Elegant hands, bound with rope.
“An artist needs a subject,” the man remarked. “You need to have it there, you know. When you want it.”
The final picture was the woman naked, face down. Her hair chopped roughly off.
“Real heartache,” the man said. “Real love. I felt the heartache, and she felt the love. Y’know… eventually.”
“Stay here,” Beata said. She was backing away, toward the counter. She never took her eyes from him. “You don’t need to leave, sir. I bring you something else, for free. Just stay here.”
She slipped into the kitchen, where Gerry was doing sandwiches.
“I thought you were gonna get rid of Oddjob,” he grumbled.
“Gerry, listen to me please. Lock the doors and call the police.”
He stopped slicing. “You what?”
“We need to keep that man here.”
He looked at her, and saw the look on her face. Without a word, he went out of the kitchen.
Beata slipped into the gap between the fridge and the shelving. She took out her phone and dialled Emergency Services.
“He’s gone,” called Gerry. “Slung his hook. Good riddance.”
Beata held her phone, her thumb poised on Call.
“Did he leave anything behind?” she asked.
A moment’s quiet from the interior. Then Gerry said, “He didn’t leave a tip anyway. Scabby prick. Just a bit o’paper.”
She clutched herself.
Then Gerry said, “Oh wait! It’s a picture.” He chuckled. “It’s a picture o’you. Actually, it’s not bad.”


Leave a Comment
  1. bercatliz / Jun 26 2017 11:47 am

    Wow this story captivated me.

  2. Louise / Oct 11 2017 5:19 pm

    Wow what an amazing story, I was gripped right until the end.

  3. juniperwine / Apr 20 2020 10:13 am

    Reblogged this on joanhealy and commented:
    A beautiful chilling story from the prolific locked down writer

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