Confessions of a drinker student abroad

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Away from the Arcade

Just down the street from the castle, near the Queen's Arcade, is nestled a small cafe. A warm place, with a dark wood door. There is a large window in the front of this cafe, an invisible barrier against the rain and winds, but a welcoming gate to the light of an early afternoon, or the golden beams of a kindling sunset.

In the corner of the cafe, where the walnut paneling fits seamlessly against the window frame, is a small table, nominally for two, sat for three and practical for one. Rarely is it occupied, as the corner intrudes upon the comfort of even one occupant. Even if one is small enough to sit comfortably between the wall and the round pedestal, it makes for a poor supporter, as one of its legs was damaged long ago, leaving it with a somewhat delicate grasp upon the floor. A hold so tenuous that the landing of a single fly on the correct edge might upset the balance, transforming a stage into a schooner deck and turning the stable occupants of saucer and cup into so many stumbling drunks, no more capable of retaining their contents than a beach is at restraining the waves.

A young woman sits at the table. Her book lies open on the opposite edge, while a porcelain cup balances precariously close to the edge of the see-saw. Neither the book nor the cup, however, are enough to occupy the woman's mind. The pages rest unturned, the tea in the cup forming an adorable replica maelstrom as the slender hand absently agitates the spoon. The pale green eyes drifted out through the glass pane into the street, where the summer rain pounded against the brick pavement. The swirl of overcoats and umbrellas parted, revealing a figure across the path, for a moment the eyes flickered, a keen light passed through them, and then disappeared when she realized it could not have been who she thought.

Her mind drifted back down the street, the falling rain disappeared, the crowds thinned out as night fell. She saw the hood, a shimmer in the dark and then the stillness. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't his fault they said, and he’d been protecting her. Three strangers met on the street corner that night, one never walked away. He was young, he was strong, he hadn't meant for it to happen. When the hood glimmered he had struck out to protect her, her that he didn't know. When the hood hit the ground there was a sickening sound, a gasp they would never forget. When the hood fell back he realized what he had done, a hood can age a person. She often went to see him, he that had saved her, as he sat alone by the window. She wished that she could reach him, explain why it happened, but that answer didn't exist. She watched while he faded, never looking forward, always out the window at the rain. He looked back on the corner, the glimmer in the dark, and knew he was the only one to blame. He tried to walk away, leave the hood there in the dark, but wishes wouldn't cover up the face. He gave up one winter evening, alone there in the dark, for a life, a life, and only one remained.

And so she sits by the window while the rain beats down. She wonders what mad fate drove them all to the corner that night. She remembers when he told her it would be all right, when he said he'd come around tomorrow. It was a lie of course, she knew it even then, but still she came to the cafe every day. The window faces away from the street corner, but all she can do is look through the window, away towards the castle, and wonder what life is like out there beyond the arcade.