From a darkened doorway she peers through the drizzle to the steamy window of the cafe across the street, eyes flickering nervously from table to table, idle patrons chatting in their booths. A couple laughing at a shared joke, an old man staring out at the dull sky as steam spirals from the chipped mug clasped between wizened hands, a lone woman chewing her pen in contemplation, her notepad empty. Nothing of suspect. No-one of note.
She reaches into her pocket once more to check the cold steel in her pocket and, glancing sideways, she starts across the street. She is wary of movement, wondering if he is watching her whilst she searches for him. She wonders if they are both being watched by others.
She pushes the door open and warm air rushes to embrace her, smells of coffee and fried food. An everyday place that catering to the needs of the masses without fuss or pretence. A timeless place, confidently content to remain motionless, eschewing all advances, the happy old maid amongst the garish neon of the young pretenders.
A waitress whirls through her thoughts, and she catches herself before heading to a dark corner, past the laughing innocence, the knowing silence, the emptiness. Sliding into the booth she deliberately sits away from the window, out of the light and partially hidden from view. With her back to the far wall all she can see over the booth walls are heads and shoulders, busts of nobody.
She wonders how many things this cafe has seen. How often had it felt heartache and betrayal, witnessed comedy and blood? The wooden railings and tiled floor seem to reek of past events, ghosts bounce and dance alongside the slow turn of the ceiling fan. She starts to wonder why this place was chosen, what forces are at play, why history has pulled her here.
Her mind races on.
She is still unsure, she realises. Despite having thought of nothing else these past few days, despite the aching and longing that brought her here, she now understands that she still has a choice, still has a moment to pause. She wonders if it will achieve everything of which she has dreamt, wonders if the chains will loosen or whether the walls will crumble, an illusion heightened as she lowers her head.
The kitchen door flick-flacks on hinges and pulls her from her thoughts, sweet pastry wafts from the kitchen and the gentle chatter and clink of crockery complete the scene. This is nothing more than an everyday moment in a forgettable place.
She watches the waitress busily tend to the customers, practiced smiles and manners switching on and off, efficiently friendly. When it’s her turn she plays her part, nods for coffee and cream, refuses the gentle sell of pastry, all the while knowing the mug will remain where placed, untouched and unsullied as events unfold around it, unaware and innocent.
She knows this place, she has been here before in a different time and a different place. She knows the friendly familiarity of the regular customers, the quirks and routines they have. She knows the waitresses, downtrodden and stoic, who hide it all as they bustle about their day, understanding their place as counsellor, slave and friend.
She remains lost in her revellery, reliving her faded past until a movement outside snatches her gaze. Outside a man stalks past, huddled against the drench, dark and dripping beneath his hat. She loses sight and turns her gaze to the door, waiting for him, sensing his approach, feral now, alert and bright and ready.
She realises that finally the moment is near, it has begun.
Paused inside the doorway he shakes off the worst of the rain and removes his hat. Revealed are the dark, brooding, pensive features that she knows so well, the very face that brought her here.
He turns away from her and removes his jacket, hanging it by the door, his hat pulled roughly onto the peg above before turning back and moving heavily, deliberate and steady, to an empty seat at the counter, the stool creaking beneath him.
Watching him sitting there she reveals herself to the truth; this is real, he is real and no longer the illusion she has maintained for so long. He remains, constant and unmoving from this place. The sudden awareness of all of this grabs her thoughts, contorting and twisting them, wrenching them from her control in a final act of duplicity. Then, with a blip of sudden confusion, she is back to the present; the walls, stains over white, remind her and bring her back to the moment, to her version of reality.
She maintains her uncaring and brazen gaze as she watches him chat to the waitress, all smiles and wholesome. Watches the careful flirting from both sides, the playful familiarity, vulgar and wretched. As she takes all this in she begins to realise she is nervous, time presses on her and as her emotions slowly build her surroundings start to vibrate as if filled with light, everything is suddenly vivid, more real than she’d ever imagined.
Her coffee arrives and the aroma stains the air sweet and dark before her, a haze through which everything distorts. She reaches, unthinking, for the sugar, spooning pure white crystals that glint in the light, a million sweet glistens. She looks down as she stirs, the whirlpool ripples with sharp liquid edges, a slick coating on the sides of the mug as she pours silk white cream into the vortex.
As she raises the mug to her mouth she inhales deeply before taking a first, final and delicious mouthful. A brief pause to savour the rich bittersweet liquid before, her decision made, she swallows and clunks the mug down. A dollar bill lands next to it, a final debt paid.
Then she’s standing and the room moves beneath her, propelling her forward, forward, forward until she is there, exactly where she should be. She pauses briefly to watch him breathe, his shoulders rising and falling slowly, methodically. Unaware, unsuspecting, off-guard.
She reaches into her pocket, clasps the hilt of the blade and in a smooth motion slides it from her pocket and gently leans into him as if to whisper in his ear.
An instant before he feels the thin steel he is aware of her presence, but before he can react he knows it is too late, paralysed as the blade finds it’s mark. His eyes widen, screaming in silence, his mouth mute, jaw slack as she efficiently, silently and almost effortlessly kills him. His body tightens, muscles lock him upright in his seat, and then it is over.
She kisses him gently on the ear and, without a word, turns and heads outside. A surge of adrenalin explodes through her body, she is completely alive, completely now. Power races through her and she holds her head in a confident swagger as she steps out into the drizzle.
Standing there as the rain dapples her face she wonders what will happen now, what future will unfold before her and she suddenly realises she is lost, far from anything she would call home, in a strange land with blood on her hands.
Inside the cafe a glass topples from a tray and shatters into a million dazzles of light as the screaming begins.