I also discovered that a. I could write short, short pieces for reading aloud, b. I liked reading them and c. people laughed. Conclusion/useful advice nugget: it's worth experimenting with this kind of thing, and reading your work to anyone who will listen.
So here we go....
BRIEF ENCOUNTER IN BILL’S CAFE
There’s never any space here. The wooden benches are crowded with toddlers and relentless uber-mums, scary
Brighton dads with professional papooses and glossy
students, charming each other over shared strudel. Behind them, banks of cinematic fruit, waxy
lemons, Technicolor strawberries. Daily
menus, indulgently wholesome, chalked up on little black boards. Charred veg
Why did I bring the baby here? Just bloody minded, that’s my problem.
is already screwing his face up into a Les Dawson gurn, ready to start
screeching for a feed. Should have gone
to Starbucks. I mean, look at them in
their Camper boots and retro-horn rims. Barging into each other, then apologising
with attitude. What is it with these women?
Some kind of Boudicca complex?
They act like those three wheeled buggies come with blades attached. Jackson
And why do they think breast feeding is an extreme sport? A little modesty wouldn’t go amiss. I tried a bit of stylish suckling myself, once, at a country wedding. Accidentally ended up topless in the family photos. Wrong kind of dress. Bruised by this experience, I seek out dark corners so I can shove
up my jumper for a furtive slurp. Even then I’m a magnet for the criminally
Finally, a seat. One empty chair, opposite a member of the Maternal Majority, breast feeding, naturally, bare naked whammer the size of a football. Cup of herbal in front of her. She’s wearing a cloche hat enlivened with knitted fruit.
“Is any one sitting here?”
She shakes her head. “Help yourself.”
I collapse in front of her and attach
to my right
breast. Her baby is glugging like a lager lout.
We exchange a look, not conspiratorial, exactly. But not hostile. Jackson
“How old is yours?” she asks after a while.
“Boy or girl?”
She says nothing, as if letting this sink in.
. My mother wanted me to call him
Sebastian. Boyfriend was all for Wolf.
But as he’d left me, his views weren’t very influential. Jackson
“Mine’s a girl,” she says.
“Nearly five months.”
We drink our tea in silence. Divided by a common experience. Before I had a baby, I dreaded turning into a mum. And now it turns out I was right. They’re the worst people I’ve ever met. After a bit, she unlatches the baby and winds it on her shoulder, on one of those NCT muslin shawls that you have to keep in a Cath Kidston changing bag. Then she looks at me. She has violet eyes, clear and shining with a stab of laughter behind them.
“Never thought I’d see the day, did you?”
“You know. This…” Her laugh is like a question mark. “All this babv bollocks. I was a proper person once.”
She has three spots on her pointed chin, dark rings under her starry eyes. She’s beautiful.
Slurp of tea. I watch her over the rim of my cup. She takes her stupid hat off, she has cropped yellow hair. Then, I blink madly. The café is wavering with tears. Something’s flown into my eye.
She leans forward. “Stay still.”
“It’s okay, it’s nothing…” I rub my hot eye, my wet cheek.
Placing Rafaella across her knee, she takes the muslin from her shoulder. “Don’t move. Don’t…” She wipes my eye, swift and expert. “”There! Got it! Tiny fly or something.”
“Thank you.” I shake my head, trying to return the world to its familiar shapes. I don’t want to catch her eye again. I put my glasses on. They’re not modish. They make me look like Ann Widdecombe.
Now she’s grinning, filling up all the space in my head.
“Your baby’s called ‘
’, but who are
“I’m Laura.” She touches my hand. “We should do this again.”
I look down at her freckled fingers, waiting for my next breath to come.
“Old married women, meeting up for tea,” she says, stroking her sleeping baby. “That’s what passes for excitement now.”
(Painting: Two women in a cafe by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, May 6, 1880 - Jun 15, 1938)