The Five Coffee Shops

In the suburb of a small town in Essex where my Aunt lives, there are five coffee shops. I find this absurd. There is no way they can get enough custom to make them economically viable. I visit her from time to time; to cut her grass and fix things. She would rather throw things away, but I like to fix things. I feel as though older people have lost their respect for objects.

I don’t remember when I first noticed the five coffee shops. They aren’t new. They have names like Melanie’s Coffee Shop and Frothies. They have brown awnings. No one ever seems to be in them. There aren’t many people on the street, and there certainly aren’t any in the coffee shops.

I work freelance so I suppose I visit the area on ‘off’ days. I haven’t really been there on a Saturday. Still, some weekday custom would be expected.

My Aunt had asked me to visit her house whilst she was away seeing my brother in Austria. She has the odd habit of turning off the water mains when ever she is away for more than a few hours. I think it is something to do with lightning or council tax, but I can’t be sure. I do know that she pushes all the furniture away from the radiators so that it doesn’t catch fire, even though she turns the heating off when she leaves the house.

On my second visit, after checking that everything in the house was as it should be, I decided to go to one of the coffee shops. I had the vague notion of eating a cooked breakfast. When I walked in to the coffee shop nearest my Aunt’s house, the lady behind the counter greeted me warmly, though not without surprise. She was obviously unprepared for customers at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday.

I asked for a full English breakfast and a black coffee. She told me that breakfast had finished and that lunch started at twelve. I abandoned the idea of food and resolved to stop at somewhere on the way home. I told her that I would just have the coffee. She smiled and walked back in to what I assumed was the kitchen.
I took a seat and read the paper. I hate reading the paper, it all seems so irrelevant once it’s written down. After five or so minutes I stood up and walked to the counter. I craned my neck to see the woman, but the kitchen was round the corner of a passageway. I called out, but received no reply. Sighing I was just about to leave when I heard a whimpering sound. I walked slowly around the counter and through the entrance to the kitchen.

As I turned in to the room I saw that there was no coffee machine. In fact there was no kitchen equipment of any kind. The space was almost entirely bare with just a cheap looking table and a plastic chair. The woman sat on the chair, crying, with her hand over her mouth. She looked up at me and let out a gasp. I asked her what was wrong and she gestured to the room as if it was obvious. I got down on my knees and she fell in to my arms. She held me close and sobbed in to my shoulder.

We stayed like that for what seemed like a long time. It was uncomfortable, but having made the decision to comfort her, I had to see it through. Eventually she quietened down. Her breathing relaxed and as I made to move away from her, she put her lips to my ear, “You’ve done it now”, she said.
I stood up abruptly. I told her that I had to go and she nodded. As I left I turned and told her that I was sorry. She smiled weakly.

I walked out of the shop and towards my Aunt’s, where my car was parked. Frankly, the whole thing seemed more than a little strange. I resolved to bring a thermos on my next visit.

After Pete Hindle -