No 11 - May 2000
“You are too young to sleep for ever,
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.”
Sassoon - 1919.
“What’s he doing?” hisses Kate.
“Nothing, just sitting, staring.”
“Do you think he is?”
“Kate! Molly! I don’t pay you to stand and gossip now get out there and earn your living!” snarls a voice from the kitchen making Kate jump. “Yes Mr Woods,” she says and hurries out into the busy café.
The customer is sitting in the same seat, his weather beaten hands wrapped around the cup. His eyes looking down towards the bus stop and the swarming figures that struggle up the pavement, umbrellas flapping; their faces twisted in grimaces that are too common by far. A newspaper lies in front of him, the pages folded over.
“Excuse me? Can I have two coffees please,” asks a tired old man, his wife squats next to him; sitting in the wheel chair, the folds of fat spilling over her baggy jumper.
“Yes of course, anything with that?” asks Kate.
The old man sighs, “No I don’t think so.”
The café a low huddle of darkness and grease where the tired remnants of society come, resting their weary bones, spending their dole money or their pensions. The same tired old people, the sleepwalkers of society; people who never can awake from their lives. Never even realise that as their tired old feet move on the treadmill of life that they can never get anywhere.
Now someone is preying on them.
The papers call him ‘The Doctor’.
The people barely mutter his name, for fear of drawing his attention to them. They know his face, from a chance photo that had caught him in the act of drawing the noose tight around a child of twelve.
The customer’s head twitches around, catching the eye of a young mother, her hair hanging in soaked dregs around her face; her red hands grimly pushing on the pushchair with the writhing figure of a boy. Behind her the steady stream of grim faced sleepers follow her. A man coughing so bad he has to turn and spit a ball of phlegm out of his mouth. A battered old van rumbles past, its back door tied by a string.
Someone is watching them pass.
His eyes flickering across their dull faces, at every detail his mouth twitches. At every word his ears strain and at every emotion his rage builds.
“Can I have a refill?” asks the customer, looking up at Kate.
“Sure, fifty pence for the mug, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he fishes out a grubby hanky and spills out two twenties and a ten, all covered in grease. Kate slaps the coins into her hand, beggars can’t be choosers, and flounces off towards the counter. It’s as she reaches across, taking the coffee jug in her hand that she feels the eyes burying into her back.
She pours the coffee, she’s used to eyes following her. Love is cheap.
She turns back, scanning the room casually in a practised way looking for the guy. Not the teenager with an explosion of zits, staring at his Pepsi. Two old men staring at each other as if the other’s face holds the answer to their life. A young mother, her bab screaming for the bottle and her man staring at a copy of The Sun. The customer, looking at her, waiting for his coffee and the tired old man who is arguing in a low voice with his fat wife in the wheelchair.
She must be getting paranoid, what with Ian coming round to her Mam’s and knocking the shit out of her after one to many beers last night, she guesses she has a right to. Of course she’ll have to go round to Ian’s tonight, she ain’t going to give him any excuses to back out of the engagement.
Shrugging she walks across to the customer and puts the cup down, glancing outside she sees the number 23A bus pull up and a horde of cackling old ladies swarm onto the bus, past the dull uninterested eyes of the nigger driver who sits dragging back his fag; a battered old copy of some Stephen King book in his hands.
The rain is coming down harder now, from the kitchen she can hear the crackling radio out the back where Mr Woods is cooking the “All Day Fry Ups”, the reporter is saying, “And today the rain will clear to leave a bright and sunny day with temperatures as high as twenty two.”
When? The weather men are so full of crap. Her Ian says that he could do the -
The eyes are looking back at her.
Kate spins around, her nerves on edge this time. What if it’s some kind of sicko, how can she tell him that she’s engaged and, pregnant? Or should she keep that secret, even from a total stranger. If Ian might find out before they get married “Can I have a biscuit?” asks the customer.
“Sure, five pence a biscuit mate.”
“I’ll have two, thanks.”
Kate grabs the biscuit tray, takes two out and puts them on a cleanish plate and takes the ten pence off the customer. He smiles and dips the shortbread in, his eyes never leaving her. Kate smiles. Slowly he lowers his head and looks back at the cup.
“You alright now?” asks Molly.
“Sure, no problem,” replies Kate, leaning back on the counter, the bruises on her back aching like mad. “Ian just had one too many, it’ll be different when we’re married. I’m sure of it.”
“But you are okay?”
“Of course, we just had a row.”
“He didn’t... He didn’t hit you did he?”
“Ian? No of course not, just a row; we’re made up and everything now. That,” she says nodding to her arm where a purple bruise pushes its ugly head upwards. “That was just this morning, I slipped on the bloody pavement, you know how greasy it gets.”
“You two really love each other don’t you?” asks Molly.
“Sure, with us it’s the real deal.”
Molly nods and opens the Daily Mail and for a second Kate catches sight of the front page and the horrific sight of a body bag being carried away by the police. The latest victim of the doctor. In Maple Street as well, only two blocks away from where Kate lives. God there are some sicko’s around.
Lucky people around here have mates to look out for each other.
Kate cleans the coffee stain up and flicks over the customer's newspaper. It’s a Daily Mail; folded back. Kate picks it up and starts to unfold it when... The front page is missing. Kate frowns and then shrugs. Some people are weird.
Something bugs her... She looks across to the counter but the paper has gone. She could go and get it and check but... No. She’s just being paranoid.
She throws the paper in the bin and goes on cleaning the tables.
Kate slams the café door, “See ya!” she yells down the street to Molly, who waves. Mr Woods nods to her and starts to roll down the security steel shutter for the night. Kate doesn’t even bother to return the nod, merely hurries down the street as she sees the 23A bus round the corner.
Clambering onto the bus she catches sight of a figure walking up the road, carrying a plastic bag and a pair of shoes. Sighing Kate sinks back into the seat, feeling the bus rock and reel along the battered old back streets; the King reading nigger still at the wheel.
The body was found by a drunk.
The body bag is wheeled up into the ambulance, the doors slam and the ambulance drives off leaving the dazed sightless sleepers to stare at the officers; to answer in their slow and disbelieving ways to the questions.
One more girl who has finished her ceaseless sleep walking.
One more child never to be born.
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