Image: Joan Miró, Landscape (The Hare) – 1927
Chris Di Placito is a writer living in Fife, Scotland. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming in magazines such as Litro, BULL, Ink In Thirds, STORGY and Structo.
Business is slow in Big Boabby’s Burgers and ah sit alone in the furthest away booth. A gless boattle eh Irn Bru stands empty, its damp label curling next tae a torn sachet ay HP sauce as ah move on tae the frayed corner ay laminate on Big Boabby’s dessert menu. A fly walks along the narrow edge ay the stainless steel napkin holder wi the finesse ay a tightrope walker. The last thing the wee beast sees is the giant pixelated image ay Big Boabby’s Banana Boat crashing down on its tiny heid.
Ah look up tae the door at the other end ay the cafe jist as she walks in. She brings wi her a trail ay dead, crinkled leaves and she shakes her coat, aw silky and wet. Fuzzy muffs ay fur parcel her ears, and a matching scarf wraps around her neck. Ootside, the soft December snow has turned tae a hard and bitter rain and the once blanketed pavements are now blotched wi clumps ay dirty grey slush.
‘Sorry ah’m late.’ she says, dumping her bag ontae the seat opposite me.
Ah stand up tae greet her, rubbing ma clammy palms on the thighs ay ma blue Levis in anticipation ay contact. She sits down, absorbed in the removal ay her coat and ah follow suit nervously, engaging in a seesawing dance.
‘Nae worries’ ah say. ‘Ah ordered ye a Bacon Bonanza likesay. Ye like burgers aye?’
She doesnae say nothing.
‘Ah huvnae heard fae ye since Compo’s pairty.’ ah say. ‘Ah mean of course ah got yer message likesay, but ah’ve been dying tae see ye.’
‘Aye, sorry. I’ve been busy.’ she says.
‘Sure nae worries, ah understand.’ Ah remember something she said tae me at the pairty. Something aboot her mum and the cancer. ‘It’s aeways busy aroond the hoalidays eh. Family stuff aye?’
‘Aye something like that.’ she says.
Ah’ve been picking at the cuticles around ma nails, but it’s only when ah draw blood that ah acknowledge the habit. Ah cough and discreetly reach under the table, wiping ma index finger on ma jeans. Ah fumble wi the dog tags around ma neck wi ma other hand.
‘Huv ye telt anybody?’ ah say. ‘Ye ken, aboot…’
‘No.’ she says.
‘Naw, naw of course. Naw me neither.’
‘Look, we need tae talk.’ she says.
We’re interrupted by a big waitress in an apron and hooped earrings. The apron is thick and course and the straps loop under her pudgy airms before crossing at the back then knotting at the front. The waitress puts two plates doon oan our table before disappearing back intae the kitchen. One plate has a burger oan it. The other has a burger wi chips ‘n cheese ‘n coleslaw ‘n onion rings ‘n a corn oan the cob.
‘Ah eat when ah’m nervous.’ ah explain and she laughs wi one short exhaling syllable.
‘Here, ah telt ye ah did ma tour, eh?’ ah say.
‘Hmm’ she says, absently staring out at the grey street. ‘Ah think you mentioned it at the party.’
‘Christ, ah cannae even mind, ah wis hammered. What a night eh? Wis it afore or efter… ye ken? Did ah tell ye aboot the stork?’
‘No you didnae.’ she says.
‘Aw ah need tae tell ye aboot the stork.’ ah say, shuffling in ma seat. ‘Can ah? Tell ye about the stork likesay?’
‘Sure, why no.’ she says, glancing at her watch.
‘Right, listen tae this. We’re based in the middle ay an Iraqi desert; a complete wasteland wi a panoramic view ay pure fuck all. We huvnae seen a single rag-heid since we touched doon and we’ve been sitting aboot scratching oor baws fir days. The rest ay the squadron, they’re aw in the mess hall, playing the PlayStation, shooting pool, ye ken. But me and ma neebir, we’ve been sent a mile doon the road tae a sentry post that consists ay a windbreaker and two deck chairs. Ah mean we’re aw set fir a day at the fuckin’ beach, ye ken what ah’m saying?
So we’re talking pish, playing cairds fir bottle tops and dozing in the baking heat. And then we see it. Ah mean seeing nothing but sand fir days oan end and then aw ay a sudden a huge black object is flying taewards ye– this is what we’ve been waiting fir. We’re standing tae attention like pricks oan viagra and the cairds are tumbling doon the sand dune and oor rifles are trained oan the target. But this thing, it’s getting closer and ah realise this isnae some missile, or drone, or whatever the fuck we’ve been sent tae watch oot fir. This is a living thing likesay. This is a stork flying taewards us. And it’s flapping its big black wings like a fuckin’ vampire and ah thought storks only came in white but this thing’s black as a raven. Ma neebir, he has ehs rifle locked in oan this bird but ah grab a pair ay binoculars tae get a closer look. And it has these long blood red feet and this long blood red beak, and its eyes man. Ah mean its eyes are red as blisters, ye ken what ah’m saying? They’re burning hot. Hotter than the sand we’ve slept oan fir the last eight weeks.
And listen tae this. Ma partner shot that thing right oot the sky. One minute it wis there, growing bigger and bigger against the emptiness ay nothing, then bang. Gone. As if it nivir even existed. And there wis nivir a boady likesay. Aye ah mean, there wis a boady, bit we couldnae leave or post so wi nivir did get tae see it, ken.’
‘Why would ye want tae see the body?’
‘Ah dunno, it was ours eh. Ah mean naeboady else seen this thing. Jist me and ma partner. Wi nivir did tell anyboady back at camp. Something that’s jist between us ah suppose.’
She looks doon at the greasy plastic table, her hands clasped in her lap, pale as doves. Her eyes glisten wi moisture under the sickly yellow glare ay the fluorescent tube lighting. Somewhere oan a jukebox an auld Roy Orbison track gives way tae the scratchy static ay the record needle.
Ah didnae mean tae upset her wi ma story and ah shuffle on ma seat unsure ay what ah’ve done.
We sit in a heavy silence and ah look around the room trying tae think ay something tae say. In the middle ay the cafe thirs a mum wi two wee children. She’s wearing a dark two piece suit ower the rich cream ay a silk blouse. She seems exasperated wi the person on the other end ay her Blackberry. The person has ordered the wrong type ay flowers. Lilium longiflorum instead ay aster alpinus, and according tae the mum, the client wilnae be happy.
The auldest child looks like she’s in primary six, but ah cannae be sure. She seems content in her own company, colouring her princess wi a crayon. Her head is cocked wi steely determination and her tongue protrudes fae the corner ay her mouth. The younger one, the wee boy, he’s mibbe around five and eh’s tugging at ehs mum’s blouse. He’s constructed a rudimentary letter with wee pieces ay Big Boabby’s Bitesize Nuggets. ‘Look mum, A is for Apple.’ eh says.
Next tae the family, the booths and tables are empty and ah shuffle the left tae see behind the mum. An auld man sits at the opposite end ay the diner. On the back ay ehs seat hangs a metal coat hanger, and fae the metal coat hanger hangs a charcoal grey overcoat. A black bonnet sits on top ay the table and ehs heid gleams in the harsh light, bald as a baby’s bottom. He clasps ehs hands around one tall glass ay butterscotch milkshake while staring at another.
‘Aw look!’ ah say wi a flash ay inspiration. ‘That’s Mr P, that is. He comes in here every night. He takes aff ehs overcoat and hangs it oan the hanger eh keeps in ehs inside pocket. He sits in the same booth and orders the same two milkshakes; one fir him, one fir ehs wife.’
‘Cute.’ she says.
‘Sad.’ ah say. ‘His wife died three years ago. He lives oan ehs own in a flat upstairs.’
‘Don’t his family come to visit?’
‘He husnae got any. Nivir hud children. This cafe is aw he’s got.’
‘Sometimes it’s nice tae be alone.’ she says.
‘Hiy, you should meet ma mum and dad.’ ah say.
Behind the auld man, large vinyl snowflakes surround the edges ay the bay windae, framing a holiday tableau ay merry diners fir the cauld onlookers oan the street. A man has appeared oan the outside wi a bag and step ladders. He pulls ehs scarf ower ehs mouth, concealing ehs misty breath, and begins tae peel the stickers fae the glass wi a small bladed tool.
‘And ma uncle.’ ah say. ‘He can hook us up wi an apartment. Ah mean eh has this whole portfolio ay properties and eh’ll gie us a good deal. Ye ken, as a family favour likesay. Ah was thinking, we can dae it up real nice, however ye like. We can get some blue paint. Or pink.’
Outside, the man finishes peeling the vinyl fae the window. A sticky residue ay glue traces a vague festive outline around the now bare glass. He pulls ehs hat low ower ehs ears and folds ehs ladders. The rain will wash the rest away.