Winter often produces a lot of difficult emotions for me and many of my friends. I’m so glad that society is finally becoming much more accepting of mental health, so much so that it’s increasingly possible to discuss some challenging issues down the pub. However, more serious issues like suicide and rape remain very difficult topics to talk about, even with our closest allies.
Therefore there is still work to do in this space. As a writer who experiences issues like these I feel a sense of duty to continue to report on these themes, however uncomfortable. I only hope I present them in a way that is palatable and, for want of a better word, entertaining.
For this one, how do people feel about the ending? (Trigger warning: suicide; albeit with a ‘happy’ ending.)
There are far too many options in most cafés, and I find nearly all of them problematic. Then, when I go to the cafés with hardly any choice, I can’t have anything. It’s all to do with the milk, and I don’t drink milk. The fanciest coffee place within a decent walking distance from my house is near enough to encourage me to get out of the house in January and far enough to get some space from the same old part of London in which I’ve lived for five years. And they have just started doing a selection of very nice filter coffees.
Every now and then, though, they run out of the fruity, acidic medium roast from Colombia or Bolivia and put up this dark roast affair – one for the masses, the Starbucks drinkers, the unsophisticated. Like having chips when you could be eating dauphinoise.
So I bring with me my little jar of cardamom and spike my coffee with the tiniest amount. Straight away, the lifeless, burnt flavours have peaks and troughs. A landscape.
There’s a man sitting opposite me today, who mumbles something as I screw the top back on my spice jar. I pull out my headphones which are eerily playing the same style of Lo-fi hip-hop as the bar itself.
“I was joking. I hope,” he smiles. He’s mid-forties, plenty of hair styled in a careful, voluminous mess about his face all cut to seemingly random yet calculated lengths.
“It’s only cardamom,” I say. “It’s a precaution, in case I don’t like the coffee this week.”
“But you haven’t even tried it.” He smiles again in a way I find tediously polite. I rest my headphones on the table to at least appear capable of reciprocating his casual human engagement.
“Right, but I know my coffee, and I know what I like.”
“You’ve had this variety before?” He asks. It’s rhetorical, and I feel like I’m on the losing side of this rapidly approaching checkmate.
“I don’t like gin. I’ve tried about twenty different gins, and I can’t get my head around it. Does that mean I should keep spending time and money on a quest to find a gin I might like?”
“No, of course not,” he says, smiling again but this time at his coffee – a black filter, like mine, but presumably without the cardamom. “You come here a lot,” he tries.
“Once, rarely twice a week. And you?”
“I’ve noticed, you’re always here with a book, or a tablet, or your phone. Never with anyone, though.”
“Are you saying you wouldn’t notice the same person sitting opposite you every week?”
“I was just making an observation.”
“So was I.” He wasn’t smiling so much anymore. Instead he was looking much more intently at his coffee. “You know, the glass behind you is reflective.”
The air became cold. His smile returned. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. What had he seen, and when? Was it a work email with sensitive information that I’d forwarded to myself because I had too much on in the week, and now he was going to report me? Or was it the email I accidentally opened last week with links to gay porn sites? Or was he a police officer trying to catch me for illegally downloading a copy of Photoshop so I could do creative work in my spare time?
“Are you okay?” he asked.
He tilted his head, as if to check whether the music in the café was loud enough. The tables either side of us had emptied.
“Sorry if I’m overstepping. We don’t know each other, but sometimes that makes it easier.”
He was looking at me again, smile replaced with an expression of concern. I wasn’t sure whether to be angry at his violation of my privacy, or my own lack of awareness of my surroundings.
“I lost someone last year – my wife. No one knew there was anything wrong, so no one did anything to stop it. But I know – and if you tell me to fuck off I will.”
I stared into the space he was occupying, paralysed by the situation. Neither of us moved. As the silence went on, I felt less uneasy. My silence hadn’t spooked him. My inability to reply was enough.
Finally, I reached over and picked up his coffee, taking a small sip. I pulled a face and reached into my bag.
“Your coffee’s terrible. Try it with this.”