You know how it is when you know someone so well? You know their expressions, their habits. It is like you know what they’ll do next before they know it themselves.
That’s how it is here. For example, I know that Frank will continuously stir his tea while adding milk. I know that he will blow on it twice before taking a sip.
I would have liked to sit with him, share a pot of tea with him. I would have brought him a blueberry muffin.
But it is busy this morning. Too many stressed looking faces embraced in dull dark suits. They shuffle along by the counter, staring at their smartphones, or talking loudly like lunatics. Barely a glance in my direction.
‘Good morning, what can I get you?’ I say over and over, a million times a day.
I recognise them as they came in the door, the customers. If they order in here more than once in the same month, I will remember them. It is a gift I have.
This woman comes in every Monday to Thursday morning just after twenty past eight. She is probably my age, but she is a miserable looking cow. Her face is so white and her hair so black, and then she wears this bright red lipstick just to complete the look. She might have money, well actually she does have money, the labels spell that out, but she sure as shit has no style.
She doesn’t stay here for her ‘skinny latté’ she takes it away. A big paper cup to match her two-piece and leather briefcase. It is all about The Look. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she never even drank it.
She always smiles and says hello to Frank. I don’t know why. It bugs me. She doesn’t know him, and it isn’t like she stops up to try and talk to him. I think she is attempting (badly) to flirt with him. It pisses me right off. She kind of saunters by his table, trying to sway her narrow, bony hips. It doesn’t work. In fact it makes her look like she has a limp. Then she does this slow head turn thing, where she glances back over her shoulder at him. I swear I’ll swing for her one of these days.
I should say it to him. We would have a right laugh. But, to be honest, he probably doesn’t even notice. And I am not about to point out to him that another woman is giving him attention. I know he would have no interest in her skeletal boy body, but I’m not about to put thoughts into his head.
Anyway, today isn’t Monday to Thursday. It is Friday. And it isn’t 08:20, it’s gone half past. But in walks the same skinny bitch I was just telling you about.
I mean, it doesn’t bother me who comes in or when. I serve anyone, whether they are pleasant or not, I will still make sure that they get the same standard of service as the gentleman before them.
She isn’t staring at her smart phone today, or talking loudly into her earpiece like someone demented. She isn’t even wearing a suit. She is in jeans.
And she is looking, practically staring, right at Frank.
He hadn’t looked up when she came in the door, I would have noticed. He was engrossed in whatever paper he was reading. I prefer the broadsheets myself.
So anyway, she shuffles along by the counter, doing her limp/sway thing. She passes out all the pastries of course. In my opinion, she could have done with a few croissants. No harm at all. So she reaches the till and I say, ‘good morning, what can I get you?’
‘Latte please,’ she says.
I am taken aback by the ‘please’ bit, but I keep my composure.
‘Skinny or regular?’ I say.
‘Just a regular, thanks,’ she says.
I stare at her. I am shocked. And in my defence, she has been coming here on the same days, same times, with the same order for months, and never once has there been a please or thank you. And certainly never a latte with full fat milk.
‘Right. Regular Latte so?’ I say.
I want her to know what she has just ordered. Sometimes people get distracted and make mistakes.
‘Yes please,’ she says.
Maybe when she takes off the suit it is like a persona peeling off. You know, like wearing a mask? Evolving into the character? Like that one from X-Men, who can be different people?
I turn to the coffee machine and start to make the Latte. I steam the milk, and I keep thinking, she will not drink this.
I glance over my shoulder to see if she is giving me funny looks, or trying to call me.
I cannot believe what I see.
There she is, sitting down at Frank’s table, all smiles and teeth.
They are laughing. Her hand reaches across the table and pats his arm.
In my state of shock and confusion, I feel the jug of scalding hot milk drop from my hand and onto the floor.
I ignore the milk all over the place, ignore the customers waiting in the queue. There is no stopping me now.
‘What are you doing?’ I say to her.
‘Excuse me?’ she says.
She actually has the nerve to smile at me. I am going to slap the smug bitch across the face. I don’t blame Frank here. He has done nothing to encourage her. Not in all the months she was in here trying to wiggle her flat pancake arse.
‘What do you think you’re doing sitting there?’ I say.
I am trembling I am so mad. The bitch playing dumb.
‘I’m sorry, is there a problem?’ she says.
Frank sits there, saying nothing.
‘You fucking will be,’ I say.
I pull back my arm and shove my fist forward with every bit of strength I’ve in me.
I feel the bones of her nose crunch and grind under my knuckles. She collides back in her chair, hitting the tiled floor hard on impact.
All of a sudden, Frank is on his feet. The customers around me move silently further and further away. Frank practically dives down onto the floor, cradling her in his arms. Rocking her and getting blood all over his nice white shirt.
She is roaring now. Screaming and crying as if she is half dead. Looking at me like a frightened deer. It takes a faker to know a faker, bitch, and all that fragile woman shit won’t work with me, or Frank.
‘What is wrong with you? You psycho, what the fuck did you hit her for?’ Frank says.
I didn’t expect Frank to be impressed with me, even though I am only defending myself really, and him. But I wasn’t expecting that outburst.
‘She shouldn’t have sat there,’ I say.
He is completely over reacting. He needs to calm down.
‘Will someone please call an ambulance, and the Gards,’ he says, looking around him at the customers who are starting to come back to life again.
‘I already did,’ says a voice near the door. They are slowly starting to move in on us, shuffling forward, their smart phones held out to watch us.
‘How could you do that to her? You are a fucking animal,’ says Frank.
There is no need for him to start insulting me. Maybe I went a bit far. But she really wound me up this time. I can only hold my patience for so long. And she is fine anyway. The blood isn’t flowing so fast now.
‘She is fine,’ I say.
‘Bitch,’ she says, her blood and spit dripping from her mouth.
Next thing is, I hear the sirens outside. The blue lights from the Garda car shining in through the glass door.
Before I get the chance to explain, again, to Frank, my hands are being pulled behind my back and handcuffs are clamped tight around them. I am being dragged to the door.
‘I did it for you Frank,’ I say, turning my head and shouting back to him.
‘Who the fuck is Frank?’ he says.
And all I am left with was the picture of him with his wounded deer, as the Gards lower my head, putting me into the back of the car.