A Waste of Time
There’s a coffee bar next to the University library and during the summer I wander up there from time to time. They have benches and tables outside, close to the bridge and you can look over into the road and watch the students come and go. The coffee’s not the best because they use boiling water and in the marketing mind their ideal customer is undifferentiated from bacteria.
But nothing is perfect.
I’d finished my coffee when I saw Sue Sainsbury come out of the library and begin padding towards my cluster of tables. She lives a few doors from me, in the same street. She has had something taken away from her in life and never got it back. I don’t know what it was she lost, or how she would be different if her catastrophe had never happened.
She sits beside me, draping her shapeless body over the table, her arms and hands mingle with the debris of past customers. She crosses her legs and one of her shoes falls off.
‘What’re you writing now?’ she asks. ‘Another novel?’
While I’m composing an answer she continues, her voice louder than necessary, intrusive even to the people at the far table who glance behind them, wondering who she is.
‘I’m writing a poem,’ she tells us. ‘A sonnet, actually. Maybe an ode. I haven’t decided yet.’
‘Interesting,’ I say, pulling off an irony-free delivery.
‘Yes, about life’s spirals.’
Deep inside me there is the howl of a huge maimed beast.
I’d forgotten about him, believing him to be tamed. But he’ll be out again tonight, seeking fresh flesh under a wispy moon. Those around us have some intimation of the stiffening cartilage in my joints, the broken blood vessels staining the whites of my eyes. There is nothing obvious, but a shift in atmosphere takes place, something inevitable and impossible slithers among us. Without knowing why everyone, even those who have not yet had their coffee or croissant, want to be at home.
Sue Sainsbury is oblivious to all of this. When the others have left and we are sitting alone with the the sun dipping below the horizon, she asks me about the challenges of using an omniscient first-person as the narrator of a novel.
The clock nibbles away at the minutes of my life.
I can never forgive her. She reminds me that I am without compassion.