The exposed brick wall was aged and Basie's band played with thundering magic through the Bistro's sound system. Not too loud but loud enough to catch the piano line. He thought the exposed brick gave character to the place and the old sign advertising the Samundham Livery Stable, was complete with a two number telephone exchange - the way they used to be way back then. It all just compounded the charm. Stan Getz, backing Astrud Gilberto and her husband in the immortal and iconic, Girl from Impanema; the words were indecipherable due to the unobtrusive nature of the sound system; but then came Billy Holiday - unmistakable.
Half way down the two shot Americano Eliot came in and sat down.
His thoughts were captive now and more serious than anyone's should be listening to this music, sitting in this place and looking at this wall. But there it was. 'The man that is will shadow the man that pretends to be.' Here was Eliot. He had offered his two-cents worth and refused to leave.
All those he knew who did do something, those who had given up the pleasure of things like children and weekends and lazy puttering and daydreaming, came to mind. He knew these friends for at least one thing in their lifetime. These were the one's that were, creating the shadows. So, here he was. 11:00 am, thinking of what he assumed was the ineluctable conclusion of Eliot's analysis of the world as it was. 'Oh, just shut up.', came rolling out just under his breat. He sat and thought that he lived in the shadows and felt like the man that pretended to be. As much as he loved Eliot, he wished he'd just up and leave.
Eliot stayed and it made him think of evenings home early, weekends with the kids, time away and time given to writing. All part pretending, he supposed. What had ever come of all of this? It was too late and what might have been was an irrelevant consideration.
All this soon faded as the siren jazz took him aside and tied him to a mast and fed him coffee. Eliot left.
Another day. This Bistro and putting off serious work. All for coffee and the company of a café such as this had turned into a habit, an all too regular event in his life. He sat and planned and thought and sometimes ideas grew. Sometimes he stared at the other punters and wondered what they were doing there. Eliot mostly came along and sat with him. He was sitting this time in another seat but both moved and Eliot was still there. It reminded him how much his planning seemed to be more pretense than essence. This was, he convinced himself over the 2nd Amerciano, his time to be alone and learn to be, the time to shut himself away and be. Whatever the hell that meant. At that, Eliot took his leave.
The strong black came to the table attached to a lovely young local with pleasant smile and kind, 'enjoy!' The froth was gold and white interspersed with blackness showing through and all very cream like. The coffee was smooth, nut like and with no hint of bitterness. As he lingered over each sip, it seemed to get better with each upturn of the white porcelain bowl. As ever, despite the heat's slow, slow, ever so slow cool, the taste did not change. Even the last cool mouthful was alive with nutty flavour.
'Perhaps', he said to himself in a very low voice, trying not to be heard again, and serious, ever so serious but with momentary lapses of friendliness from the proprietor and his lovely and nice ('nice' is good he thought) young barristas - all of whom seemed to have mastered this fine art - 'Perhaps, this is what it means to be.'
Back in the West at another café, this one too with brick exposed and plank floors and the same old time charm made him think of the Bistro. So did Billy Holiday again, singing the blues as always and through this sound system, louder than the other. He listened as the band took their moment to strut their stuff - the piano, sax, trumpet all spelled Billy who in good time, came back in to wind up this tune. He had never heard that number but knew the one before, All of me.
He waited sitting at a table others could have occupied, others whose friends were there already, others whose orders were up and who looked for a seat. He felt ever so slightly as if he were trespassing and had no right, had earned no right to be there. The feeling was slight enough and he kept his seat. Besides, he planned to order when his friend arrived - if he arrived. He was already 15 minutes late.
His friend came past the front window and to the door, and he arrived with his son in tow. After greeting, he changed seats to be by the window now available. His friend bought them breakfast and coffee, real breakfast with toast and bacon and sausage and eggs and tomatoes and mushrooms. But not real coffee. The coffee was not up to his usual standard - it was that ubiquitous filtered stuff, with depressed taste and more like mud than gold. No cream on this. Yet, this was his friend and that was more important and besides, he was having more later.
The conversation grew to encompass regrets of not having seen each other for ages and why they had not and plans to see each other soon. The conversation was about family and work and God and friendship generally and more specifically as well.
Later on, and with the warmth of the time with his friends still part of him, he went out of town, back to the feminine café, next to the window and under the sound of Norah Jones. He groaned inwardly. Norah was not his cup of tea. But this was his cup of coffee and made up for one sacrificed for the sake of friendship - 'a sacrifice worth making,' he thought. Now with three shots, this cup had just the right acidity and helped make Norah bearable…almost. He conjectured, 'she is probably a very nice person, no diva. But she's not Ella or Billie or Diana. Too sacarin, too throaty, to samie.'
He sat and mused on the weather and wondered if it would ever allow the sun to appear again. Eliot never came to this place and he was safe. Other customers spoke of keeping chickens. The customers just before ordered a latte and cappuccino and wanted to buy pillows but could not find the price. They came back later for the pillows. 'Girly cafés sell that sort of thing,' he mused. Inside today, he thought of the poem about the courtyard and about growing old and about the old man who came there regularly as well; 96 he was and the owner had given him a free coffee and biscuit for his birthday. He thought of writing more poetry but wasn't in the mood. 'Pretending again, I suppose,' he said under his voice and sipped the wonderful coffee, looking around to see if Eliot had come in. He hadn't. 'Damned echo,' he thought.
East again, and all was quiet. The window was opened slightly at the top to allow for the breeze. The breeze felt good and the bunting blew outside the window and above the street. The baritone sax took his cue from the orchestra and he wondered, 'hmm, must be Gerry Mulligan.' The coffee was as good as the morning. The rain had stayed over night but now was gone. Some of the good feelings left over from the celebrations had hung around. But everyone seemed to be glad to get on with something like normal.
The front room was empty of all but two. He managed to survive Nina Simone again and was rewarded with Getz, this time with Laurendo Almeda playing Quiet Nights and Quiet Stars. Almeda, of course, played the quiet chords on his guitar. Two recumbent bikes passed by the window and a Passat with a passenger bound for the bank, parked right in front of the window, partially blocking his view.
'Was it true,' he muttered to himself, 'that this village was not really a destination, at least not a destination like, say, Aldeburgh or Southwold?' Those here seemed to him to be right for the place and he thought in an uncharitable way, that those just passing through should keep on moving. The time came to leave and he had things to do. Eliot had not shown up that morning.
Back in the West, and in the deli, now outdoors and looking at the 'Girly Gift Loft' sign he sipped the second cup of the day. The first had been his own, made with an Italian style percolator, the kind Francesco De Mosto used in his Venice film. He had been to Venice and thought of the café near the Rialto bridge market. He pondered how different Italians were in the way that they drank their coffee, especially from Americans. They drank standing up, with one or two shots of espresso, no water to fill it out, and the whole thing went in a matter of seconds. Then, off on their journey run, unless they had a second. 'Italians don't linger and they don’t' do sipping either.'
'Americans, we Americans,' he said to himself, placing himself firmly in the camp of foreigners for those parts, 'drink the same amount of coffee content, the caffeine that is, get the same hit,' (at least he knew that he did) 'but enjoy the pleasure of sitting and sipping and conversing in a civilised manner with someone who was intelligent or lovely or both.' He feared pretense for a moment. He liked Italians though and thought they would be better off sitting and relaxing for a while. He thought that they would never try and have a coffee filled with hot water. He supposed that Americans just liked things bigger. 'This is,' he muttered, 'probably one of our faults.' He concluded that it was simply too hot outside today for Eliot.
The clouds were beginning to lower and the blue sky and sun that were resplendent just moments before, were gone now. Looking at the canopy in the courtyard that covered the antique butcher's table, he noticed the bulging ends, filled with water from the previous rains. The bulges looked like bulbous oblong balloons ready to burst at any moment. Water droplets began to form. There was a glimmer of hope in blue-sky patches, but the coolness of the breeze dampened his hopes.
He sat and thought of the poems written in past visits and that neither was very good and neither was ever likely to be read by anyone but him. He checked the pages left in the book, remembered that this started with his determination to finish off the journal, to fill a book. There were only two and a half more pages left before the story had to end. He had time for one more café, and hoped it was out East. But for the moment, he had things to do. He couldn't remember exactly what though.
The time came in the Bistro. He ended the story where it began. The exposed brick still looked aged and worn and the Saxmundham livery sign continued to add to the atmosphere. He sat in the same seat where it all started. Jazz still played and though not Basie, it was good. Eliot came and sat down again. Eliot said nothing this time. Though largely pretending, he continued to write and between sips of bittersweet richness of the Americano, he let the jazz wash over him. The gurgling rush of water forcing its way through the ten bars of pressure signaled that someone else's coffee was nearing ready. The noise drowned out the end of Nina Simone's song something he did not mind at all. But, it lingered into the beginning of Stan Getz. 'Hmmm, coincidence?' He was amused that he ran out pages and had to end the story just as Astrud Gilberto and her hubby were singing about a girl from Impanema, just as before. Then the other Stan played; Stan Kenton with Milt Jackson. It was a celebration, a tour de force of driving rhythm and horns blaring and interludes with the bell like tone of Jackson's vibraphone. He thought, 'I almost feel like celebrating.'
He looked around. 'Maybe it isn't ending as it began,' he said to himself, looking around to see whether anyone was listening. Eliot was gone. The last bits of coffee had cooled from hot to a respectable warm, but still no bitterness in the cup, it was not rough. It was smooth as silk and tasted good on the journey down.