The Friday Story

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This one’s from years ago, with the first line cribbed from an Ani DiFranco song, but the plan is to write a new bit of fic for every Friday:

The Nite-Owl

In strode a man in the shape of a man, holding a hat shaped hat. I’d seen him a dozen times before, and laughed a dozen more at his rancorous flirtations with the ageing behemoth behind the counter. He’d held a fascination for me since the first time I walked into the Nite Owl, and he was the reason I walked an extra block for my 4am cup of coffee.

There aren’t many things I’ll walk an extra block for, but his glacial smile was one of them. It spread slowly across his face, like a force of nature, like it knew it could take its time getting there, like it knew it’d do its job before the dawn broke, before the day was done. His smile brushed away the mountainous strains of my life, swept them aside and belittled them for the tiny passions of insomnia I knew they were. He had this utterly fuckilicious air about him, calculated and casual at the same time, like he was studiously aloof. And god did it work for me. The way he strode in and threw his scarf into the corner of the booth opposite mine – no matter where I sat his was always opposite mine. The way he unbuttoned his coat with one downward sweep of his hand, the way his smile never even cracked a glimmer on the face of the waitress. She had a kind word for everyone but him, everyone else was love, or dear, but he was sir. No respect for him though, maybe he’d corrupted her daughter. I liked to think so.

I’d imagine what I’d do if he was brought into the hospital, or if he came in looking for me, or for a friend who was ill. I’d wonder whether our complicit acquaintance was specific to a place, or something we could share anywhere. When I’m walking home in the early hours of the morning I usually cross to the other side of the street if I see a man walking towards me, but somehow he didn’t frighten me. I still get chills whenever I see a figure stumble towards me in the darkness; they used to be feelings of fear, but now there’s the faintest frisson of excitement, of expectation. I wondered if he knew of the subtle electric fire that for his sake played within me.

I knew he’d noticed me before, we shared smiles at the entrance of the Nite Owl, smiles of silent complicity in the insane ramblings and cosmic vibrations of the night. We both knew what it was like to take our minds of the hook for a while and let life carry us along. Why else would we frequent the same coffee house with its demonic staff and coffee that was water dressed in brown. I’d always wanted to bump into him as I walked to the Owl, so I could suggest we walked somewhere else, for a late night slice of pie, but he always got there after me, and he always left first.

He was part of my ritual for avoiding sleep, a case study of gesture and motion. His hands were always active, holding his tea with one, holding it for an age before he took his first sip. Searching frantically with the other for a lighter he’d always misplaced. Or using both to roll up another fag once he’d emptied his tin. I considered taking up smoking so I could bum one from the guy, but I didn’t just want to talk to him, I wanted to loom in his life, as he ploughed into mine.

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