C E Huntingdon
Preview: A Simple Thought of Sanity
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
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CHAPTER 6 | The Café
Brutus sat at the corner window, sipping a cup of rather old-tasting coffee. The café was quiet, save for the scraping of plates and gentle clicking of the waitress’s heels that complimented the silence. Brutus took another sip and set his cup down with care as he noted a tiny chip on the porcelain rim. He rubbed his thumb over its groove absentmindedly.
The chip wasn’t the only piece of the café lacking care or attention. Looking around, Brutus’ eyes were drawn to a number of imperfections. A speckling of rust dotting the base of a nearby stool. The hint of a stain splashed across the waitress’s apron. Scuffs and scratches lightly dusting the smooth tiled floor.
What interested Brutus the most, however, was the window. As he sat in the corner, hands resting loosely around his cup, he peered out through the murky glass of the café. The window had aged with a fine film, and while he might have minded it in any other setting, the slight impairment provided an additional barrier through which Brutus could safely observe the City.
It was from his spot in the corner that Brutus had spent most of the evening just sitting and watching the Faces in the night. Citizens traversed the City, a steady stream of marching steps truncated only by the ebb and flow of rush hour traffic. He spotted no friends or acquaintances traveling together. Life had too many other important things that took up too much important time. Everyone was alone in their journey.
Brutus supposed that many of the people were headed to visit one of the City’s social clubs. Until today, Brutus would have been among them. The thought of that obligation made him thankful for the thick pane of glass separating him from those busy streets and all those busy people.
He had awoken that morning as he always did, with noises buzzing in his ears. They followed him until he was floating among the conversations of fellow commuters and navigating the bells and chatter of work. When one noise had ended, he realized another was keen to take its place.
With his colleagues, he had left the office intending to relax at a social club. This was a habit of theirs, as much as it was everyone else’s. Though in truth, it was as much a habit as it was a mandate. They would sit, eat, and listen to each other talk. They would talk about a great many things that would soon be forgotten and most likely be repeated.
Finding himself locked in the same routine, Brutus had prepared a rather amusing anecdote about the funny looking egg he had eaten the previous morning. When it came his turn to speak, everyone looked at him, pale white Faces turning in unison from their places around the table. But the words never came.
His pink upper lip twitched as it failed to form the noise of his beginning consonant. He tried resyncing, making a fastidious yawn behind his Face and bringing it down slowly into a pursed pucker. Gradually his lip quivered and returned to the gentle resting state of his professional smile.
In that quick moment, though, his turn had passed, and the perfunctory story had gone untold. Brutus leaned back in his chair in mild annoyance. He’d have to stop by the cosmetics shop and deal with their incessant upselling, all for a simple recalibration.
Like a clock, Brutus’ head ticked from one coworker to the next as they told their stories, and as he did so, he found that he was not so interested in telling his own anymore. This odd interruption had somehow allowed a new thought to creep into his head. What if everyone had the same glitch, at the same time. Or one after the other. What would be the loss? What would he hear tonight that he would regret not knowing tomorrow?
So Brutus listened, really listened. He folded his arms and leaned back in his chair as he heard about his coworker misfiling a document he’d worked through lunch to finish. When everyone laughed, Brutus didn’t. He found it unfunny and honestly quite sad. The more he listened, the more he actually heard. The more he heard, the more he really understood. All of them were just bouncing from one noise to the next. Each just monotonous enough to blend in with the other, and as that monotony slowly grew, he imagined himself drowning in a sea, surrounded by smiling white Faces. The thought turned so real that Brutus rose to excuse himself and make his escape.
Pushing through the exit, Brutus found himself back on the streets. It was quiet now, save for the soft thudding of his own feet on the pavement. He plodded along until the silence began to weigh on him. In contrast to what had overwhelmed him moments before, this silence now made him feel rather empty. Leaving the club at an off-hour, he had somehow fallen between the cracks of his normal day. It was a time where people wanted to be at home, but obligation called them elsewhere. Any other night, he’d still have hours before he could find himself on this road. The view was more than a little different.
It was the first time he had ever really looked down the path he traversed every day. Signs and lights and doorways stood naked, unblocked by the usual throng of bodies that surrounded them. His usual pace he now found was too quick, and as he slowed, he found the most comfortable pace was not walking at all. So he stopped and took the moment for what it was, an opportunity.
Ahead seemed like an endless street. The farther Brutus looked down the road, the more he tilted his head. Higher and higher until his eyes traced the peaks of the City. He found that looking down the street really wasn’t much different than looking up. The thought began to make him dizzy until he heard what seemed like a whisper calling to him. He turned to face it but could find no one there to claim it. Instead, something else entirely stole his attention.
It was a café of all things, marked with an unobtrusive sign. Brutus couldn’t pinpoint what made it stand out, just that it seemed out of place, like someone had parted the existing buildings and placed their own creation gently inside.
He found himself drawn to this little thing. First looking left, empty, then right, empty, he quickly darted across the street. Reaching the sidewalk, he paused to…admire what he could now more clearly see. Its eggshell-painted exterior contrasted against the white stone of the buildings around it. A large window cut into the front provided a glimpse of its inner workings. There were booths and stools, customers, and a waitress, with room for more. Looking in at the little scene, he saw pairs of people enjoying their food, drinking their coffee, but nobody saw him, and he wondered at the purpose of the window.
He couldn’t stay here forever, though, as much as he’d like. Brutus had to get home. The street was no place to linger. So he nodded his head at the building, his curiosity somewhat satisfied, and as he passed by the door, he snuck one more glance and then came to a stop. There was dirt smudged into the handle. It was an absurd thing to observe, but there it was.
How such a thing happened, he didn’t know. He looked around for a moment. The thought of spotting a Cleaner in the distance and flagging them down passed through his mind, but there was no one on the street but him.
Brutus sighed and stepped forward, reaching out, he grabbed the handle with his thumb to polish away the flecks. As he wiped, his hand slipped against the handle, and the door swung open.
“Have a seat wherever you like, I’ll be with you in a sec.”
“Oh, I was…just cleaning the handle…” Brutus finished in a whisper. He’d never walked into a restaurant he’d never intended to eat at before and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. Brutus didn’t want to be rude, so he looked around. There was an open seat in the back corner of the front window. He slid in and grabbed the menu. A cup of coffee couldn’t hurt.
A tiny anomaly had drawn him in, but the worn and lightly blemished interior had welcomed him to stay. Brutus couldn’t fathom how the café had escaped the watchful eye of the Cleaners, and for whatever reason it had for continuing to exist, he found that he was grateful.
Turning his attention back to the City, Brutus glanced at the sky. The evening was overcast, a blank canvas of smooth gray kissing the white geometric bones of the City. Rain had started, dampening the streets and sidewalks, calling forth a surge of umbrellas to cover the Faces of the steadily growing crowd. Brutus recognized the commuters who had begun as a trickle and would eventually form a steady column. This was his crowd, and with them came the call to be on his way. His coffee had gone rather cold, and he thought it best to catch the train before the weather station really started to let it pour.
He was paying for his drink when he saw her. Standing across the street, making no attempt to shield herself, a woman waited. Her Face was unlike any other he’d ever seen. Rounded white ears protruded from the top of her head, and her eyes were like golden stars. There was something about her nose that seemed slightly off, and he realized that it was not unlike that of a Mouse.
In her hand was a yellow rose that she held close to her chest. Motionless, she stood in the place that Brutus had been not hours ago, watching people approaching and passing her by. In a lull between pedestrians, the woman suddenly and purposefully extended one of her slender hands and dropped her yellow rose. A man approached and, without breaking his stride, curved ever so gently around the obstruction and continued on down the sidewalk. After a few moments, the Mouse bent down to pick up her flower.
Brutus watched the man who had passed her, wondering about him as he disappeared from sight. He let the strangeness of the encounter settle as he returned his gaze to the woman and was met by those two golden orbs staring back at him. He held his breath as if caught peeping and watched as the Mouse slowly turned and stole away into the night.
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