Things fall apart
So, here's a fun fact: I seem to really enjoy writing about strangers meeting in cafes. Who knew?
I wrote this last night after realising I didn't have something to publish today, and only noticed halfway through that I seem to keep returning to the same themes at the moment. Much like Emma & Elodie, this piece aims to explore the connection between two people in one moment, and suggest the lasting impact they might have on one another. Details are left deliberately sparse, as I wanted the piece to be more about the connection than the specific characters, but as always, I'm more than happy to expand/explain/discuss.
Thanks for stopping by and for reading, I appreciate every single one of you. I really hope you enjoy, and happy Sunday.
Although she is trying hard to hide it, it is obvious that the girl in the corner of the cafe is crying. The giant mug poised in front of her face does nothing to obscure the telling red rims around her eyes, or the soft shuddering of her shoulders. Ivy cannot help but look; and she notices that the other patrons of the cafe seem to be having the same problem. Their eyes dart up furtively from cups of tea and paninis. Because what spectacle could be more enthralling than a woman crying?
If they were in a hip, bustling establishment on George Street the atmosphere might feel different. In places with exposed brickwork and reclaimed wood, such a scene might not be so incongruous - just a part of the usual evening rhetoric. But here in Has Beans, a forgotten pocket of a coffee shop that has hidden in the shadows of Edinburgh's Royal Mile since anyone can remember, the girl is the unlikely main event amongst the checked paper tablecloths and plastic sugar dispensers.
Yet, no one approaches. Moments pass, and the girl's grief picks up a gear. She takes a hiccuping breath and her shoulders sag under the weight.
That's quite enough, Ivy thinks to herself. What kind of world is this now, where we can sit and listen to somebody cry, and do nothing?
She takes a tissue from her purse and levers herself from her chair, trying to calm the angry protestations coming from her back and knees. She ambles over to the girl in the corner, and grips the back of the chair facing her for support.
"Do you mind if I sit, dear?"
The girl's head snaps up in surprise. She is younger than Ivy had expected - her complexion creamy and fresh. But the purplish rings around her eyes speak of a persistent sleeplessness. A posionous, growing hollow that won't leave her be.
"I, erm..." The girl is searching for a valid excuse to say no.
Ivy arches her back theatrically and groans. There aren't many priveleges associated with being an old woman - she might as well exploit those available to her. "It would be so nice just to sit down".
She sees the girl's expression soften as she wipes her nose on her sleeve, in a way that manages to be graceless yet endearing at the same time. "Of course," she says quietly, but Ivy can still hear the reluctance in her voice. Oh, the differences between what we say, and what we actually mean.
For a minute or two, neither of them speak, and it is eerily still. The Royal Mile is near-deserted in September, almost like it's in mourning after the highs of the festival just passed. The weather is unseasonably warm, and condensation tickles the window panes in the dying light.
The woman has stopped crying, but her eyes are fixed on the table, as though she has been reprimanded.
Ivy isn't sure what to say. Sometimes it's best to be direct, she thinks. "Are you having a difficult day?"
The girl lets out a snort masquerading as a laugh. But there is no humour there. "You could say that," she mumbles. Her voice has a spiky edge, a petulant, teenage harshness not yet sanded down by time. She must be in her early 20s, Ivy thinks. What could really be so bad, when your body does everything you tell it, when the world is at your feet?
"Perhaps talking would help," Ivy offers.
The girl shakes her head, as if ridding her mind of an unwanted thought. She opens her mouth to speak, then closes it again. "Things fall apart," she says eventually. She sounds tired. "And all I do is put them back together again. But it's no use. I can't hold it all in. My life is water, and I'm leaking."
Ivy nods, considering this. It is not the kind of answer she was expecting. The girl sighs, and uses both fists to rub at her eyes in a manner that's almost child-like. Her sleeve rides up and exposes a smattering of purple circles around her wrist, like the ring of a handcuff. The sight doesn't shock Ivy. It just makes her feel briefly, yet profoundly, sad.
"Why must it always be you who picks up the pieces? What about the people around you?" she asks carefully.
The girl scoffs, tugging down her sleeve. "Everybody else seems more interested in breaking me than putting me back together."
Her words hang heavy in the air, seeming to intensify the oppressive, warm fug of the cafe. Ivy's throat feels dry and she wishes she had some water. She finds herself longing to be back out in the fresh air, cleansed by the rain, but she doesn't feel she can leave the girl now.
"Perhaps it is time to stop fixing the same old things over and over again." She chooses her words carefully. "And to seek something new."
The girl's eyes meet Ivy's for the first time. They are a startling dark green - the colour of a tree in the deepest part of the forest. Her voice is no longer quiet, restrained nor measured. "I don't know what he'd do without me. I'm all he has."
There is a rehearsed quality to these lines, as if they have been impressed with emphasis upon her, but she doesn't really trust their weight.
"Tell me something," Ivy says, changing tact. "Must it be your job to haul the sun up by the collar every morning, too? Because it will only fall down again, every single night."
She sees the surprise register on the girl's face; a sprinkling of curiosity. It is a lovely sight.
"Sometimes we need to let things be," Ivy continues, pushing up her glasses on the bridge of her nose. Her eyes are getting tired. "Some things, and some people, are out of our control. And there is only so much we can do to help them. We must be guardians of ourselves, first." Her eyes flicker involuntarily to the girl's wrists. If the girl notices, she doesn't show it.
"It's exhausting, all this holding on," the girl whispers. It sounds like a plea; a last, desperate request to be excused from something she never asked for.
Ivy nods. She knows this all too well, albeit in a different context - the dull ache in her bones tells her the same story every morning. "Perhaps you should put the same amount of effort into letting go."
Silence floods in to fill the gap between them once more, and Ivy's tongue feels slack in her mouth. She usually doesn't talk so much - in fact, this is the most she's talked to anybody in months. That's what living alone does, she thinks. But the reflective look on the girl's face tells her that perhaps it has been worth it, this small, insignificant conversation with an old woman on a quiet September evening. Perhaps it is the gentle flap of a butterfly's wing that's needed to set the world on fire.
The girl is packing up her belongings into her handbag, and getting ready to leave. As she gets up, she pauses, and puts her hand on Ivy's. "Thank you," she says tenderly. Ivy can only watch, and hope, as the girl pulls open the door and steps out into the night. Hope for courage, hope for change, and hope for a tomorrow that's kinder.