Franklin Windsor is a Melbourne cafe boasting mighty fine coffee, just opposite Windsor Train Station on Chapel Street. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
Harry took a seat at the very first round table at Franklin Windsor. Although it was a pleasant 20 degrees he sat inside with a beanie that covered all evidence of hair. His stubble on the other hand was evident, and if you stared too long your line of vision would become tangled in the thick bristles. He wore subdued colours; an olive skivvy, a black down vest and grey jeans, making his white and orange sneakers stand out all the more.
Harry ordered a strong long black from the thin tattooed barista.
He looked at his phone; it had been 3 minutes since he last checked his emails. He knew his inbox would no doubt still be empty. He pressed the reload button – No Internet connection.
The barista brought him his long black and a small glass of sparkling water, which always so graciously accompanied an order of long black at Franklin Windsor.
Harry looked up at him, “Do you have Wi-Fi here?”
“Yeah man let me check,” he said and walked towards the back of the café.
Harry watched him walk away and took a sip of his long black. The bold taste did little to calm his nerves.
He should have stayed home he thought, at least at home the Internet was always fast. But James, his roommate, had practically begged him to leave the house. He had handed Harry a $10 note and told him to go somewhere – anywhere so he could have some peace and quiet. Begrudgingly Harry had left and wandered over to Franklin Windsor. He had always liked it there. He normally hated people asking him how his day was going but the ginger bearded owner; most likely the keeper of the Wi-Fi password, always remembered his name. And while Harry never remembered ginger beard’s name, it was nice, nice being called Harry. Harry – not Jenkins, a name given to him by some good-for-nothing bastard he’d never met. Harry was nice.
Harry looked up and saw the tattooed barista standing just in front of the little courtyard halfway down the café. He’d better not have forgotten.
Harry got up and walked towards the toilet out back, eyeing the barista as he walked past. As Harry opened the door that lead towards the toilet the barista gave him a quick nod of acknowledgment. The bathroom was just through a small outside corridor. Harry looked up at the sky and took a few breaths. He could feel his fingers becoming numb and the heaviness than normally plagued his head disappearing, his breaths became shallower, quicker. Oh god, not again, he thought.
He tried to find something to focus on, something to calm him, to focus on another sense to distract himself from his pounding heart like Helen at Headspace had suggested. His eyes rested on two bottles of San Pellegrino sparkling water under the stairwell. They were filled almost to the top, not with water, but with cigarette butts. Something about the green of the bottles and the thought of nicotine calmed him down. He stared at the cigarette butts inside, stacked on top of each other like a game of Tetris. Once his breathing returned to normal he went back inside.
The café was relatively quiet but a few people were scattered about at different tables. A young pretty girl was facing him and there were a few other guests in the courtyard and the back room with the fireplace. The girl was on her laptop and typing feverishly. She wore a skivvy too, in emerald, and had on large blue headphones. An empty table separated the two and she would not look up. Harry wished that he were wearing headphones too; the music that was playing was probably good. The barista on hunt for the Wi-Fi password was also in charge of the record player, which crooned out acoustic sounds. He looked similar to James and James had good taste in music.
The barista came back to his table, “here you go mate,” he said handing him a piece of paper. Harry took it greedily and connected. He refreshed his inbox, still nothing. Again, still nothing.
Okay, he thought to himself, I’m only gonna reload it three more times. One…Two…Three… With each press his finger trembled that bit more. One…Two…Three…
“Harry?” came a gentle voice from behind. Patti, from the Sacred Heart Mission Op Shop was standing next to him, as he looked up at her pleasantly wrinkled face she placed her hand on his shoulder. “Breathe,” she said.
Harry felt the warmth of her hand on his shoulder and tried to focus on that sensation. He took a deep breath in. “Again,” said Patti and he did as instructed. Harry then placed his phone down onto the table. He took in another deep breath and looked back up at Patti. “Thank you,” he said.
Patti sat opposite him, “no problems sprout,” she said, “now honey just move your shoulders up and down a bit.” As she said this she placed her hands onto her shoulders and lifted both shoulders up in chorus and wiggled them around, giving her the appearance of doing a very uncoordinated chicken dance. “Just really get on in there,” she continued.
Not wanting to be rude, Harry copied her chicken dance and soon the two were flailing their arms around, enough for even the girl in the headphones to look up. He noticed his shoulders loosening up and the tension, which he hadn’t realised running from the crown of his head all the way down to his lower back, fading away.
“Are we doing some exercise here this afternoon?” asked the barista appearing at the table.
“Yeah just getting stuck into all these old joints. Young Harry here’s reminding me that even at my age, I just gotta keep those bones a-moving,” she quipped.
Harry liked how Patti spoke, she could both be calm and then a minute later she’d be rattling on lively like a 10-year old girl with a story to tell.
The barista took Patti’s order – a macchiato and “whatever sweet treats hiding under that cake lid over there.” When the barista had returned to the coffee machine Patti looked Harry in the face and then her gaze wandered over to his hands. They had stopped trembling at this point but they still held the memory. “Now sprout,” she said, her voice returning to its slower pace, “If you’re going to be doing the counting, at least do it usefully.”
Harry was surprised by the comment.
“You were so useful at the shop, always counting away at our till, we never had a single cent missin’ when you were around. And at home too sprout; your room was the tidiest of all the kids. Come back would ya?”
Harry smiled at Patti; he’d missed her light-hearted attitude to life and her complete lack of judgement about his past. When he turned up at Sacred Heart Mission’s Rooming House, after not seeing her in over 7 years, she’d practically dragged him to the Op Shop and told him he needed to be useful and “not such a sad sap.”
“I know we can’t pay you sprout but it seemed to do you real good – talking to people and keeping our tabs,” she continued. “I hear you’ve found yourself a proper house though. Sally and I talk about you all the time, she was the one that said you’d found a house. I was real glad when I heard Harry, but we sure do all miss you.”
Harry had stayed silent through most of it. It had been hard leaving Rooming House. Of course he had been excited, finally his own space, but it had been hard; managing finances, paying bills, writing resumes, he’d never done that before. It was hard not having the others around, Rooming house had been a community and even before then he’d always felt a sense of community even if it had been a community he wanted to break free of. This was the first time in his life he truly felt alone since before he left home at 15.
His thoughts removed him from the chair, the table, the cafe and he hadn’t noticed…
Patti took the hand that was forcefully tapping the table.
“Come back to us sprout,” she whispered still holding onto his hand.
“Why are you always so nice to me Patti? My mother was such a bitch to you,” he said followed by an apology for his foul mouth. As a child, Patti would have given him a proper talking to for that language.
“You’re mother comes from a different world sprout,’ she said as if this explained everything.
“Yeah a world she cut me out of as soon as possible. She blames me for Sebastian leaving you know?” he said bitterly.
“That house was better without him, trust me on that,” she said, “You’re dad was a bastard, pardon my French, but he was.”
Harry’s eyes widened.
“Proper boys don’t use foul language sprout, but we’re common folk now” she laughed.
Harry shifted in his seat and took his hands away from Patti’s grasp. Her hands were thinner and more wrinkled, but her touch on his hand brought back memories of that house. It was like his senses had their own memories and they didn’t suppress them like his mind often did.
“What’s making you so anxious,” Patti asked, “I felt like we had things under control just a couple of months ago.”
She was right. Things had been under control. He had been doing quite well actually. He’d gotten himself a part time job and was slowly paying back his debts. He liked his new house and James was alright for the most part. It wasn’t the life he thought he’d have at this age, but it was better than it had been one, two, even three years ago. Maybe it was better now than it had ever been.
But then 3 weeks ago he got that email.
“Bob’s back in town,” Harry said.
“Bobby, your brother?” Patti asked, “Why I don’t think I’ve seen Bobby since before you left the Jenkins house.”
“I know, he emailed me a few weeks ago asking to see me,” said Harry, “I replied this morning. I tried to reply a whole lot of times but I just couldn’t. What would he think of me now Patti? What’s mum told him? Does he know about the break-in? Stealing money an’ all that? I bet the bitch told him everything. What does he want?” Harry asked again with his eyes downcast.
“Only one way to find out sprout,” Patti said.
“I know, I know,” said Harry. He looked up from his hands in his lap, “but Patti how do you tell someone that your life is a mess and has been ever since they left you?”
“You just do sprout, you just do.”
– The End –
33 Chapel Street
Windsor, VIC, 3181