Operator 25 is a café located in the Melbourne CBD in the lovely Wills Street close to the Flagstaff gardens. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
– 25.04.16 –
Lisa fell in love with him quite quickly. He was sitting at the other outdoor table opposite her and was scribbling away on a few pieces of paper spread out across the four-seater table. She could only see his face on profile but it was handsome with a strong jaw line and out of place boyish cheeks. On his table were three empty espresso cups, a packet of tobacco and a jumble of pens and paper. The paper was covered in large, almost child-like writing, with frequent scribbles and changing intentions.
From her spot Lisa could not read the writing on the pages but she guessed he was writing some kind of story, or letter or poem, something artistic, creative and sentimental. She looked down at her own table. She had just ordered a coffee at Operator 25 but it was yet to arrive. The table was empty besides the brown water bottle that the waitress had brought over, the book she had purchased the day before at Readings, her phone, which flashed continuously from various group Facebook messages she hadn’t opted out of yet, and the NO SMOKING sign.
Her cappuccino arrived and she moved it around on the table trying to find an interesting angle, she wanted to have both her coffee and book in the square frame. She snapped an Instagram and captioned it, What long weekends are for, with the CREMA filter. Once she uploaded it she took a sip of her coffee.
She opened the book to the first page and began to read. She noticed that the open book and the coffee placed in the middle of the pages also made an interesting shot. She took her phone and took a few photos from various heights. She wished she hadn’t uploaded that last photo and had saved her #potd for this. She looked at her Instagram account. It had already received 37 likes. She’d keep the open book photos for another day. She placed her phone and the coffee cup back down onto the table and turned to the next page of the book.
Next door the waitress began clearing the boy’s espresso cups. Lisa looked up from her book to see if he was leaving. She overheard him ordering another espresso. Lisa observed him staring intently at his scribble paper. Perhaps he was a journalist or a novelist, she thought, a novelist would be better, as long as he was already established. They could be a power couple: Him, the literary genius and Her, the media tycoon. They could really build their romance in the public eye, if both Instagrammed their first dates and getaways from the beginning. Photos by the beach, him scribbling away in a notebook and her with a cocktail and iPad in hand answering important emails, Work doesn’t stop in paradise.
The waiter arrived to bring the boy his forth espresso. He immediately took a sip and placed the cup back down on the table, accidently spilling coffee on a few of the pages. Lisa heard him curse and stand up wiping the coffee droplets that had poured down the pages onto his white jeans with a napkin. A page fell off the table and was picked up by the breeze to land next to Lisa’s Zomp shoes. She quickly stepped on it with her boot and put down her book to pick up the page. Her eyes swiftly scanned across the page:
The night did strange things with my mind.
My thoughts, usually so often categorized into perfect little boxes were now a confused jumble. Your cigarette smoke coming towards me, engulfing me, strangling me, makes me want to start smoking again, in hopes of falling in love.
The words seemed familiar, like words to an old song found in her dad’s record collection. She noticed a feeling of jealously in her chest. She stood up and handed the page back to the boy.
He took it from her and thanked her.
“You’re welcome,” she said, “wouldn’t want your manuscript to fly away.”
“My manuscript?” he said, “it’s hardly that at this stage.”
“Maybe one day?” she asked.
“Maybe,” he said.
The breeze that was blowing down Wills Street picked up and messed up Lisa’s hair. She tried to push it out from behind her ears to let it frame her face however wasn’t having much luck.
“I just finished reading that,” said the boy pointing to the book on her table. Lisa turned around to see the pages of The Narrow Road to the Deep North ruffling in the wind.
“Oh yeah,” asked Lisa, “I only just started it a moment ago, is it any good?”
“I really liked it, but I listened to it as an audiobook and it was really weird hearing an Australian voice doing the narration,” he replied.
“I haven’t really listened to audiobooks before,” said Lisa.
“They are almost always with British or American accents,” he said.
“Makes sense,” she said pushing her hair back into place. She tried to think of something else to say about the book but all she really knew at this stage was that it was set in Australia.
The boy had sat back down. He motioned towards the book again “Keep going with it, it’s a great read.”
“I will,” said Lisa and went back to sit at her table. She opened the book to the first page and began to read. The boy went back to scrutinising his pages. He seemed unhappy with what he had written for his forehead wrinkled and he placed large crosses through an entire section of work.
There were two young boys using Wills Street as their own private skate park, jumping and falling from the ledges and benches. They kept repeating the same move over and over again. One would skate along the footpath and jump at the ledge onto the road trying to flip his skateboard. The other boy would skate behind him holding a phone in his hand. Lisa overheard one boy saying to the other that the last one was good for Snapchat.
The boy got up from his table and walked to the concrete benches opposite. His moss green scarf was blowing slowly in the breeze as he sat down and rolled a cigarette. Due to the wind he was having trouble lighting the end. He held his hand around the end to shelter the flame. It took two more tries before the end burned momentarily orange and began to emit smoke. He watched the two boys performing their skate tricks. Lisa watched him from behind her book.
At that moment a gust of wind came through the alleyway and the boy’s papers, which had been secured under an empty espresso cup, went dancing through the air. With leaves from the autumn trees they made their way down the alleyway. Lisa got up and ran after them, helping the boy retrieve the windswept words. She picked up a few which were stuck in the bicycle wheels parked a few metres away and one that was caught on a green lamppost. The boy had run further, almost to La Trobe Street. She met him back at his table.
“I think I deserve a dedication now,” said Lisa placing the pages under the still full brown water bottle.
“I believe you do,” he replied, “What’s your name?”
“Lisa,” said Lisa.
The boy took one of the empty pages and wrote, For Lisa, in big curly writing.
She smiled, “I’ll be remembered forever now.”
“If it’s ever published,” he said placing the dedication page under the brown glass bottle.
“Let’s hope it is,” she said and walked over to her table again.
Lisa settled into her seat again, not wanting to seem to eager. She opened the book back to the first page and started to read, now for the third time. But this time she continued and kept her eyes locked to the words on the page, taking in the rawness of Flanagan’s style. She tried to imagine the Australian accent saying the words.
When she next looked up the boy had left. His table was empty but for an empty espresso cup and when Lisa looked up and down Mills Street she could not see him. She was disappointed. She took another sip of her coffee which had now gone cold. She wished she’d given him her number or something. The empty page with her name would have been the perfect opportunity!
She closed The Narrow Road to the Deep North and picked up her phone. She opened Instagram and saw that her photo had received 78 likes, not bad. She looked at other photos that had been taken at Operator 25. In the TOP POSTS were beautifully crafted photos of coffees and flower encrusted breakfast options. She liked several of them. She scrolled down to the MOST RECENT photos and just before her photo she noticed a photo with scribbled paper and three espresso cups in the corner. Lisa clicked on the photo, Can’t write without fuel. She clicked on the name @NotThatTom. The profile picture was definitely the boy; he was straight-on, blowing smoke into the lens. She scrolled through his feed. Photo after photo of scribbles, books, coffee, writing, wine, quotes and cigarettes. He had just over 5000 followers. Lisa clicked Follow. She went back to his latest post and commented, Buy me a drink sometime for saving these pages @NotThatTom?
– The End –
25 Wills Street
Melbourne CBD, 3000