Treehouse Lounge is a charming cafe in Balaclava with boast worthy brunch, even for Melbourne standards. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
Edith shuffled into Treehouse Lounge pushing a black wire shopping trolley to steady her shaking frail hands. She moved through the café slowly, steering her trolley through the maze of wooden tables. Her aim was a small free spot furthest from the door; even in her fur coat and black leather gloves Melbourne’s cold chill oozed through the fabrics and into her bones. The cold air had stiffened her legs on the walk over, making the trek to the empty table all the more bothersome. When she arrived it took a moment to position the trolley between the other table, it took a moment for her to move behind the table and onto the cushioned bench, it took a moment for her to take off her gloves and place them inside her shopping trolley and yet another moment for her to adjust her wide brimmed glasses to make sense of her surroundings.
A pretty waitress skipped over to the table, placed down an empty glass, a jug of water and the menu; “a drink to start?” she asked.
It took a moment for Edith to realise the assortment of items that had been placed in front of her, “What?” she asked.
“A drink?” repeated the waitress loudly, “maybe a cappuccino? Or a flat white?”
“Yes,” said Edith and the waitress whizzed back to the kitchen with her order.
Edith looked down at the menu before her. It was difficult to read the small writing. Her reading glasses were inside her trolley. She tried to reach for the trolley but in doing so knocked one of her gloves onto the floor. The glove was a foot away from her lying motionless on the floor. Edith’s back wouldn’t allow her to bend that far. She looked at the glove without moving.
Jenny walked into Treehouse Lounge and steered directly toward her great-grandmother, who sat at her usual spot at the very back of the café. Edith didn’t recognize Jenny right away but as she approached Edith’s face lit up. Jenny sat down, “hey non,” she said.
Edith smiled at her, “hello Jenny,” she said and waved her hand up and down, “how are you?” she asked.
“Yeah fine non,” said Jenny, “how was the walk over?”
“Little bit cold today,” replied Edith.
Her coffee arrived, carried by a lightly bearded male in an apron. Edith smiled at him, “thank you,” she said loud enough for the table next door to look over. The waiter looked down at Edith’s small frame hunched over the warm frothy drink, “you’re welcome” he said, “now are you guys ready to order?”
Edith nodded and grinned showing her aging teeth, or what was left of them, but did not speak. Jenny piped up, “yeah, I think she’ll just have some eggs on toast, and I’ll grab a skinny latte and the mushrooms.”
“Fab,” said the waiter and turned swiftly back to the counter.
Edith stared after him.
“You know what non?” asked Jenny looking over the table. Edith looked back at her from behind her large glasses.
“Once a man I met at a party told my friend I was exactly the type of girl a man falls for,” Jenny continued, “He was a married doctor and spent much of the night helping me figure out what the rash on my hand was.”
“Remember when I had that rash non?” asked Jenny searching Edith’s face. Edith continued to stare back at Jenny with a wide smile and a steady nod.
“I’d half convinced myself I had scabies and I allowed him to sooth my worries with medical talk,” said Jenny.
Jenny poked Edith’s hand, “Now I think he was referring to how I looked; pretty but not striking, charming, intelligent, can hold a conversation with just about anyone, and you know the little hair twirl, I bet he liked the little hair twirl. You know the one non? I learnt it from you. You used to use it on Pop to get him to make you tea. I remember.” Jenny paused, “Do you remember non?”
Edith’s face was set in a half smile.
Jenny’s latte arrived, “I can do it just as well as you now, maybe even better, “she said demonstrating the tilt of the head, the reaching back for her hair at the nape of her neck, bringing it to the forefront, casting her eyes upwards in the direction of an imaginary male and gentle twirling the dark strands of her hair around her fingers.
“It took a lot of perfecting and practice,” she paused, “on maths teachers who wanted to fail me, on police wanting to give me fines for talking on the phone, on tram inspectors asking why I didn’t have a ticket. But I think I have it down now,” said Jenny placing her strand of hair back over her shoulders. She looked out the window, “You know what it is though non?” Jenny asked absentmindedly, “it’s not my hair, or my smile or my voice, I mean it helps, it does help, but that’s not all I’m doing.”
Their food arrived. Jenny took Edith’s plate. She popped the poached eggs on the side of the plate, buttered the toast and then cut each slice into 2 smaller pieces. She then put the eggs back on top and placed the plate in front of Edith. She gave Edith the knife and fork and continued her story, “I was asking him questions.”
“Where do you work? How long did the study take? Wait you had how many exams? My gosh that’s hard work. You must be so dedicated. Now what do you think this rash could be? I did Google it. Oh I know I shouldn’t use Google Doctor. Well aren’t I lucky I have the real thing right here. Tell me more about it? What was it like to start medical school? Oh and to finish, what was it like to finish? Do you think I need medication for it? What was the cream you mentioned? Can you write that down? Wouldn’t want to forget the words of an expert”
“On and on I went non. Just asking question after question and throwing in some phrases to make him feel like a man.”
“Do you think that’s bad non?”
“When I look back I don’t remember doing it in a bad way, not at all actually. I did want to know the answers at the time. At the time I was in the moment. I curiously waded through the forest of his mind asking for directions to the place in his mind that he liked the most. The little place reserved in his mind – and all our minds – where we are actually happy with ourselves. It’s the small part that is proud of our accomplishments and recognises our talents, the small part that acknowledges we are good at something. It might not be much, maybe work, maybe baking, maybe friendship.”
“I just wanted to see that part – I always want to see that part. I try to find it even when the person I talk to doesn’t know the way. I question and nudge in the direction I think it might be. My gut is generally pretty good at guessing the way. When it’s really dark in their forest I just have to be patient. I need to ask about each piece of scenery. How did that tree get there? How did that mountain grow so tall? How does the water know which way is upstream? Always how, never why. Whys go round in circles; they are only important when there’s a clear answer. But when there isn’t an answer and the person can’t find the way, it’s the hows that matter. It’s the hows that explain the process that got them there.”
“Do you know what I mean non?”
“There’s few people I’ve met, like actually met where I haven’t found that part, that part of them that is worth seeing. The part they want everyone to see, no matter how dark and tangled the path is to get there. That’s why it’s easy for them to fall in love with me. I help them forge a path.”
“But you know what non?” I don’t think they are falling in love with me at all. I’m not sure anyone ever has. You know who they fall in love with?”
“It’s themselves, they fall in love with themselves. It’s not me; it has nothing to do with me. It’s like they find their way and then they want me to stay there, to sit in that place in their minds with them.”
“But sometimes I wonder non, do you think they’ve ever been to that part of my mind? Often it’s such a long journey to get to that part of their mind. Like they’ve wandered through the forest and come across a clearing. After such a trek you just want to sit and chill out for a while. No one’s about to say, “hey we’ve just come out of that mess, let’s go back into it.” No, they want to hang out in the clearing, after all it’s the only place the sun reaches.”
“But non, it’s not my clearing, it’s their clearing. Do you think I have a clearing? Some safe place buried in my mind? Do you think someone will come along one day and ask me how I got here and how I’m going to find my way?”
“I know you do non, you think there’s someone for everyone don’t you?”
“But non, what if I was someone’s someone and they weren’t mine? If the married doctor was right, that I’m just easy to fall in love with? What does that say about soul mates? If all it takes is a gentle nudge towards the ego, is love really so profound? Do you think we ever fall in love with anyone but ourselves?”
“I do like other people’s clearings non, I really do. When we arrive at that spot I sit, I enjoy the sun, the air, but then the sounds of the forest creep in. I get restless, like I know there are more clearings out there, not better or worse, just different. But I can’t see them when I’m stuck with a person in their forest.”
“Do you think I’m crazy non? Do you think I sound unemotional or detached? I might sound it non, but you know me. I cry during all the happy parts of movies – never the sad, only the happy. I don’t think that’s unemotional. And detached – well I always take their hand and ask which way to go. I get twisted into the dark forests of their minds with nothing safe for me to hold onto, nothing but their hands and their words. I don’t think that’s detached, what do you think non?”
Jenny looked over at Edith. She sat with her half smile staring at her untouched pieces of toast. Jenny had already finished her plate of truffled mushrooms.
“Why haven’t you eaten non?” she asked.
Edith looked up at her, “the bread is too hard.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” asked Jenny, “here let me cut it into smaller pieces.”
As Jenny took Edith’s plate the waiter came over, ‘how’s it going over here?” he asked.
“Great!” Jenny said putting the knife down and smiling up at the waiter, “hey do you think you could get me another coffee, your coffee is just delicious, how do you get them so good?”
“Just practice I guess,” he said, “what kind of coffee would you like?”
“Oh I don’t know. What would you say is the best you make?” she asked.
Edith was hungry. Her toast sat in front of Jenny who was busy talking to the waiter. She couldn’t understand their conversation. They were talking too fast. She stared at her cold toast and thought about the porridge she had at home.
She looked down at her glove still lying on the otherwise clear floor. She hoped Jenny would notice it.
– The End –