The Joinery is one of my favourite cafes in Melbourne. I come here often for their $3 Taco nights, coffee and happy hour. Click to read the short story by set in Melbourne…
“I could walk down the isle to that song,” said Brooke referring to Emma Louise’s rendition of Into my Arms.
“Wouldn’t you want the original?” asked Sarah.
‘No I like how she sings it, “ said Brooke, “there’s something nice about a woman singing it, don’t you think?”
“I won’t disagree there,” said Sarah, “but Nick Cave has that hollowing depth in his voice.”
“It’s sadder, do you think it’s sadder?” asked Brooke.
“No, Emma’s is sadder, Nick’s voice is loving, there’s so much love in his voice,” said Sarah.
“You’re such a romantic,” teased Brooke.
“Yeah, read too many of Mum’s Julia Quinn novels as a kid.”
The two girls were sitting on the chairs outside the Joinery in Elwood waiting for a table to free up inside. It was Taco Tuesday and right on happy hour. The afternoon was colder than anticipated and Brooke, always inappropriately dressed for Melbourne weather, huddled under one of the blankets provided by the establishment.
A waitress came over to the table and Brooke ordered a red wine. Not writing it down, the waitress turned to Sarah, allowing her eyes to linger. Taking that little bit longer to look at her jaw, her cheeks, her mouth, her nose, and then fumbling for her pen and pad paper in her pocket.
“So that’s one red wine,” she said scribbling on the pad, “and what would you like?” she asked Sarah diverting another quick glance at her fairy floss hair.
“Just a house white,” Sarah replied pushing a strand of pink hair from her face.
“Yes, good, one white and one red,” the waitress nodded, “and any food?”
“Actually we were hoping to eat inside,” said Brooke, “it’s pretty darn chilly out here.”
The waitress looked at Brooke, “yeah no sweat, no tables right now but shouldn’t be too much longer.”
Brooke began talking about the last Emma Louise gig she went to. Sarah listened as she tied her curled hair back to stop it from blowing into her face. She took a hair tie from her wrist and spun her thick peroxided strands around her finger and into a loose cascading bun.
As Brooke continued, Sarah noticed two boys sitting at the table next to them. They were muffling laughter as they clutched onto their phones. One boy, in his early twenties, was holding his phone under the table, in reminiscence of a catholic schoolboy fearful of his teacher’s glare.
The other was more forthcoming, with his phone perched on the table, caught between his two hands. Sarah made eye contact with him and the phone was quickly placed down on the table.
A different waiter brought over their wines, “there you go ladies,” he said with a smile, “a couple’s just leaving so I’ll clean up the table and come get you in 5.”
“Thanks,” said Sarah, taking her white wine.
She again overheard laughter and saw the two boys next-door nudging each other.
She thought she heard one say “I think I got it,” followed by laughter.
More laughter. “Snapchat.” More laughter.
Sarah motioned uncomfortably in her seat.
“Do you want to go to Splendour?” asked Brooke diverting Sarah’s attention back to her table. The rising pitch told Sarah it was a question but she had not heard the content.
“Sorry, my mind’s elsewhere. What did you say?”
“You alright hun?” Brooke asked with the same rising pitch but now clearly concerned.
“Yeah, sorry I just got distracted,” she said and then moving her head closer to Brooke’s, “I thought I saw those guys snapping a photo.”
Brooke turned around at the two boys; both now busy staring at one of the phones.
“A photo of what?” asked Brooke.
“Of me, said Sarah quietly, “it’s happened before.”
“What?” said Brooke loudly, “want me to go over there?”
“No no,” said Sarah hastily, “just forget about it, “I’m probably just being paranoid.”
“You sure?” asked Brooke.
“Yeah, yeah, look the waiter’s coming to get us anyway.”
The waiter opened the door and stuck his head out, “we’re ready for you girls.”
More quiet laughter.
Sarah and Brooke walked inside clutching onto their wines.
The waiter motioned them to a table on the other side of the café overlooking the other side of the street. Sarah put her glass down and stared outside.
“Just got to run to the loo,” said Brooke.
Sarah looked at the men and women that passed the café through the window.
Woman, boy, woman, man, women, girl, man, boy, boy. It was a busy afternoon in Elwood, parents taking their children home, rushing them from school to home to escape the breeze that nuzzled at their uniforms. Sarah watched a woman walk by, noticing how she holds herself, noticing the slightest sway in her hips, the feminine sway. Her mind drifted back to her appointment a few hours earlier.
“You have to be more feminine.”
“You can’t expect me to sign off on this if you’re not going to put any effort in.”
“You can’t show up here without any makeup on.”
Sarah watched the woman, watched her as she so effortlessly walked down the street.
The two boys from outside walked passed; one noticed her sitting in the window. He made eye contact with her and blew her a kiss before erupting into a fit of laughter with his friend and walking off.
She was small, she was tiny, she was 5, being told by her brother, “not to be such a pussy,” when she ducked from his gunfire cricket balls. And she hated herself, hated her skin, her parts, hated how the fakest parts of her were the truest, the only ones she connected with. Hated how her natural self perfectly fit into a binary model of being, a model she couldn’t mould herself into.
Brooke came out of the bathroom chatting away on her phone.
“No mum, I’m just with Sarah. Sarah. No She. That’s okay. We’re at the Joinery. Yeah $3 Tacos, yeah I’ll let her know. Nah probably not until later, Sarah drove. Yeah I gotta go, Bye mum, love you too.”
“Mum says hi,” said Brooke sitting back down at the table.
“Oh, say hi back,” said Sarah, “I haven’t seen her since before.”
“Yeah I know, she said you should come round for dinner soon.”
‘That would be nice.”
“Are you okay?” asked Brooke, “you seem down.”
“Just tired, I’m just going to wash my hands before we eat.”
Sarah got up, hoping she’d fooled Brooke.
She reached the bathroom, just one, unisex. She breathed, relieved – that just this once, the simple act of washing her hands, could be completed without a catch-22.
– The End –