The word count for the 12 Short Stories Writing Challenge this month was 750 words; the story prompt: buy or sell. This version below has undergone a further review with the help of my writing group at the NSW Writers’ Centre, who advised me to ditch the divorce that formed part of the original story. The general consensus was that dealing with an empty nest was a big enough focal point for such a limited word count.
You are sitting alone in a local cafe smiling at this fact. Doing things differently from now on matters; you’re keeping a diary to mark the changes. For your first entry this morning you wrote: Ate breakfast on the back step watching the birds, instead of at the kitchen bench with the radio on. Now you can add: went to the cafe by myself.
Natalie the therapist will be happy with your efforts. She’s helping you get over the Empty Nest Syndrome as she calls it, now that Joe has finally moved out. He’d been talking about it for ages, but nothing prepared you for the gut-wrench that replaced him two weeks ago.
His messy habits are already softened by memory – the washing basket of dirty clothes in the laundry, the freezer left ajar overnight, lending a frosted look to its contents, fossils caught in time.
But it’s the noise you miss the most: his rap music in the bathroom, laughter on the phone, slamming of doors behind him whenever he left the house.
Mornings have been the most difficult. At nighttime there is the routine of preparing dinner, watching TV, a glass of wine punctuating order. Joe was hardly around then anyway, often sleeping at his girlfriend Teesh’s for days, turning up when he ran out of clean clothes.
Lost in the cafe’s newspaper, there is a tap on your shoulder. You jump up, spilling your coffee onto the Properties for Sale section. A conversation had just been playing out inside your head: sell in the Spring then buy in the Winter when prices flatline? Downsizing has been occupying your mind.
‘So sorry! I didn’t mean to alarm you. I saw the upturned nose and I thought to myself: it’s you! Here, let me help.’
As you both dab the spreading puddle with paper napkins you get a sideways look at your interloper. He is dressed well – Ralph Lauren polo, Diesel jeans. And he smells nice, Cinnamon-ey.
Self consciously you touch the ‘upturned’ end of your nose. Then, standing up straight, face your inquisitor, searching his face for some recognisable feature, feeling your face flush.
‘Umm, do I know you?’
‘You don’t remember me? We met at your friend’s place a few times in the school holidays way back when. I’m her cousin.’
‘Really? You mean Jessica’s?’
You take a step back to get a better view of him, squinting a little, as if the reduced vision will resurrect your memory.
‘That’s right. I can see you are not convinced. How about if I show you the scar on my wrist from that time I fell, when we were playing tag.’
He holds out his arm for your inspection, palm up.
‘There, see? There is a lump, where the screw is that put me back together. It was a nasty fall. I’m the regular Tin Man, you know the character from The Wizard of Oz?’
You both laugh.
‘Let me get you another coffee.’
‘Ok. I’m just going to the bathroom to sponge my shirt. Cappuccino would be great.’
In the restroom, you inspect yourself in the mirror. You go to grab your lipstick then realise in your haste that you left your bumbag behind.
You’re still not convinced you know this guy, but he seems nice enough. Genuine. It was so long ago and you met a lot of people at Jessica’s place when you were younger. She came from a big family. You were attracted to all the chaos. Going home to your cat, your sister and parents always seemed a come-down afterwards.
You giggle, thinking you can add had coffee with a stranger to your diary.
Back in the cafe, he is nowhere to be seen. You surmise that he’s in the men’s. Pretending to read the paper for a few minutes, you then decide to check with the barista.
‘Gus, did you see the guy who was talking to me? You know, in the blue polo?’
‘Yes. He walked out, a little while ago now. ‘
You return to your table, frantically start searching for your bag.
Then exclaim ‘He took my things.’
‘I’m so sorry. That’s the second one on the strip this week. We’ll call the police.’
You slump into a chair and make a mental note for the diary: got robbed by nice looking asshole.