View from a Café* by Isaac Randel

I.

It must be her son—

the saucer between them disappearing

and the urge to ask— no, she picks up

the napkin instead, dabs at some crumbs

and his newspaper wrinkles, as his eyes,

obstinate, avoid hers.  It must be her son,

all else is— again, the urge to ask, and

what is this?

his sudden anger and

Oh, Christ, would you leave it alone?

and silence before it disappears again,

comes back alien – looks like tea, half-drunk –

she can’t remember now what she’s just asked

or whether she has, decides against asking again,

relapses back to the napkin, and the—

and she decides against it, but the urge

what is this?

he takes it away now, a stifled shout

or vague threat, or so seeming,

and it has disappeared again; and now

Come on, we’re going

and though he’s sat there for a quarter hour

she’s only just arrived— arriving every few seconds

no, I don’t want that

            Come on, we’re going

            no, I don’t want that

and all is alien again, a place departing

before she even has time to— and has she asked, or?—

no, I don’t want that

 

II.

the woman next to me must be in her eighties,

and every few seconds she combs with her napkin

along the table’s corner, forgetting she’s done it just seconds before—

 

the man across from her must be her son;

the Times between his fingers, telling of the End of Days

in all but name— by his face you can see he’s not convinced

 

and neither am I; although it’s never true until it suddenly is, isn’t it,

every Savonarola, John of Patmos, Jim Jones, the annals of street prophets,

all of them only ever wrong in retrospect, but there’s a suspension of laughter,

 

each time the thought comes up: the world, the only harbour of life

this side of the galaxy, now so far in debt by its subsidies of daily miracles,

may finally go bankrupt for good. And there’s always a day coming,

 

and this man knows it, too, sometimes, once he’s loosened his collar,

belt, watch, slips into the sheets, loosens too that commerce of daily thought,

allows finally the thought to sit there on the edge of consciousness: the human race

 

gone with “the push of a button” – but the ridiculousness of it, the tiredness,

push it back again, as he rolls over to set the morning alarm,

counting the minutes until yet another impact: to rise again and taste of Life

 

only to end up midday in a café like this one,

amnesiac mother asking every few seconds: what is this ?

making even light reading nearly impossible.

 

Her world is ending daily around her, moments annihilating themselves,

instituting their new puppet regimes – the cup of tea in front of her,

there once, and then emptied, and then gone – and there is no talk of

 

“stability in the region” for her, not from her son, anyway,

he withdrew his forces long ago— only drags her out here these days

because she needs to eat, and then back home, where she can sit and watch

 

as the walls and couches regress and resurrect and wonder

when she’ll eat the meal she just ate, go on her walk she’s

just come back from. Until even the wonder is replaced.

 

III.

The younger ones have brought their laptops

and are not concerned with apocalypse –

there is a better world for them that does not repeat itself

and inherits no circular history, just on the other side

of the next revolution, when revolution itself ends;

they’ve all come here to get some work done

and there remains the feeling, unhaunted by the Wraith

of their own future selves found in that trembling woman

in the chair across the room, that this was not

how it was meant to go on: that the cycle would break,

the tail of Ouroboros, the self-eating snake,

would be wrenched eventually from its mouth,

that the world would move, somehow, forward.

The walls that surround them remain walls,

though they warp every moment around the woman,

though if they’re lucky one day the walls

will do the same around them at 85.  They don’t think

of this, as they drink the juice of a plant harvested

by slave labour, from a people whose bloodlines

for generations were that of slaves. One day,

these people assure themselves, there will be no slaves.

Slaves will be as free as them, and will one day

have the freedom to stop by, like them, to admire

the ambience and the smell of espresso beans

while they finish some emails to a few clients,

polish a few write-ups of cash flows, finish

the last paragraph of the book they’d bought

and never had the time to read.

 

And the woman, if she could, would look in horror

at the contours of their better world,

that does not daily turn in on itself,

that is not every moment at the edge of apocalypse,

that simply remains.

 

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