SHORT STORIES: Terminus Café

Nick trudged miserably up the incline towards the square. It was cruel, and he wished he hadn’t thought it, but he somehow wished that a late returning commuter’s bike wheel would fall into the grooves of the old tramway, just to add a soupcon of drama to his impossibly tedious week. He had worked every evening this week, and with the bar owner’s daughter back in town, he was on the graveyard shift, while she worked the more interesting evening shift.

Early evening in the bar promised the final rush of the aperitif crowd, a quiet spell, and then the excitable bacchanalian revellers on their way into the city centre.  The late portion of the evening usually meant sitting quietly watching the banal actions of the bar’s suburban regulars, before serving the aforementioned revellers their “one drink too many”, kicking them out and then locking up. He longed for the earlier shift and its interesting, fresh characters, and he had decided that, providing he was not promoted to the better shift, he would quit after his next paycheck came in on Monday morning.

He walked past the abandoned tram terminus at the top of the hill, and avoided a gaggle of dolled up girls on their way into town as he walked into the bar.

“Evening, Nina,” he said as he walked along the counter towards the back office. She was busy pulling a beer, so she nodded in his direction, before returning feigned focus to the head. Nick tied his apron on, strode back out of the office, before ducking behind the bar and relieving Nina of her duties.

“Can you pour me and Sam a tequila?” she said disappearing into the office. “We’re heading out tonight.”

“Of course, Saturday night.”

Saturday night, sat watching a bunch of misfits, before shouting at drunken idiots and going to bed at four AM.

The evening passed by in its typical boring manner, and as usual, around three, the suburbs teens and twenties returned, worse for wear, positively sozzled, yet desperate to rediscover the buzz of the early evening. Nick took a crumpled damp twenty in return for an ill-advised margarita, and shoved it into the till before returning the change.

“Thanks, buddy,” slurred the patron, before spinning away.

“Two beers please,” came the voice of the next girl at the bar. Her makeup was smudged, and as she said it, she put up two fingers, only briefly though, as she soon needed them to steady herself.

“Thanks!” she yelped as Nick placed them on the counter. She immediately lifted one of the pints to her face, and began gulping hungrily, her girlfriends cheering her from further back in the queue.

She confidently slammed the glass back on the counter, but her confidence turned to uncertainty, then dread, and then a torrent of vomit pouring across the bar and onto Nick.

“GET OUT,” he shouted, and she duly slunk away. He had had enough. He ripped off his sodden apron, pulled his phone from his pocket, and immediately dialled the bar’s owner to quit.

“Hey, this is Nick, I need to talk right now.”

“I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“I can say this over the phone, I—“

“I needed to talk to you too.”

“There’s really no need.”

“See you in five.”

Nick swallowed his rage momentarily, attempted to shout everyone out, before heading outside to bring in the chairs. Out there he saw an old man sat in front of an empty glass on one of the tattered iron chairs, gazing out into the square.

“We’re closing, sir,” said Nick authoritatively.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was just reminiscing.” Nick rolled his eyes. “You see this is where I first met my wife almost fifty years ago. It’s quite a story. I’ll buy you a pint if you listen.”

Nick was desperate to lock up and go home, but if his boss was really en route, he may as well have a beer to calm himself down. He took the crisp note the old man produced from his pocket, and returned a moment later with two pints of cool lager. The man spoke at a slow, soporific pace

“You see, me and my friends used to spend our evenings here. We worked on the trams, so we would come in each evening, and eventually we started spending our Saturday’s out here.”

Nick slumped in his chair, realising that the story may end up being longer than he had anticipated.

“One day, it was a very hot day, a woman stepped down from a tram wearing a yellow and purple floral dress. I became quite besotted with the vision of her, and much to my luck, a few Saturdays later she came to the bar, and we talked a little. I can’t remember what we talked about, I was hypnotized by her beauty you see, but as she left, we agreed to meet again. Before our next meeting I wrote her a poem…”

“Please don’t recite the poem!” thought Nick.

“You turn the day upside down,

Your smile brings colour to the city grey,

I wander aimlessly around,

Hoping I might see you on that day,

And the finest wine is sour,

….Oh I’m sorry I can’t remember this bit.”

“Just carry on with the story,” said Nick.

“Oh, yes. So I read her the poem, and she panicked. It would seem I had come on too strong, and so she disappeared for two years. She travelled the world with her sister, while I carried on working the trams, all the while thinking of her, and writing about her.

“Then eventually she returned, and having not learnt my lesson, I read to her again, this time from a novella I had written. It followed our two parallel lives as she travelled and I worked, and I had written a happy ending where the male protagonist presented his writings to her and she realised she was ready to love him.”

“That’s pretty weird,” cut in Nick.

“That’s what she thought, and so she tricked me into lending her my manuscript, which she tossed into the river. I tried so hard to forget about her. I really did. I had dalliances with other women, spent more time with my friends, yet still I longed for her, only this time I felt a deep sense of shame and guilt for my unmanageable passion.

“This shame built up to such an extent that I had to release it somehow, so I started writing again, this time about a novel about a man who could not quit his addiction to the memory of a girl he had met only a handful of times. For nearly three years I poured my emotions into the novel, and when it was finished, much to the amusement of my friends I sent it off to a publisher.”

“Did it get published?” asked Nick, cradling the cool beer in his hand.

“Why yes it did, it was quite a success too.”

“What was it called?”

“Maria. That was her name you see.”

“I think I might have seen a movie adaptation of it one Sunday afternoon when I was hungover.”

“Yes they did make a film of it, but they made a mess of it!”

“Good to hear you thought it was shit too. If I could have moved I wouldn’t have watched it,” said Nick bluntly.

“So I became quite well known within the town, and eventually, Maria returned once more. She had seen the world by then, and she didn’t really care for it, and wanted to settle down. We began courting, and eventually we married, and I stopped writing.”

“Why?” asked Nick.

“I had nothing left to write about.”

“Fair enough,” said Nick, beginning to lift himself to his feet.

“Sometimes you have to stick at things to make them work. Things don’t always happen straight away.”

“True, could you drink up now, sir?”

Nick walked back into the now empty bar, and after a few moments the bar’s owner arrived.

“Nick, you wanted to talk.”

“Yeah, I quit. I hate this job.”

The owner paid Nick for his final hours of work, and he strode out into the night. He looked down at his watch to see that he had been delayed forty minutes by the evening’s events.

“Stupid old creep,” he spat, as he walked back along the disused tramlines.

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