On an afternoon in April, Cate saw a man who had been dead for two months.
She seldom spent her lunch hour in anywhere other than the same run down, nineteen-forties style cafe on a crumbling dead end street a few minutes’ walk from the office. She liked to pretend it was a kind of quiet humility which kept her from the chain coffee shops of her vibrant colleagues, yet in actuality she was anything but furtive. She liked the the separation. To her mind, it represented her difference from them: her Russell Group degree, her vocabulary, her manner of dressing… quite out of place, both at work and in this cheap, bleach infused faux-american diner.
The cafe was a typical intensified replica from the perspective of a Brit; it was heavily accented with a bar a mile long, a fleet of circular stools nailed into the floor, tables set out in booths. It always gave Cate the impression of an ideal spot for secret lovers. She always wondered if other patrons would catch one glimpse of her outfit, her fresh coat of lipstick and suspect she was meeting a married man.
That afternoon – the afternoon she saw her dead friend – she’d been thinking about something he’d told her once. They were lying face to face on one of the infrequent and greatly anticipated occasions which they were truly alone, isolated in a world of their own making – or was she just romanticising? In truth, they were always clumsy with each other. She liked to think they conversed freely and for long periods of time; she often wished they could sit up all night, cross-legged with a torch, just talking. In reality, not a great deal was ever said, yet much was implicit. Once, after a silence, he’d told her: “You’re like a mirror.” Now, in the diner, Cate frowned. She considered the image of himself he must have seen cast in her dark iris. Then there was the distaste for minuscule portions of who he was that she’d never quite been able to hide. Cate knew exactly what he’d meant.
He’d crashed his car late at night on February 13th. She’d been unable to sleep but she wasn’t superstitious; she’d chalked it down to the connotations of the following day. Of course she’d been upset (she’d cried, which to her equated to a kind emotional distress which may have been sorrow) but she was angry with him. He could’ve done it in twenty, thirty years, more. But it wasn’t suicide. It wasn’t suicide.
There was a was bell fixed just above the door of the cafe which jingled on opening and closing to remind customers, Cate thought, that they were in fact still in England. She occupied the same booth every time, the penultimate one from the door; she never liked to venture too far in. There was a man seated at the bar facing away from her with neatly cut hair, a mole below the right ear. Discreet, but recognisable.
She quickly looked down at her table.
They’d found alcohol in his blood and he hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt. He’d hit the oak at over seventy. It was unlike him. The bridge of his nose had collided with the wheel, smashing bone structure, forcing an eye from its socket, shredding the skin. The mole was the only distinguishing feature, the only way Cate had known it was him.
Presently, the man, ridiculously yet possibly Nick, sprang from the stool and strode the length of the bar; towards her, past her, out the door. His stride was bold and confident – familiar. His pace disturbed the salt seller on Cate’s table. She hadn’t seen his face, not quite, but the chin, the angle of the jaw…
And the mole.
She’d never brought him here.
Cate righted the salt seller. Then she ordered a latte.