Caitlin (short story)

This cafe always had a very distinct smell but I could never work out what it was. There were the obvious aromas like the near cold coffees and the now burnt out cigarettes that littered the tables of the fashion and graphic designers that sat around me; so caught up in propagating their ‘fresh’ concepts to those around them that they had neglected their vices for just a little bit too long. But there was something else. I could never work out what it was.

I always sat alone here. Even when I had somewhere else to be I would come here and sit and soak up the intellectual chaos of these self-proclaimed artists and geniuses. They wore clothes that didn’t quite fit, with shoes that didn’t match, as if it made them feel credible; not having the means to shop anywhere other than op-shops and the latest $7 boutique. They did not, however wear it in a way that suggested they were trying to make a statement. It appeared they did it to stand out. Every time I looked around at them though, the swarms of these people, it became clear that their attire was about as original as their proclamations of utopian worlds and design trend forecasts.

The real reason I came here, even though my campus was two blocks away, was because every so often a stray would arrive. Someone who looked and acted like me, who had no other purpose in being here other than to revel in this cyclical scenario. It was rare. In fact it was very rare, but every time I saw him or her wander in, eye out a vacant, usually solitary modern red chair and open a book or lap top or packet of cigarettes, they would look around at these people with a somewhat cheeky grin. It was almost non-existent, but I could always make it out. It was these people that really interested me. Sometimes they would see me, sometimes they wouldn’t. Today he did.

I didn’t like him when he sat down about five tables away. He looked a little bit too much like them to be a stray. The way he wore his leather bag, and the way he did his hair. I think th…FUCK, I don’t think, I told myself I would stop saying that. I’m sure…yes that sounds more reassuring, I’m sure the only reason he interested me was his complete and utter nonchalance towards what was going on around him. Not only the geniuses but also me. I know he noticed me. Just before he sat down he glanced at me, but with no grin, almost no reaction at all. He didn’t notice my hair or my eyes or breasts, he just glanced and sat down, never to look back up.

I couldn’t tell what he was doing. This also intrigued me. He took his lap top out of his bag and laid it down on the table in front of him and that was it. He just sat there looking at it; his expression never changed. You could tell his eyebrows were tense as if he had forgotten what to do next, but I could see that he did know, it was almost like he simply didn’t care. I casually glanced back down at my book once every couple of seconds so I didn’t look suspicious. If he saw me now this brief dance would be over. I was reading, or attempting to read ‘A Scanner Darkly’ by Phillip K. Dick. I liked science fiction because it wasn’t real, although Dick, Burgess, Doctorow all created these worlds and relationships that made it seem real enough to affect you, on what ever level you received it. This boy made me think about a particular relationship in the book I was reading, between two narcotics agents, both of which thought the other was a junkie on a fictional substance. The characteristic that led me to draw this correlation was that neither agent could throw-the-book at the other because there was a sense of emotional attachment. Bob, completely in love with the effortlessly beautiful girl and Donna, slightly damaged by life and plagued with addictions knew that she felt strongly for him, but also felt that she was not capable of love.

I was not sure which character I was in this scenario, but it made me consider that perhaps this boy was conflicted as well. Maybe like Bob he obsessed over something, whether it be tangible or not or like Donna, he was not capable of obsession. He continued to stare at his lap top, almost flirting with the idea of opening it. The tension in his eyebrows suggested that the idea was growing less and less appealing by the minute. I think…SHIT. He WAS drawing me in with his body language. The way he smoked his cigarette was like in a film. He was having a moment with it. Not in the sense that he would look at it, or interact with it any differently to anyone else in this cloud of smuggy students; but it was the way he held it. As if there was a deep love between them. Maybe the cigarette was playing the role of Donna. He loved it so much, he would do anything to have it around him, but it would slowly destroy him, tearing him apart from the inside out.

The smell of the cafe hit me again, stinging my nostrils as I noticed a scar down his lip. It was one of many blemishes on his unconventional face. The shape of it was not quite right and his features were a little out of proportion as if someone had put him together like a Mr. Potato head. I enjoyed looking at his face though. It was real. Far more real than anyone else in here; the girls, cloaked in eye makeup and hand-made oriental jewelry which they no doubt thought made them seem more cultured than those around them, and the boys with landscaped beards at just the right length to compliment their trilby hats and nose rings. There was an element of this boy that suggested that he just didn’t care. It didn’t really matter what had done this to him whether it be a girl, or a boy or a professor or a death, but it was quite obvious he was tainted in a vulnerable sort of way. I looked back down at my book and read a few more lines.

Barris: YOU are a bug bite squared.
Luckman: What kind of bug?
Barris: ‘Bout to get fucked up bitch beetle.

I liked the droopy drugged out banter. The house these creeps lived in reminded me of my share house in Newtown. No one really knows each other, they just co-existed, like a group of moths banging around in a lampshade. For this reason I had little hide outs around the city. Little places like this that interested me. I never went there to escape the other people in my building, I just liked watching other people co-exist. See how they did it and interact with each other. There is an etiquette to co-existence, but the problem was that everyone had different rules and agendas. I played a voyeuristic role while some others liked to steal your lines and assert themselves as characters in your play. Like every play though, there are always villains and femme fatales, and there are always those who become characters involuntarily.

Fred: Whatever it is that’s watching… it isn’t human.

I closed my book, this line being the last on the page, planning to return to my day dream. I looked back to my new secret friend across the crowd and found my eyes locked with his. His eye brows were no longer tense and he was no longer smoking, just staring back at me with a look that I could not quite comprehend at the time. I wondered how long he had been looking at me and how long I had been looking back. I wondered if I had been sprung or if he thought I had sprung him. It didn’t matter. His penetrating gaze was trying to communicate with me, whispering and yelling at the same time. A hand slid down his chest as I noticed a beautiful blonde girl enter my very limited line of sight. She wrapped around him from behind, he arms surrounding his neck and her plump red lips touching his cheek. He was still looking at me but not in the same way. I saw his teeth for the first time as a small but profound grin came across his face. The girl sat beside him and lit one of his cigarettes as his eyes turned off me and onto her, greeting her with a look. She looked a little bit like me, but more beautiful, or at least you could tell he though so with the way he was looking at her. Long golden hair, beautiful skin and dressed very sexily. Not in slutty way, but in a way that suggested she was aware of her body. I wonder if she dressed that way for him.

I watched him for a few more moments as he hid behind his crooked smile. I felt like a spectator at the zoo, watching him perform as the zoo keeper fed him. I knew he wouldn’t look back. I didn’t exist anymore even if I lay in front of him like his lap top. His angel or demon, whoever she was entranced him. She exhaled a plume of smoke from her perfect red lips which gathered around him like a bullet proof bubble. Unfolding the corner of the page I had been reading, I looked away from him for the first time in what seems like hours. Perhaps these characters would be warmer to me today.

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