I'm circling life. It’s a defense mechanism. A preservation technique. I’m pretending I am regular. Just like all the others in the cafe today. Fake it till you make it. Watch and learn. Impostor in the midst.
I am at a table, alone. Writing words and sipping coffee. I look like all the rest. You can’t pick it. You can’t pick I'm wrong. Broken. I am just a woman scribbling words on a page, sipping bitter coffee from a small red cup.
A strong long black.
Four words I say when I sit in any cafe.
Four words I usually cock up despite their familiarity.
There’s no one here but me. I can’t hand my order to another to deliver. So I pause and stumble, over articulate. The words in my head get lost on their way to my mouth. Distracted by bright shiny objects until they meander on their way to my lips. At every step there is a pot hole or tiger lying in wait. A chance to be stolen or corrupted before their simple message is delivered. The waitress didn't spot the effort that made my order possible. She simply waited, half distracted. Her gaze alternating between her notepad and the tables just outside the large concertina windows. An automatic “Great!” leaving her lips as she writes down my order, already halfway back to the counter.
It’s hot in here. Spring days are warming. The air is stuffy. Fans move sluggishly high overhead, weighed down by thick air and errant cobwebs.
The veins on my hands dilate and swell. A three dimensional knotted road map radiates out from the back. Blue tendrils reach down over my fingers and rope up over my writs. I sip tepid water from the stout glass, a half-hearted attempt to rehydrate. And move my hands one way and the other, forcing blood through sluggish vessels. I play with the skin. Pinch the dermis and watch as it remains standing in peaks all over. Intellectual me knows it is beyond any hope of oral hydration. Ostrich me shakes it out and rubs it down, and continues to sip.
My ankle pulses. The swelling is beginning. The damage from the lost nerve and resultant neuroma demand recognition. Alerting me to the stupidity of deciding compression stockings were to hard to don with joints popping and weakened hands. Errant joints can be relocated far easier than blood can be forced against gravity.
I drop my pen as my grip loosens. My writing becomes shaky. The letters no longer form correctly. Another force is at work. The pen over shoots and slips. Pieces of words are disordered. My wrist aches with the effort to control the now serpentine pen that writhes in my fingers.
And still no one notices.
I sip slowly, the cup resting against my lip. Propped to hide shaking hands. Sip millilitre by millilitre. Little more than a light brush on the tongue. I play the part of coffee drinker number 3. An extra, with one line of dialogue. I want to change it. Make it “These pretzels are making me thirsty”, but don’t know if the twenty-something waitress will understand. Or if it’s utterance will break character and my status as ‘other’ be revealed.
My walking stick blends into the black divider next to me. A quick glance as staff and customers pass by will never give them the data they need. You can’t spot it, the sickness and disability. I hide in full view.
Pretender. Actress. Playing the part. The music mutes in my ear and the world shifts to grey. It snaps back and the moment passes. The pause in my pen not enough to raise suspicion.
I tell myself ‘they’ are all okay. That no one else in here is like me. In tattered pieces. They are all perfect, with perfect lives. My logical brain knows that odds are at least one other person in here has a disability. That even more live with illness in some form. Maybe even one like me, wading through disappointment, confusion and pockets of fear. How many are also playing the part? Who see me as their version of perfectly regular. We are an ensemble cast, where none of the actors know each other.
I look longingly at the cakes in the display case. Not one I can eat despite careful inspection. White tags with block letting shout out seductively. “Just a little bit wont hurt.” “Just a bite.” “You can take the rest home.” “It’ll be worth it.” I hear the woman next to me “I’ll have a slice of the Hummingbird, thanks”. In my head a snide, bitter, voice mimics,“I’ll have the Hummingbird”. I shove it down and sip my cold brew.
I tap my feet and stretch my back. Shake my hands and rub my forehead. The clinking of the cups behind the counter seem distant as I start to slump. And still the mask holds in place. I alternate between Melpomene and Thalia, but to all around me I remain the forty-something women sipping coffee and writing, intent on her notebook.
Tick tick, the minutes pass.
A half hour pit stop.
Which is rare.
But I push myself to try more. To take the risks. To be like all the others. Because while I act the part I can pretend that there’s no bad news. That there’s no more pieces to the puzzle to cloud the picture further. That I'm not still waiting and hoping. For clarity and answers, that part of me knows are unlikely to eventuate, but just may. And I'm not sure what scares me more.
But for now I sit camouflaged on the black faux leather, at the square black table and sip the dregs from my cup. Just another customer. Like any other. Regular. Normal. Okay.
I do like the last lines of this song (though my man is still here) but my nerves are shot and my hair full of glitter under the dye, and I do love to sit and sip a long black. Sing it, Ella.
My nerves have gone to pieces
My hair is turning gray
All I do is drink black coffee
Since my man's gone away