Jonathan Crane

We Met Up for Coffee

Au Moulin de la Galette by Ramón Casas

I’d only sent her a text, seeing how things were going. She was the one who suggested it.

We met up in my lunch hour. And there we were, in the street, this icy wind blowing, bringing in the snow. ‘Where do you want to go?’ she asked.

I said, ‘I don’t mind.’ You know, not wanting to impose myself. But she just shook her head, and set off across the road. So, I followed her into a coffee shop and we were standing there looking at the menu. I offered to pay, but she wouldn’t let me.

Anyway, we sat at a table, across from one another. Didn’t even take our coats off. She had a sip of her cappuccino, then she started. ‘You’re so passive,’ she said. Just like that. From nowhere. I mean, what was I supposed to say?

I think I sort of smiled, you know, apologetic.  And she was just sitting there, warming her hands round her cup, watching me. I was about to ask if everything was OK, when she said, ‘Do you have any friends?’

I was bit taken aback, but I told her, ‘Yes, I’ve got friends.’ I mean, of course I’ve got friends. But you know how it is. Things happen. There are breakages. But I wasn’t going to start explaining myself. And she was just sitting there, looking at me, disbelieving, you know, her eyebrows raised.

Then, she puckered her mouth, gave this poignant sniff. ‘My husband didn’t have any friends,’ she said. And she started telling me he was controlling, manipulative. Didn’t like her discussing him with other people. Said she had to get away in the end. I’d heard it all before, when she’d moved into the house-share I was in. That was just after she left him, before she found a flat. I’d be in the kitchen, cooking or whatever, and she’d come in and sit down, start telling me all about it.

But now, somehow, it felt like she was comparing me to this husband. You can never tell with those types of conversations though, can you? I mean, it’s guesswork half the time. So I just nodded, you know, empathizing, and tried to work out what was going on.

Then, suddenly, she announced, ‘I’m having CBT.’ Making sure she was alright after the divorce, she said.

And all I said was, ‘You seem fine to me. A bit neurotic…’ I mean, I wasn’t being serious. I was just trying to lighten the mood. But she was glaring at me. So, I stared past her and out the window, watching the snow clouds come in.

Then, from nowhere she started telling me this story about a supermarket, some injustice she’d suffered with their points reward scheme. I didn’t have a clue what she was on about. When she’d finished I was sitting there, trying to think of something to say, and she leaned forward. ‘You know, you’re going to have to open up if you want anyone in your life. If you’re going to find happiness.’ That’s what she said. Just like that.

I was about to tell her what it was like cleaning up after the drugs, ironing out the madness and starting again, but I thought, you know, best not. So, I just stayed quiet, trying to work out if she was communicating in code or something. I mean, was she suggesting that if I opened up we could be happy together? I couldn’t figure it out.

Then, she was shaking her head at me. Next thing I know, she’s stuffing her purse into her clutch bag. I’d no idea what was going on. But that’s the thing with those conversations. When you’re talking about something without saying it, just talking round it. I mean, you never really know what the other person’s talking about, do you?

Anyway, she zipped up her bag, hooked her arm through the straps. Then she half-stood but sat back down again. She looked me straight in the eye and she said, ‘I’ve met a guy.’ She gave this little nod, then stood up. I suppose she thought I’d got the message.

When we were out on the pavement again, she was turned side on, checking her phone. Last time we’d met for coffee we’d parted with a hug. Friends, I thought. But now she wouldn’t even look at me. By that point I’d no idea. So I just said, ‘Nice to see you again,’ and sort of patted her on the arm. It was a gesture, you know. I think I said, ‘Have a nice Christmas.’  And that was that. I just wandered off and left her to it.

I haven’t texted her since. I mean, what would I say? But, it’s that thing, isn’t it? You know. Was that a chance of happiness? It might just have been one of those awkward moments. But you never really know, do you? I mean, it’d be easier if there were subtitles.


About the writer:
Jonathan Crane lives in Wivenhoe, England. He teaches creative writing at the University of Essex and is just finishing a short story cycle. He used to be a professional musician.

Image: Au Moulin de la Galette (Madeleine de Boisguillaume) by Ramón Casas (1866-1932). Oil on canvas. 46 x 35.4 inches. 1892. Public domain.