Tuesday, 9 March 2010

AT THE NORMAL CAFE - part 4 - HEROES By Chris Allinotte

At the Normal Café Part 4: “Heroes”

Dawn sipped her coffee and thought of razorblades.

The coffee was terrible, and burned all the way down, promising heartburn to come. Heartburn, another thing she’d hadn’t had to worry about when she was 22 and indestructible. Back then, she and her girlfriends would stay out all night, partying, drinking anything and everything, smoking whole packs of cigarettes, and finish out their night with pizza and crappy movies on Lindsay’s couch. They’d wake up the next day, take a quick shower and be ready for the first lecture of the day with only a trace of a hangover. They’d even found time to be part of the All Girls Ultimate Frisbee Team, which had led to a championship trophy that sat on her shelf, and naturally, more partying. Repeat as necessary.

Now, if she ate anything moderately spicy or strong after six o’clock, her stomach would protest for the better part of two days. She let the too-small cup dangle in her left hand, and stared at the shiny pink bracelet of scar tissue at the bend.

Next time I’ll pull it up to my fucking elbow. She remembered the scratchy pressure bandages, her mother crying beside the bed, and the clammy hands of the nurse, as she’d sweltered in the humidity. She’d managed to land herself in hospital the one week the air was on the fritz. One more reason to get it right, she thought again.

Before it could hit the table, her coffee cup was brimming again. Dawn hadn’t even seen the waitress walk by. She must be bored out of her skull. At this hour of night, tending the coffee of her clientele was probably the only thing she could do while she waited for the night owls to leave. Once around with the pot, and then it was back to watching infomercials on the grainy TV above the counter. Dawn glanced at the tube briefly and saw a perky little thing in a blue leotard bending forward into the camera, trying to sell a broomstick for $39.95. ‘Look at the stretches you can do!’

Gee, I’ll have to stick around now, she thought, Wouldn’t want to miss my chance to own the “Exer-stick.”

Funny though, how the rough looking guy at the counter hadn’t even lifted his head. Every guy she’d ever known would have at least given a quick nod to a pair of aerobicized boobs being shoved in his face.

She ran her hand through her short blonde hair. Mom hated the new cut. “Honey you look like a dyke. What man is going to want to go out with a girl that looks like a boy? By the way, did you hear Joanna Wells is getting married? She’s such a nice girl.”

There was a sickness inside her, which she acknowledged. She couldn’t remember a time in recent memory that she’d wanted to go on living. However, the same melancholy that made her tired of living also made her too lazy to do anything about it. She’d tried the “mood levelers”, all of them at one point or another. They just turned the light on inside the big black nothing to reveal turn into a big shiny pink nothing. Her insides felt like a hollow shell covered in muscle and ligament. One night three weeks ago, she’d gotten inspired and loaded up an Altoids box with Copraximol and crushed the last couple of mints into powder that she’d sprinkled back in. This way she might accidently take four or five “mints” before remembering, and she’d be all set.

That same sense of “fuck it” had brought her here tonight. Well, not here, she came in for coffee and French-fries because she was hungry. Dawn chewed thoughtfully on a cold French-fry and thought about the group meeting at Normal Methodist.

She’d gone to the group meeting to make herself feel better, which it almost always did. Next to some of these losers, (like Ellen, who found solace in her cats and crystal meth or Tracy, who let old men do obscene things to her for cocaine and cash), her time with Kyle didn’t seem nearly so bad. Even the merest thought of him now made her sick, like she had swallowed a handful of pennies and she tried to burn the taste out with the coffee.

A jarring crash from behind her made her jump. Turning her head, she saw the skinny young guy in the corner looking flustered and sheepish as he tried to pick up the syrup coated pieces. The waitress sauntered over with a broom and dustpan.

She remembered the last time she’d seen Kyle alive. Remembering his smile, and his grey, grey eyes, it was all too much. Dawn turned her thoughts to the wife left behind. Pretty, charming Susan, who was welcomed with open arms in her grief. Before she’d married Kyle, Susan was Dawn’s best friend. Since the wedding, Dawn had come to loathe her.

Susan’s constant nagging and guilt about being in the service drove Kyle insane.

Small wonder they’d ended up in bed again. She had been the first person to listen to Kyle, and hear, in years. What did it matter then, if they were related through marriage? Really?

Afterward, he apologized to Dawn. He apologized that he’d slipped back into their unmentionable past. He swore it would never happen again, and left.

Dawn had cried for nearly an entire day. When her mother called three weeks later, to tell her about his death overseas, she hadn’t wept at all. There wasn’t anything left.

There was no room for new scars, and she just felt herself floating free in the nothing. Her shiny pink insides, tough as her new bracelets, were alive and throbbing with a constant dull ache. She couldn’t be abusing the painkillers if they didn’t work anymore.

The waitress finished sweeping the plate fragments into a filthy dustpan, and after giving the patron a look of disdain, went back to the counter. Dawn wished she could be as robotic about her job on the customer service desk. Tomorrow was her first day back – she’d stocked up on long sleeve shirts for the occasion. If I even go, she thought. It just didn’t seem like there was much point to it, or anything else really.

A large man in a yellow trucker cap and flannel shirt brushed past her on his way to the restroom. His smell was an overwhelming mix of BO, cigarettes and an incredible cloud of booze that seemed to waft after him. The air was so thick that it became hard to breathe for a second.

She watched him make his way to the gents’ and then looked at the black muck in her cup, and drew a breath. “Well fuck it.” She muttered, and popped open the Altoids box.

She had downed three tablets when the rough looking guy stood up, and the shooting began.

Dawn dropped down into her seat, hiding her from the view of the madman for a second. A hoarse scream came from somewhere behind her. It was the fat guy, the trucker. Of course he’d be first, she thought crazily, how could he miss? Why was this happening? A minute ago, she’d had the rest of her short life planned. She would pay her bill, leave the rest of the money in her purse as a tip, then walk to the park and just slip away while she looked at the stars. It hadn’t seemed so much to ask; to leave this sorry world behind on her terms. Now it looked like she would be lucky to even make it to the door.

The gunman was screaming too, he was yelling obscenities, and he was so shrill, it was hard to make anything out; but he kept repeating one thing over and over. On the third or fourth time around, Dawn heard him screaming, “I know. I know. I’m doing it. I’m doing it! LEAVE ME ALONE!”

Dawn was surprised to find that she was scared. If nothing mattered, and she’d been on the verge of dying anyway, why should she care how she went out? The answer came immediately, and from somewhere deep inside, speaking with Kyle’s voice, “Because those other people might not want to be dead, Dawnie. That’s why.”

She heard the gunman. He stopped screaming, and was walking around the chips of the plate he’d shattered when he got up with the gun. He sounded more composed now, which actually made him sound worse.

He fired again. It was horrible, and echoing, and it sounded fake. The fear in Dawn pulsed like a beating heart, telling her run, flee, and get the ever-loving fuck out of here.

There had been only a handful of people in the restaurant. It was the middle of the night, after all. One way or another, this was all going to be over soon. Dawn did a mental accounting of the others she’d seen in the diner. There was the trucker, Bev, the squirrelly looking guy by the window, and the giggling half-drunk college couple near the restroom. They were the ones that had got her thinking back on the university years, before life had gotten so complicated.

Reminded of them, her pulsing fear turned hot in her cheeks. These kids deserved every chance to go on and fuck up their lives as they saw fit. Who was this guy to take it away? She shook with impotent rage.

Her eyes fastened then on the plate of french-fries. The plain, boring ceramic dish still had two uneaten chips on it, resting in a quickly drying puddle of ketchup. It looked heavy enough.

The gun rang out again, and the squirrelly looking guy squealed. It was a keening, kettle-whistle sound. The shooter was screaming nonsense again.

“Come back. Come back I’ll show you to leave me alone. LEAVE ME ALONE.”

Dawn picked up the plate, fitting it to her grip in a way her muscles had never truly forgotten. If she was going to do something, she’d have to do it now. Any longer, and he’d have time to finish emptying that gun, and they’d all be as dead as poor Truckerboy.

From the counter now, she was surprised to hear Bev’s voice,

“Sir? Sir? I forgot to give you your change. I’m sorry sir.” Bev’s strident voice was as soothing as Dawn had ever heard it.

It had an effect.

“What?” The guy was talking to Bev now. That’s good, thought Dawn, talking isn’t shooting.

She inched herself up, so she could just see over the top edge of the booth. His back was turned; he was pointing the gun at Bev. That was good.

Bev was saying something else, and now the guy was getting agitated. She stood up and braced her weight to throw. On the edges of her vision, the familiar soft fuzz had started to form. The drugs were taking hold.

“DAWNIE, NO!!” Bev screamed at her. The creep pulled the trigger, letting off another horrifying crash, and the waitress collapsed.

She wouldn’t win any points for fair play, but then she hadn’t brought a gun into a diner full of unarmed innocents either. She squeezed the plate hard. It hurt, but it shoved the drug away from her mind. She begged for the next few moments to be clear. Something in her forearm was bulging, threatening to give way. She twisted hard from the waist, and snapped her forearm forward, and gave the plate a hard snap.

At that precise moment, the psychopath seemed to remember the waitress yelling at someone behind him. Leading with the revolver he spun on his heel, firing as he went. Dawn felt something whine by her ear and smack hard into the plaster wall behind her. The drugs crashed down, making grey spots bloom in her vision. As they faded her world to black, she thought she heard the gunman cry out.

Good, she thought, that’s good.

Copyright 2009 - Chris Allinotte


  1. Another cool addition to the saga of the Normal Cafe. Loving the multiple viewpoint approach to this story, Chris.

  2. Thanks Matt. Having a great time with this series. And I'm really shooting for a "Rashamon" approach to this tale.

  3. Good one, Chris!
    Going back to re-read the earlier ones - and try to get a clue which viewpoint the next instalment might come from! ;-)
    I can imagine this entire series being filmed.....!

  4. Thanks Sue. Only 2 - possibly 3 to go! I've got a pretty solid idea where it's all going to end, and there's still some good surprises left!