Nita traced the path of a seagull, as it tipped and bounced through the harbor breeze, noting its resemblance to the whitecaps further out and closer to the breakwater. There’s a reminder there, she thought, that a thing is not always as it seems at first glance.
The sidewalk café was empty now, but would fill up closer to the noon hour, when tourists hopeful of a break from these dog days of summer gathered at intimate tables, elbows bumping other patrons, brows raised with an apologetic and appraising glance for a possible later assignation. Or so she imagined.
She often forgot, in this isolated town, that the tables would not, and could not be filled, that elbows were unlikely to reach and make contact, and assignations were only for the most daring. Or the most foolish. She shrugged, and wiped an imaginary smudge off a table for two, and slung the towel over her shoulder. Her mask was nestled in one side apron pocket, her waiter’s pad and pen in the other. She might as well fix herself a pot of coffee.
Daytimes were slow these days, but night was a different story. At that time the moon, the poets, the painters, smuggler and spies gathered at the café’s tiny tables, in their very intimate social bubble. Long past midnight, they gathered with bottles of red, tumblers of scotch, and the occasional ancient jug of rum, to watch for dolphins and mermaids. Elbows were bumped, appraising brows raised, questions asked in silence, for which everyone already knew the answer. Most stayed with the ones they knew, but sharing was common. So…perhaps.
It’s the possibility of something new, Nita thought, that keeps us going. In the cool of the café’s inside, she leaned against the counter with one elbow, her hip relaxed against the barstool. Blowing on her coffee she wondered if tonight might be different. A rare pink and blue moon was predicted, with a cloudless sky. She felt her belly clench at the possibilities before her; she had received a proposal of late, from an undisclosed source.
A couple stuck their heads in the open French door, matched in khaki, shorts, blue Teva sandals, and boxy, moisture-wicking t-shirts. “Are you open for lunch?” the man adjusted his mask. “We could really use an iced tea!”
She nodded and smiled, pushing her coffee to one side, and took up two of the hand-lettered menus. She guessed they each would want their own.
Nita totted up the days earnings and estimated its expenditures. The numbers look good, but is this the most important currency at this point in my life? Still, until her decision was made–and she couldn’t do that until she knew who she was dealing with–it was comfort enough to know that this door was still open to her.
Once that couple had cooled down and had a bite to eat, she’d convinced them to share an iced dessert before going back out into the hot sun. Her day had been just like that, with a few couples, a grandmother and bored granddaughter, and a couple of old fisher folk, the Andrasson sisters, who never joined the night parties, but remembered them, fondly, from times when they could well get by on two hours of sleep at night.
Sunset had brought a mini-burst of a party of four outsiders, which tipped her account well into the black. They had enjoyed the bar’s variety of back-shelf liquors, eaten the best seafood dishes on offer, and been convinced to rent a room in Nona’s converted farmhouse just at the north edge of town, rather than risk driving the twisting roads westward, back to where they’d come from. Nona herself had picked them up in her golf cart and driven them and their bags to her establishment. Now that the tourists had cleared off and the moon rose above the horizon, the regulars came out of the shadows, some going into the café to grab a bottle of their favorite and glasses to share, others to pull tables together and spill out into the streets.
She rose to bring her receipts and notebook to the locked cabinet in the back wall behind the bar. Apparently everyone knew where the account books were kept, and because everyone knew, the books were safe. They’re all invested in the survival of this town, each small business, Andrasson’s fishing boat, Nona’s inn down the street, Henry’s small grocery and hardware, now run by his great grandson Jack, and this café, that I run for an owner I’ve never met. Nita locked the cabinet and tucked the key on its silver chain, inside her cotton blouse. It bounced cool and welcome between her breasts. She stood, knees cracking, stretched tall, and reached for the Jameson’s Black. She’d worked hard today.
Turning to place the bottle on the bar and capture a clean tumbler, she noticed a blue rose, damp as if fresh from a greenhouse or the depths of an ocean, on the bar. She laughed as she poured herself a couple of fingers of Irish, corked the bottle and slid it into her apron pocket. A quick sip, delicious burn and lightening in her sinuses, and the Jameson released her tired shoulders. The rose in one hand, and her tumbler in the other, she swept through the French door.
“We heard you were thinking of leaving us,” Jack spoke from a table at the edge of the small local crowd. “And we have a proposal we think you might be interested in.”
“The Andrasson’s agree, you’ve been here long enough and true enough, to be considered family,” Nona raised her wineglass. The rest of the townspeople signaled agreement by raising their own. “We offer you a blue rose, and ask that you join us in accepting what it entails.”
“This town has history, generations of it, and has survived by the work of the town within the town, and the sea within the sea,” Jack pushed a chair toward her and nodded for her to sit.
Nita looked at the bay, now still under the far-away moon, and thought she heard singing. Was it mermaids, or whale song? Either one seemed possible at this moment. For once, the questions in her head quieted and she opened to a future. She laid the rose on the table in front of Jack, pulled the bottle of whiskey from her pocket, refilled her glass and sat in the offered chair.
© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2020)
Microfiction Madness (July): Picture of the blue rose. For an extra challenge use the phrase, “blue moon”. Microfiction Madness (August): Picture of a colorful sidewalk cafe. For an extra challenge use the phrase, “dog days of summer”. Stories can be drabbles or longer flash fiction, or you can write poems. Have fun.