George sniffed and wet his lips as he stirred the coffee on the china saucer. Counter clock-wise and then clockwise, three turns to be exact, was his ritual. In the 30 years that he had been coming to this cafe, this ritual had never been broken, although he wasn’t sure why it was a ritual in the first place.
He liked to imagine that it was what made the coffee taste so good in the first place.
A woman sat down across from him, dressed in her Sunday best even though it wasn’t Sunday. A light juniper perfume wafted through the air and although George would never admit it to her, he hated the smell of it. It was too damn sweet and it gave him a headache. But instead of voicing his complaints he would smile and tell her that “My darling, it is the best fragrance that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.”
And she would believe him, gripping his hand gently and saying “I know.”
“Georgie, sweetheart, you look just awful.” said the woman, who was named Gertrude, Gertie for short. “How much sleep did you have last night?”
George thought about it for a moment, honestly, and then smiled wanly. “I slept as much as I should and not a wink more.”
Gertrude sighed and brushed her thin fingers through her graying hair.
“So, you didn’t sleep at all.”
George did not respond but instead took a sip of his coffee. How odd, but it tasted a bit sweeter than usual.
“I worry about you, sweetheart. You should really look into sleeping more. And I think cutting down on the coffee…”
“Pah, Gertie, you sound just like my doctor. Lower this and exercise more and don’t you dare eat that extra slice of bacon! It will do you in!”
Gertrude looked at George startled.
“I only worry about you, Georgie. You know I do.”
“Darling, there ain’t anything to worry about anymore. I haven’t been better than I’ve been today, for a very, very long time.”
“Oh? What’s so different about today?”
“I’m getting out of this town. I’m breaking out.” said George excitedly, sipping his coffee with trembling fingers.
Gertie stared at him with such a strange expression, an expression that said quite plainly that she wasn’t sure what was sitting in front of her now. She was almost positive that it was not the same man she had talked to a couple of days ago.
“Darling, I think you need to come with me. You’re starting to…you’re starting to make me think you need some serious help.” there were tears in her eyes.
“No!” he yelled, throwing the cup at the cafe wall, where it shattered into a few billion, beautiful pieces of ceramic shrapnel.
“No.” he whispered now, his fingers gripping the table, Gertie staring at him terrified, the other cafe guests beginning to talk in hushed tones–
“I have to leave this place. I’m…I’m stuck, don’t you see? Stuck in motion.”
“I don’t understand. What the…what the hell is wrong with you?” Gertie said in a strangled voice.
George jumped onto the table, forgetting his age, nearly stumbling, but by god, his limbs were not going to fail him now, damn it all, they weren’t going to fail him now.
“I’m not exactly sure, darling. But one-day, I will write to you and let you know when I find out.” And he had such a look of peace, of non-hurried tranquility on his face that she believed him for a fraction of a second.
“Sim Sala Bim, my darling.”
And then he was running, a suit case appearing in his hand, a worn out leather suitcase that he had stashed under the table this whole time.
“Where are you going?” she screamed after him.
“On the first train home!” he yelled delightedly.
He reached the train station and tore off his shoes, pulling a faded, worn out ticket from the bottom of the left shoe. The ticket-window man stared him for a long time, having never quite seen a sight like this, and with one gloved hand he gingerly took it from George.
“Sir, that train just left the station. In fact…it’s leaving now.”
And George took off running again, the train slowly chugging away from the platform. His suitcase, it weighed too much. He let it fall, and he gained some speed. He took off his tie and it fluttered away in the wind, and he began to sprint faster. Then came the shirt, and then the belt, and finally his pants and so all that was left of the man was this elderly gent in his boxers.
But this elderly gent in his boxers, he was strong now, he was quick as a fox. He had had his morning coffee just the way he had always wanted: just a little bit sweeter, and not bitter at all.
It was not old hands that grabbed at the back railing of the train, it was new ones, and it was with little effort that George found himself sailing over it and headfirst into the caboose. He stood up, brushing off dirt from his skin and waved to his old clothes that were now strewn across the tracks. He took his seat in the back of the caboose, smiling and laughing gently to himself.
A small, roundish man dressed sharply came into the caboose, checking for tickets with his little hole puncher, going clickety clackety as he went. He came to George, and stood there for a second, his mouth going slack as he saw this man just sitting in his boxers, this ancient young man smiling and laughing.
George reached into his knickers and then winked at the ticket man.
“Actually lad, you probably don’t want it now.”
And then the ticket man fainted and George began to laugh uproariously.
“Oh, this will be a fine journey, I can tell already.”
There was a cup of tea sitting next to George that he suddenly noticed and picked it up, sniffing eagerly.
“Ah, my new poison, excellent.”
He stirred it counter-clockwise, and then clockwise…this time…four times, for good measure. After all, this tea nonsense simply was not the same as his coffee, but as the train rounded its way into a tunnel, he didn’t mind at all.
Life was sweet to him again. And that’s all that mattered.