GRUMPY’S COFFEE MORNING
A tickly cough had kept me awake for hours. I was like a bag of cats when I got out of bed after nine o’clock. Trudging down stairs to boil the kettle was futile, when I discovered I had no milk for my coffee. Another one of those days, I thought.
At a quarter to eleven, I sidled down in the rain to the newsagent to pick up the daily paper. Reading the headlines did nothing to perk me up or quell my impatience as I waited to pay in a static queue. And then I had to listen to some nosey gab from the newsagent, Mrs Collins.
‘Bad morning Mr Crusty, terrible day – you are very serious looking in yourself. Have you the flu?’ she nosed.
‘No, tis the full moon,’ I replied with a forced grin.
Not in form for chat today, I almost said biting my tongue. She shrugged her shoulders and cast her eyes up in despair of me. Outside on the shopping mall a waft of coffee enticed me in to Gusto’s Café.
‘Good morning Mr Crusty,’ said Gusto.
‘Not so far, it isn’t,’ I said under my breath.
There wasn’t room to swing a cat in Gustos. A cacophony of screaming babies and pesky toddlers blasted out, while mammies didn’t care or take a blind bit of notice. I was like a fish out of water, being the only male customer in the place.
In the middle of the coterie of motherhood lay one vacant table. I rushed to reserve it by depositing my cap, glasses and paper on it. At the counter, I ordered a large Americano. A golden pastry sausage roll sat on a zinc white plate. It was the last one. I ordered it without delay.
‘You go Mr Crusty – I bring pronto,’ said Mariana, pointing to my table.
My glasses and cap had disappeared. I cursed my luck. Then I spotted them. Little Rosie had my glasses on, while her twin brother Danny was walking around blind, with my cap hanging down over his button nose. Their mammy was unconcerned until she said; ‘Danny put that thing back where ever you got it, there could be anything on it.’
I glared at her and retrieved my cap and glasses from the terrible twins. The scamps watched me with a look of more mischief, offering a pretence of demure harmlessness under their shy smiles. Luckily, my paper was still in one piece.
The din in Gustos was ear piercing, like the incessant clamouring of a colony of pepping penguins at breeding time. Mammies pecked out feverish jabbering one louder than the next. Their hungry babies were crying louder still.
I waited and waited, giving Gusto the come on for God sake look, with the coffee and sausage roll. He returned a sardonic smile saying, ‘Come soon sir, soooorrrry.’
I was surrounded like ‘‘The Lone Ranger’’ in the midst of a tribe of loud screaming, ready to scalp, Red Indians. Not a daddy in sight. Then, the mammies began comparing notes in in baby talk.
‘Gu Gu Gu little baby, spittin’ image of you,’ said a flattering mother.
‘Oh really, do you think so,’ replied the beaming baby’s mammy.
‘Cutchi Cutchi Cutchi – Who is a good boy?’ asked the mother of the twins.
‘Why me stupid,’ baby boy would have replied if he could.
‘How old is ‘‘himself’’ now?’ asked Danny’s mother.
‘Daithi was three months yesterday, three soiled nappies already this morning – must be from his jabs he got yesterday,’ replied his mother, who didn’t seem to notice that the smell of number four had arrived.
‘My twins are two and half, holy terrors the two of them,’ said their mammy.
I know, I felt like bellowing out, but tried to be nice. Meanwhile, Belinda, another expectant mammy sat with her brood three tables away.
‘I see that Belinda is on the way again,’ said the terrible twins mammy, looping an exaggerated hand mime over her stomach.
‘Six under eight, imagine, better her than me,’ she whispered.
‘OMG, six under eight,’ offered her pal.
Yeah, I sighed, so what?
The café door opened admitting another family of five.
‘Jenny we are over here, come and join us,’ they shouted into my ear.
How in God’s name could she miss them? They were the main act.
That’s right, pile in here with the rest of the sardines, no problem, I muttered. Jenny circled the double buggy and squashed herself in long side me, uninvited. Her brood, two standing and crying twins hemmed me in. She plonked her baby bags on my table, spilling out baby bottles, wipes and a couple of soothers, without acknowledging my presence. Different wave length, you see, unconnected not able to recognise an old codger trying to have fifteen minutes peaceful time. There was no escape now. Mariana arrived with my cuppa, all smiles, giving an apology in broken English. I returned another lie smile.
I emptied one sachet of sugar in my coffee, using a ringing stir to sweeten it, before streaking a line of red sauce on the sausage roll. I bit into it. Heaven itself had arrived to calm my irritation. After two or three sips of black coffee my gloom began to lift like a rising fog.
Two vacant seats at my table, invited a pair of pesky young penguins to stray from the mammies and join me. Holy shit. I spread my paper far and wide in a veiled curtain of social exclusion, advertising no vacancies. Then, I felt a small paw, a sticky jammy hand, gripping on to my trouser leg, using it as a ladder to elevate her up the cliff face on my shin to one vacant seat. I held my ground waiting for mammy to arrive. She did not. Meanwhile a noisy bustle under my newspaper alerted me. Little Danny had made it to the table, allowing his chubby toddler’s hand with the soft pink dimples to ferret its way on to my plate.
He was grinning a cheeky innocence and grabbed a lump of my sausage roll and stuffed a bite of it into his tiny gob. There was no denying, he loved it. He chomped on it, while he squeezed the red sauce bottle in to his mouth with poor direction, initiating himself into the Red Indian tribe.
While little Danny was making an oil painting of his face his twin sister decided to sweeten me up with a half dozen sugar sachets, paper and all. I rescued the situation by dumping them to one side. I considered making a protest to the coterie, but I had second thoughts and chickened out of it.
And still they talked and talked appearing to understand every spoken word, amid the noisy cackling. They patted colic stricken screaming babies on the back, until their little peepers nearly popped out.
‘He is cursed with the colic and the windy pains. Brings it from the daddy’s side – sure God help us,’ said Mammy.
Baby squealed like a piglet, so much so that I thought that he must have been doing battle with the wind of a tornado in his turbulent gut. Just as I took another bite, a mammy wiped regurgitated vanilla cruds off her spewed on shoulder. I squirmed and gave her a half glare but my protest was lost on her.
‘I shouldn’t have given her the vanilla ice cream. It always happens,’ she said.
Little wonder that she was a baby puker, I wanted to say but couldn’t.
Meanwhile, the starting race flag was dropped. Off they sped. Three and four year old buggy stock car drivers raced their way up the strait of the narrow aisle. Gusto went mad when they come to a crashing halt, bringing down Mariana with a full tray of scrambled eggs and tea. But the mammies were oblivious to it and babbled on. I was sick of the place by now. I had not gotten my eye past the first page of the paper. Pain was shooting out of my ears from the noise and my coffee was cold and insipid. Little Rosie had opened up all of the sugar sachets and constructed a hill of sweetness, which she sampled with little sticky fingers. Danny had grabbed the remainder of my sausage roll. He was half choking on it but his mammy didn’t take a blind bit of notice, until his red sauced jaws changed to panicking purple. Mammy ran to Danny. Four more of the cackling greylags waddled in to the rescue. Gusto arrived on the scene reeling round my table in a panic, throwing his hands in the air like an eccentric orchestra conductor.
‘Oh Danny love what is it?’ cried Mammy.
‘It’s my bloody sausage roll that he has nicked. Serves him right, the greedy little git,’ I whispered to myself.
Mammy administered a couple of squeezing heaves under his mid riff and he coughed up the lump of sausage roll, returning it to me on my white shirt.
‘Are you alright Danny love?’ she asked.
Heads nodded disapprovingly and eyes glared sharp stabbing daggers at me. Then, Danny’s mammy grabbed him gruffly away from my table and said, ‘Really men are so bloody stupid, giving a two year old a big lump of sausage roll like that. Sure what else would you expect?’
I folded my paper, stuck my glasses in my pocket and left Gustos, grumpier than ever.
Tom McElligott’s stories, poetry and photography have featured in several publications including ‘Losing Touch’ and ‘Moments Thought’ The Clare Champion, ‘A Table for Two’ Limerick Writers Anthology No 12, ‘A Cup of tea’ Limerick City of Culture Anthology The Hearts of Limerick, ‘Stone Cold Man’ Liberties Flash Fiction, ‘Leaving the Country’ Write.ie Website Tell Your Own Story and ‘The Witching Tree’ UL Ogham Stone Journal. He was born in Israel and lives in Limerick. He is married to Alice and they have three children.
The Limerick Writers’ Centre is a non-profit organisation established to nurture and support writers, through readings, workshops and publishing. Their ‘On the Nail’ Literary Gathering takes place the first Tuesday of every month.
June 2017 ‘On the Nail’ Literary Gathering Tues 6th June at Chez le Fab, Arthur’s Quay Park, Limerick, 8pm. Free Admission. This month’s guest writers are poet and author Noel King and poet Arthur Broomfield
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