An irreversible morning
There were three of them and they sat outside and it was very hot and there was no wind and no shade. Glasses stood on the small, uneven table, empty. None of them had spoken for some time. Instead, the three men stared into the parking lot of the café, which was adjacent to a large street. Cars passed by. Sometimes they turned and stopped at the café.
At the other tables people were talking and drinking or having a meal. Some tables had a large parasol; the table were the three men sat did not, so their plastic chairs were too hot to lean their bare arms on for long. One of them undid the top button of his shirt and then wiped the sweat off his brow with his sleeve; it left a dark stain.
Beneath them was a blinding white. The ground was covered with white gravel and shone in the noon sun. The legs of their chairs dug their way into the layers of gravel and never stood comfortably. The three men did not speak, but all of them knew they were thinking about the same thing, thinking about that morning, only a few hours in the past but irreversible.
They had left for work this morning as they so often had done before. Richard, the eldest, a tall and lean man with a serious face, had picked them up in his car, and every seat of the car had been occupied, all four. But now there were only three men sitting at the table.
“Should we have another drink?” Richard asked.
“What we should do is get out of this goddamn heat.”
“I’m still thirsty. What about you, John? You want another beer?”
“I don’t know,” John said uncertainly. “I’ll have one if you’re having one.”
“Christ, John. It’s always the same with you isn’t it. Can’t you make up your own mind for once.” the third man said.
“Leave him alone, Red. We’ll all have another beer.”
“No, I won’t leave him alone. It’s because of him that we’re in this goddamn mess in the first place! If he’d only stood up for himself for once in his life,” Red said, his voice rising above the chatter of the café.
Silence fell over the terrace. The people at the other tables looked at the three men. Red looked back at them, the expression on his sunbrowned face hostile. John lowered his head and sat staring down at his hands.
“There is no need to make a scene,” Richard said. “I’ll buy us some more beers and then we’ll head back to work.”
Richard looked around for the woman of the café. When she came outside, he called to her. The woman walked toward their table; Richard asked for three more beers. Some moments later she returned with the beers and placed them on the table. Richard reached for his pocket, took out his wallet, opened it, and sighed.
“I haven’t got any money left,” he said, his voice void of strength.
“Me neither,” John said, not even looking up.
“Mine’s still in my jacket in the car. But there’s some in,” Red said, but could not finish what he had begun to say. He looked at the woman who was still waiting, and then at Richard. He took a deep breath. “There is still some,” he began again. “In his wallet.”
The men fell silent. Red looked about him, searching for a response from the other men but found none. John’s eyes were still upon his hands, and Richard gazed intently toward the street, following the passing cars going down the road until he could not see them any longer.
“Should I use … his money?”
Richard turned toward Red, his grey eyes pale and distant.
“Just pay the woman.”
Red took the money from the wallet and gave it reluctantly to the woman; he did not look her in the eye when he did.
There was now a shade as a cloud had moved in front of the sun. They sat unmoving, silent. None but Richard had touched his drink. John wiped his eyes with his sleeve. Red saw he was crying. He shook his head and turned away from John, fixing his gaze intently upon Richard, who felt that he was being watched and turned to face Red.
“What are we gonna do now?” Red asked. “We can’t just go back to work and then home, like nothing happened, can we?”
“Of course we can. We have to.”
“It’s easy for you, Richard. You’ll just go home to your empty house and get drunk and pass out. But we have to go home to our families. How am I gonna look my wife in the eyes and tell her it was just another day, that nothing interesting happened, just that Stevenson didn’t show up and nobody had heard from him.”
Richard did not answer, could not answer. He muttered something and stood up. He took his glass and drank, in slow, steady gulps, what remained of his beer.
“We should head back to work. We can’t be late, not today. Nothing can be out of the ordinary.” Richard said as he put on his jacket. “Let’s go.”
John quickly rose and followed Richard, who had already started to walk away.
Red stayed behind and reached for a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He took a smoke and lighted it, inhaling deeply. He noticed that his hands were trembling and that his mouth was dry, so he took his glass and drank the cold beer, but found that he could barely swallow it. Rising to his feet, he dropped his cigarette on the floor, ground it with his heavy boot and gazed toward the street, toward the two men, who he would have called his friends the day before. He went after them and they walked toward the street together, with the sun high and brilliant above them, like a great eye watching all.