An old boot props open the door of the cafe.
In winter the door expands and is the devil to open. In summer it shrinks and rattles in the breeze. The boot, in its way, keeps the peace.
It is said that the boot belongs to the original proprietor of the cafe and he lost it fleeing a mob of creditors. One day he will return, walking with a limp after years of going about with only a stocking on one foot, pull on the boot and claim back the cafe.
I will hand over the keys, and the paperwork. The keys to this kingdom come with plenty of unpaid bills, still to this day.
Now many will say that’s just a tall tale, and that’s just fine with me. I like tall tales.
“Just a coffee for me as well.”
He put down the drinks menu he had been pretending to read. He sat bolt upright, his gaze sharp.
“I am glad we could do this,” she said. “Sometimes it is best to get out of the office and be able to speak more informally.”
He smiled. “I really appreciate it.”
“You’re going places in this company, Jon, and I’m delighted you are part of my team.”
After studying her closely over the six months he had been in this job, he knew she was going to talk now about promoting him.
The offer made and accepted, the coffees drained, they stood outside the cafe and shook hands. “I will see you in the office tomorrow,” she said.
“At seven on the dot,” he replied. He watched as she walked away, then he crossed the street and entered the train station.
He looked up at the display, considered. There was a train to a city new to him, a four-hour journey departing in twenty minutes. Decision made, he went to buy a ticket.
On the journey he studied the man sitting opposite. The way he moved, how he answered his phone, when he looked bored, when animated. Took what he wanted.
It was raining when he got off the train. He saw cranes rising above the skeletons of new build office blocks; squat stone buildings; groups of men and women trailing from bar to bar. He was happy to wander without thinking where he was going.
He had been all energy when he got on the train. Constantly checking his phone, his mind clearly racing. The driven, high-flyer. Now he moved slow, slouched a little, rubbed his chin. He would not buy a razor when he stocked up on basics this time. First, he bought an empty suitcase.
He passed a small, dishevelled hotel. He stepped inside, paid in cash, gave his name as the one he had overheard on the train, Michael Turner, and carried the suitcase that made him look like one more regular traveller. He could not sleep so he went to a nearby bar. It was newly refurbished but its customers had seen better days.
He woke up with a hole in his memories and a woman next to him. They kissed and he tasted stale wine and cigarettes. She whispered, “That was fun, Tony,” in his ear.
Tony must have been someone he met in the bar, he thought as he showered, but he did not appear to have picked up anything other than a name and that made him uneasy.
He left the hotel and caught the first bus he saw. Being in a constant state of flux made you stand out if you stayed in one place too long. Keeping moving on kept him safe. Six months, a night, a week. He went with his gut instincts.
He began to relax. A man got on thirty minutes into the journey and they fell into conversation.
His name was Andrew and his dream was a simpler life. Move to a small island and live off the land.
At the end of the line, he told Andrew he had enjoyed meeting him, caught two buses, two trains and a ferry and found himself looking out over a bay. Gulls trailed after a fishing boat. The smell of the sea was overpowering.
It did not take long for him to find a cottage to rent.
He began planting crops but by the next day they had either been blown away or eaten. He never found out which. He persevered, building gauze over the soil, putting up a small scarecrow made from sticks and coins. The sound of its rattling dance when the breeze blew made him smile.
He had never taken on a dream before. But dreams are part of people’s makeup too, he thought. He was surprised it had taken him this long.
At night he walked along the beach, looking for things he could place on the mantle piece above the open fireplace. In a few weeks the weather would turn and he would begin to light it. He did not know what he could burn and was wondering if the driftwood he saw on the beach would do.
A boat appeared on the horizon. There was a man on deck. He was waving a lantern and appeared to be shouting. The wind stole his words away.
He waded out into the water in the direction of the boat.
There are tales which tell of golems, creatures crafted from clay that had life breathed into them with a purpose in mind. Often, of the murderous kind.
This clay being was different. It was a leftover, a blank canvas. It could be anything it wanted to be.
If you’ve the time to spare, let me top up your cup and tell you its tale.
Brian Maycock’s short fiction has most recently appeared in BFS Horizons, 50 Word Stories and Black Petals. He lives in Glasgow, Scotland.