INTERLUDE IN A CAFÉ • by Rob Francis

Joy put the demitasse down a little too hard, slopping foam across the table top. Too much time spent seething, and now the espresso had grown cold. Damn the bosses. Rein herself in, indeed. Power equals responsibility, et cetera, ad nauseum. And yet, maybe they had a point. That was what annoyed her the most.

She concentrated on the coffee for a few seconds, bouncing the molecules around until it was steaming again. No point in troubling the barista for a fresh one.

Satisfied, Joy sat back and sipped, watching the people in the café living their tiny lives. Not that they were without meaning, of course. Not by any measure. The world was a complex machine, and every component had its function. Including Joy, even if she hadn’t quite decided what hers was yet. So many boundaries remained untested.

It didn’t seem like there was much boundary-pushing to be done here, though. At one table, a troop of junior executives was preening and scoring points off each other while pretending to be in a budget meeting. Irritating, but nothing special. Near the counter, two young mothers were trying to convince themselves that they still had a social life whilst fussing over their babies and checking their phones every two minutes, neither really paying attention to the other. But motherhood was hard, Joy supposed. One mustn’t judge too harshly.

At the nearest table, a half-dozen teenagers were talking loudly, waving around unlit cigarettes to make it clear to everyone that they smoked, though they weren’t rebellious enough to light up indoors. Their juvenile self-importance grated on Joy a little. But they were so young! Maybe just a little nudge…

She studied the end of the loudest teen’s cigarette, imagining the microcosm of atoms comprising the tobacco spinning and bouncing faster and faster, too fast to really conceive. Joy smirked as it ignited and the boy hurled it into his milkshake with a yelp. His friends laughed, not really understanding what had happened.

It was easy to move the world in small measures, and temptation was everywhere. Joy often found herself tinkering with the machine. Oiling the workings. Pushing the boundaries.

After further reflection, she decided the corner table held the most promise. A dark-haired man in a charcoal suit was talking at a young brunette, who sat staring at her lap and looking thoroughly miserable. Each time he emphasized a word, the man would jab his finger forcefully into the table, setting the coffee cups rattling and causing the girl to flinch, though she hid it well. Joy discreetly cupped her ear to listen.   

“I mean, how hard is it to get fully behind me? If you’re not serious about me, there are plenty” — tap — “of girls in the office who would love to be in your shoes. I’m trying hard to resist temptation, but you’re not” — tap — “making it easy for me. Your attitude makes it hard to come home sometimes, I have to tell you.”

The girl looked up, over the man’s shoulder and towards Joy. They made eye contact for a second; long enough for Joy to get a small taste of the girl’s desperation and pain before she turned away.

Damn the bosses. What was the point in having power if it went unused, after all?

Joy placed the empty cup on the table and stood, making her way to the door and the chaotic world that waited outside. As she passed the corner table, the trapped woman glanced up at her, and Joy made sure to hold her gaze for as long as she could. Such fragments of contact were important, however brief. Everything had to be done the right way. The woman’s mouth opened, almost as if she would speak, but Joy winked and the moment was gone.

As she reached the door, Joy turned back and took a few moments to visualize the blood vessels in the man’s brain, and the darkness running through them. Here was a new boundary. How fast could those molecules spin, now?

She stepped into the street, pursued by screams and the sound of shattering crockery.

Joy smiled at the rush of pleasure that ran through her. Rein herself in, indeed! Not a chance. She loved making the world a better place, whatever the bosses said. It always cheered her up.

It had been worth stopping for a coffee after all.

Rob Francis is an academic and writer based in London. He started to write speculative fiction in 2014 and since then has had around forty stories published in various online magazines and anthologies, including The Arcanist, Metaphorosis Magazine, Apparition Lit, Tell-Tale Press, and right here at Every Day Fiction. He lurks on Twitter @RAFUrbaneco.

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