Excess Café

The Excess Café is on Archer Street, which runs parallel to Wesson Street.  The street that connects the two is called Smith Street, what Lissajous suspects is a subtle joke at the city's expense.  He looks up at it as they approach, half-expecting to see the metal corrugated shutters rolled down and the rusted steel 'Closed' sign out front, but the grease-smeared windows are glistening in the sunlight and the door is slightly ajar.  He smiles, and quickens his pace a little.  Where Wesson Street is a microcosm of human life, where the eternal struggles play out four times a day with intervals for beer and occasionally improvisation from the orchestra pit, Archer Street is much more sedate, almost civilized.  Except for the Excess Café.

He pushes the door open, and checks behind him: Zim is still following, his guitar held by the neck in one hand and the guitar case, now tightly closed, held by its handle in the other hand.  He looks a little bemused, slightly out of his element, Lissa, thinks, but he's coming along anyway.  His lips purse to whistle a fragment of a melody which dies as he realises that they're going into the café. 

"Excess Café?" he says, arresting Lissa's steps.

"You know it?"

"No.  I can read though."

Lissa nods.  "It does good coffee and it's bearable.  It's not like those soulless chains, coffeehouses that serve up anodyne blackness with a fluffy whipped topping that barely corrodes your teeth.  This is the real thing, soul-destroying, life-changing, energizing.  Concentrated caffeine, a flavour hit that washes away all other addictions and lets you see the world the way it was supposed to be known."

"Does it do de-caf?"

Lissa stumbles and turns back round fast, spinning on a single steel-capped heel, but Zim's sharp face is wearing a wide smile and he realises he's been played.  And neatly.

"Yeah," he says.  "If you ask nicely."

Inside the tiled floor gleams with more grease and though Lissa's shoes click smartly up the central aisle, flanked by extruded-plastic chairs and vinyl-topped tables, Zim slips and slides.  At the counter the waitress, bleached blonde hair spilling over one eye like an early-eighties electronica artiste, looks at Lissa.  She maintains eye contact all the way to the counter then says unsmilingly, "The rage is in the salt."

"Two coffees, please, Lehar," says Lissa.  His hand slips into an inside pocket, and into a second pocket inside that.  Practiced fingertips count the notes in there and select one, pulling it out and dropping it on the counter with an aristocratic disdain.  Lehar sneers, but the note vanishes and no changes comes to replace it.  Lissa turns away, and heads for a table one row in from the window.

"The rage?"  Zim's still slipping and sliding and nearly falls over trying to sit down.  He lands in the chair with a graceless thump.

"It's in the salt," says Lissa.  "Do you take salt in your coffee?"

"Only when I'm worrying about my weight."  Zim's so slender his only worry could be that he doesn't weigh enough to trigger pressure pads before automatic doors.

"You'll be fine then," says Lissa.  "It's always a bigger problem when the rage is in the coffee."

"Is this some way of showing me how cool you are?"  Zim raises an eyebrow, curls a lip slightly, and his hands rest on the table top.  It feels greasy.  "Don't they ever clean anything in here?"

Lehar brings the coffees over, two coal-black drinks in pristine white cups.  Steam rises from the surface of the coffee, and when Zim leans over it he can see his own reflection, distorted and twisted into something malevolent.

"I'm cool enough," says Lissa, noticing Zim's attention to his cup.  "Don't stare too deep into that, they say you can lose your soul here.  Just look at Anna-Mix."

Zim looks around.

"She's not here.  You'll know when she comes in."

Zim tries the coffee, and although it's too hot the earthy, chocolate-y flavour blossoms like a rare flower.  It develops quickly, red, tannic fruits rising to the surface, then fading away behind something he can't describe in terms of food, but only in memories of a white hotel redolent with faded grandeur overlooking an azure bay.  Somewhere in the background are the succulent deep greens of a rainforest, and a bird is calling high in the trees.

"Zim!"  Lissa snaps his fingers in front of Zim's face, breaking his daydream.  "Sweet Hecate, man, I thought you'd cope with this.  What have you been drinking on the street?"

"Wesson Street?  I only got there this morning."

Lissa stares at him as Lehar greets another customer with barely concealed contempt and instructs them that the rage is in the salt.  First an Oni, which he remembers he still knows far too little about, and now a guitarist who should have stuck out like a sore thumb and yet blended into Wesson Street like he'd been there half his life.  What on earth is going on?

The End

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