Short story: The café

By Robert Geoghegan & Kasper D Petersen

Mother was dead. Less than twenty-four hours later and already she was laid to rest. I couldn’t afford a coffin, especially on such short notice, yet the thought of cremating her just didn’t seem right, knowing her beliefs. You can’t bury the dead anymore. Without a coffin there’s no hope of burial; the stench of rotting flesh was enough to have the law swiftly amended once the temperatures really began to rise. I put her in the salt mines, feeling little else than pain from the salt in the heat wounds as I left.

Later that day I went to a café to meet a friend. It was a blazing hot afternoon which made the walk from the mines all the more tiring. I was overcome with exhaustion and a latent feeling of remorse and, to a lesser extent, nausea. Yet I had promised my friend that I would meet him. Funerals are a lonely affair after the new climate laws, or Vegan Laws as they’re disparagingly called, came into effect.

The café was aptly called The Shade. It was a small café, cloaked in drab and severely outdated fittings and decorations. Shade had caught fire that morning it seemed. Buildings catch fire all the time, no longer commonplace is it to worry something more sinister than the flames dancing around the exterior will happen. One of the benefits from the climate laws was the introduction of better fire safety regulations. Not much more has been done in the prevention of fires, though nowadays that’s practically impossible.

My friend and I chose The Shade as it would be difficult to walk any distance without the danger of heatstroke. So much road to walk on now yet nobody ever does, except at night.
The headline from the daily newspaper that was sitting on the table as you wait to be seated read: ‘Heatstroke rapidly becoming #1 killer’. Another read ‘Effects from the mass exodus to be felt for generations’. I picked it up, unsure if I was actually interested, or just picking the paper up out of habit. At a glance, it appeared that there wasn’t really anything new since the story broke this time last year. Millions fleeing southern countries as ecological breakdown intensifies. Record temperatures reached as cities burn. Mass extinction, it’s all pretty bleak, so maybe I won’t read it, I think to myself. Reading about imminent death is not all that fun. I just want to forget that I have already suffered a loss due to the heat.
After being seated for a couple of minutes, I saw my friend coming through the door. He was quite a forgettable looking person; average in stature, and average in looks. He had dark brown wisps of thinning hair, and he always had a sad look upon his face like his very existence was an incredible pain, more so after the laws came into effect.

“Hey, how are you doing?” he asked. I looked at him, wondering if there is any point in answering the question.

“I’m fine, just a bit hungry.”
My friend looked at me, dismissively.

“I hate these laws; all I can have is a vegan sandwich.”

“You don’t have to say it’s vegan, just sandwich will do,” I replied. “What did you expect to happen anyway? After last year, everything’s changed,” I continued a little more gruffly. I didn’t like these types of conversation. They usually go in one direction; blaming and accusations.

“Not this, I didn’t expect to be made vegan or to have water limits put in place. The mass immigration, all our free speech…”

The cafe was sweltering, the glare from the empty road as I looked out the window started to give me a headache, and this conversation wasn’t helping my mood
“Everything is about balance,” I began. “This is a well-understood concept. To put it simply, there is life, and there is death. There is night, and there is a day. There is up, and there is down. There is love, and there is hate. There are the rich [bourgeois] and the poor [proletariat]. It goes on and on and on. What is happening now is because we never listened. Thus we suffer the consequence. There were stories of planes being delayed due to mass heat and their tires getting stuck in tarmac. There were debates on climate change when all we had to do was see the rubbish we left on the ground. People made a point that this is a natural occurrence. We vaccinate against the natural occurrences of disease; we try to stop ourselves from dying naturally from natural causes. Yet, the one thing we refused to do was naturally cure a manufactured disease. We take steps to help alleviate whatever symptoms ail us, all except those that we cause ourselves.” I was embarrassed. At first, I could not tell why whether it was that I answered in such a way or… yes. I didn’t care enough to make that argument. Things are put in place that will hopefully help; I have no qualms either way if they make a difference or not. My mother was still dead.

My friend, never one to back down from an argument, retorted in kind.
“Everything is a choice. We chose to live a certain way for a long time, and now, because of something we may or may not have control over, the weather or the climate or whatever it is has changed. Now the government and world leaders dictate how I get to eat, how I get to travel, how I get to live and essentially how I die. The world goes through these cycles all the time. We’ll adapt, we’re human. We evolve, right? Or is that a load of bullshit as well? If it’s true and we do evolve, this is the way it goes. If not, there’s always the great beyond of the final frontier because, thankfully, there are some people on this godforsaken rock thinking about out there. Not just the here and now, on Earth. People and animals are dying, and I get stuck eating a vegan ciabatta and drinking nothing but rationed water. If this isn’t hell, then I don’t know what is.”
The glare from the whitewashed walls made my eyes smart, and this conversation was hurting my head. I drank from my glass of water and thought. About the pointlessness of this conversation, we were having, how little it mattered what he or I had to say. We saw things differently. I started to rub my eyes, which lead to rubbing my face, which leads to burying my head in my hands. My face relaxed, and I shut my eyes. It was the type of motion that could be misconstrued as something profoundly deeper than the fact I was tired. Not from the conversation, just tired. Of living.

“Going back to work tomorrow. That’s a choice I don’t have,” I replied. Thankfully the conversation went that direction with it.
“What, really!? Why back so soon?” I’m unsure if he cared or was just being polite.
“Yeah, my mom died last night. I’ve got to cover the coroner’s inspection and transport fees and…”
The conversation was interjected by the presence of a waiter with a sullen look on their face. We both knew what it was. Everybody has experienced it at least once by now.
“Sorry for the interruption, gentlemen. I hope that you enjoyed your meal with us today. I have come over to inform you that the flames of today’s fire are reaching a little higher than expected. Unfortunately, The Shade will be closing to prevent any more damage. We’re sorry about this and hope that this hasn’t affected your experience and that you will dine with us again soon”. We got up and paid the bill. We thanked them for our food, though it was nothing special. He gave us a five percent discount for having to leave early. We saved little in the way of payment.
“I think I’ll have an early night tonight,” I said to my friend.
“Sun won’t be down for a long time.”
“It’s okay. I’m really tired”.
We shook hands and walked in different directions, both making sure that we stayed in the shade. After a few seconds he called my name from down the street. I turned to face him, but not fully; he was only a few feet from me.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met your mother. I’m sorry for the loss.”
“You’re right. You’ve never met.” I turned and walked away.

The flames, a magnificent menagerie of crimson tongues, continued to grow as I got further away. The pillars of smoke blacked out the sun behind my back.

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