Monday, 14 May 2012

14: Coffee in Venice

The last time Marla had seen Bernice she’d ripped the pages from her diary and let them blow on the wind across the tennis courts of St Winifred’s School for Girls.  Year 11 girls watched on as her secrets and dreams carried up into trees and bushes, landed in muddy puddles and flew out into the main streets of Guildford.  Some girls chased after paper, jumping and reaching like butterfly hunting without nets, hoping to learn Bernice’s hopes and fears whilst praying the same never happened to them.

But then, maybe Bernice should have known better than to bring something so precious in to school and let it fall into Marla’s hands.  The others wouldn’t have fallen for that trick, not in a million years.

So now, five years later and on a gap year between university and starting work in a London Law firm, Bernice sees Marla walking across St Mark’s Square, heading straight for her.  Her palms prickle with sweat and she looks side to side.  Bernice lowers her head and shrinks a few inches into her neck.  She spins round and heads into the closest hotel, taking a seat at the window and planning a coffee.

Bernice looks out into the Square, searching the thick crowd for her nemesis.  She still thinks of Marla in that way, particularly on dark nights when sleep won’t come.  She remembers the sound of her laughter cackling, set against the hush of the rest of her year group, the tear of the paper and the rustle on the breeze. 

Bernice shifts in her seat and still can’t see Marla in the crowd outside.  She relaxes and checks the menu.  8 Euros for a latte, just so she can hide.  She senses rather than sees a waitress at her elbow and orders without looking up, in excellent Italian.

The reply comes in broken Italian and she looks up to see Marla, in waiting uniform with a little black piny, standing in front of her.

“Hi Bernice,” she says.  “I’ll just get your order.”  Marla walks to the bar, less confident than Bernice remembers her.  She makes a latte, adds an Amaretto biscuit to the saucer, and returns to the table.

“Your latte,” says Marla.  She looks unsure as to whether to add ‘Madam’ at the end.  “Can I get you anything else?”

“No.  Thanks,” replies Bernice.  She takes a sip as Marla turns and starts to walk back to her place behind the bar.

“You make nice coffee,” adds Bernice.  And smiles.

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