Sometimes you just overhear stuff. I'm in New South Wales, Australia. It's 2pm on a warm April afternoon in the town of Nimbin and I'm sitting at a small round table outside the Truffala Seeds café.
I’m scarfing down afternoon tea, and sinking into the slow, fierce, honeyed light. Everything is sluggish, except the conversation next to me. I don’t know their names. Let’s call them Karen and Jenny. They are in their late 40’s, maybe somewhere in their 50’s. Karen has dry blonde hair, and fair skin that is sun-damaged. She is hidden behind large, knock-off Dior sunglasses. Jenny is younger, I think, dark of hair, olive complexion, painted on thick, black eyebrows. She is wearing a pair of denim shorts that come to her knees, and make her look a little like a bottle cork.
Karen: It’s time.
Jenny: It’s past time. There’s been too much talk, not enough action.
Karen: If I have to sit through one more club meeting with Alison…
Jenny: Do you know, for the past year, we’ve not read any books that weren’t on Alison’s list? It’s all about her.
Karen: I know, I know.
I eat slowly, so as not to let my chewing get in the way of my eavesdropping. I don’t want to miss a thing. I’m pretending to read a book. I even turn pages to make it look like I’m doing that. Sometimes I put the book down and saw at my chocolate cake, or slurp at my green tea. The trick with green tea is to let it sit for only a minute, and then remove the leaves, and to drink it before it starts to cool, and goes bitter. I’m womanfully trying to do this without burning my tongue, and at the same time, not slurp loudly and miss a moment of Jenny and Karen.
Inside the café, a carelessly-dressed young man is swaying back and forth, ordering first one cake, then another, as he changes his mind every ten seconds or so. He orders a cake they don’t have, but he insists it’s there, he can see the raspberry coulis dripping down the sides like blood. He draws out the word ‘blooood’. The woman behind the counter waits impatiently with pencil poised, and rolls her eyes discreetly at her workmate.
Karen: It’s about time we did something.
Jenny: One more Jane Green book and I’m going to scream.
Karen: Any more chick lit and I’m going to scream. I’m so ready for some blood and gore. A good murder, or some vampires. Anything.
I wonder if she is friends with Blooood Boy inside?
Jenny: Are the others on side?
Karen: Yes. They all know. We’ll get settled tonight, and when Madam has finished reading the minutes, I’ll raise a vote to have Alison stand down.
Jenny: I’ll second it. You know that.
Karen: She’ll cry.
Jenny: Of course. She always cries. About anything.
They both stare grimly into their coffee cups.
Bloooood Boy is sitting at the next table along from me, on my left. He’s lining the pockets of his thin jacket with packets of sugar, and Splenda. I have eaten half my cake and cannot come at any more. I drink my green tea silently, and make notes in my journal. Jenny said this. Karen said that. Alison’s for the chop tonight.
Jenny: Who do you think will put their hand up to take the position?
Karen: As long as it’s not Tamae.
Jenny: Oh, god no. She’s just Alison all over again. Do you think she’ll ever leave home?
Karen: Not if Alison has anything to do with it. She wants her home forever, so she can keep whining about the problems of being a mum.
Jenny(snorting): Get over it. She needs to be an empty nester, like the rest of us. Tamae needs to get a job and move out.
Karen: Do you think Alison knows about….
Jenny: If she does, she’s pretending not to.
They fold their napkins almost in unison, and their coffees are finished. No! No! They can’t just get up and leave before I know what Tamae’s been up to. Before I hear more about Alison and her book club crimes.
Bloooood Boy watches them stand up. They pick up their handbags and push their chair back. Jenny spots him. Without a word, she moves the saucer under her cup to his table, giving him the two marshmallows on it. He stuffs both into his mouth at once. Karen has eaten her marshmallows.
They walk away down the street, and I cannot hear more of their conversation.
I write several endings to the story in my journal. Tamae sneaks out at night to meet a bloke. Tamae is a raging dope fiend (not out of the question here in Nimbin). Tamae runs an illegal on line bookie service. Tamae is embezzling her employer. None are as satisfying as knowing the truth, according to Karen and Jenny.
I give Blooood Boy the second half of my cake, just as his own cake arrives. He has ordered a small flourless orange friand. My mountain of chocolate cake is much appreciated.
The woman from behind the counter and I trade glances. Yes, we silently agree, he should eat some greens.
Maybe that is what Tamae is doing – developing a kale cake to feed the homeless.
I sit, and wonder how Alison will take tonight’s coup. In an area that’s a vegetarian as all get out, she’s for the chop.
Photo: The Rainbow Cafe - Nimbin, New South Wales, Australia _ MTC Group