The Stormy Drop Cafe - Tears
The Titanic was cleaving the water with a huge bow wave as it speared full steam ahead through the night. In the very depths of the ship Sampson, the chief engineer, stood delighting in the power of the massive engines. Although he was blind, his fingers knew every inch of the turning machines, almost as if they'd been chained to him for a lifetime. And he was smiling with anticipation. He was smitten with Delilah - temptress of the exotic dance – and their on-board romance was the scandal of the ship. Soon, she would come to run her fingers through his hair, which was a fetish they shared. What more could he ask for?
"More speed!" Sampson bellowed, waving the jaw bone of an ass, his security blanket. "Shovel that bloody coal!" he barked at the two nearest stokers.
The two toiling men were sweating in the heat and fiery orange-red glow of the huge furnaces that powered the enormous steam engines.
"That's all he knows!" grumbled Abe Lincoln, the chief stoker. "The bastard's not right in the head! A bloody good haircut would sort him out!"
The stoker beside him, covered in coal dust, nodded. "If we did it my way," snarled George Washington, "we'd soon be across the damned Rubicon and have that bloody whale!" and he hurled more coal on the roaring fires.
On the bridge Captain Ahab peered into the night ahead. "Ahoy there!" he shouted up to the lookout tower, for he had glimpsed what just might be a white whale in the far distance. "Is that Moby Dick I see?"
Glen Armstrong in the crows nest peered into the night ahead, but saw nothing but an iceberg. "No captain!" he shouted back, and then once more gazed up at the full moon. It seemed almost close enough to step on. He wondered whether it was made of Swiss cheese or was of the Dutch persuasion. As was the exotic dancer in clogs, Ms Mata Hari. He'd had his eye on her for quite some time. "No whales in sight!" he called down.
Mr Nicholas Saint didn't see a whale either. He was standing looking over the stern rail at the moonlight sparkling on the dark, icy waters. He smiled at a thickset man in a blue boiler suit, and covered in coal dust, who had come up on deck for a breath of fresh air.
"Beautiful night," Mr Saint said affably. "I'm Nicholas."
The man peered suspiciously at him. "Czar Nicholas?" he queried in a thick Russian accent.
"No! I'm Nicholas Saint, and I'm going home."
"To Stalingrad?" asked the stoker. "I'm Joseph," he added, remembering both his manners and his hometown, and hoping for a tip.
Nicholas shook his head, and shivered with the frigid air. He glanced up at a cheery, warm light shining through a porthole on the deck immediately above. Beside it, a neon light flashed: The Stormy Drop Café. It promised the decadence of a skinny flat white coffee.
"Join me in a cup?" Nicholas Saint asked Joseph, pointing up to the café.
"Are you mad?" the Russian said incredulously. "No one goes there! Never, ever!" He spun on his heel and hurried towards the safety of the boiler rooms far below. " Remember Stalingrad!" he shouted over his shoulder. "Hold it to the last man and last bullet!"
As Nicholas Saint clambered up the stairs to the café above, he glimpsed Azrael, the Titanic's navigator, hurrying away along the gangway towards the front of the ship. When he entered The Stormy Drop Café he was utterly astonished to see a hazy figure coming directly towards him. Then he laughed, seeing that it was an image of himself reflected in the dusty mirrors lining the walls of the café. To his complete surprise, the small caffeine emporium was entirely deserted. On the tiny counter, a yellowing sign advised: Help yourself!
Nicholas heated a glass jug of water in the microwave on the counter. When boiling, he poured it into a gleaming clean mug, adding coffee granules from a jar and skim milk from a labeled plastic bottle in the bar fridge under the counter. He had, for the very first time in a café, created his own skinny flat white coffee. He sat down at a table and idly counted the number of available chairs. There were 13 – surely a good omen. Perhaps the elusive Ms Right would waft into the room. Their eyes and pounding hearts would meet, their sweaty palms would touch, their ship-board romance would ….
"We thought you might be here!" said a little, musical voice. Tinkerbell flew into the café, with Peter Pan following close behind. "Dreaming of Ms Right, I suppose."
Nicholas smiled ruefully. "How did you guess?"
"Would you know her if you met her?" asked Peter, sitting down at the table.
"Describe her!" Tinkerbell said bossily, alighting near the steaming coffee mug.
"Well," began Nicholas, "she'd be slim …."
"You mean skinny!" interrupted Tinkerbell.
"Petite!" corrected Nicholas. "But kind of tallish and not overly endowed up top."
"Do you mean no brains or flat chested?" quizzed the fairy.
"Of course she'd be intelligent!" Nicholas said firmly.
"And no boobs," Tinkerbell hissed at Peter Pan.
"And what colour?" asked the boy. "Black, white, brindle, Red Indian? What?"
"No, no, no!" replied Nicholas. "Not Red Indian, nor brindle…." His voice trailed away as a vision of loveliness drifted across his mind. "Blonde and pinkish," he murmured.
"Ah, white!" said Tinkerbell. "Your lady is skinny, flat and white! Just like your coffee!"
"Oh, I suppose so," Nicholas admitted with some surprise. "In a way. How very odd!"
"But coffee is actually black!" objected Peter Pan. "With a blob of cream or a big slop of milk added. Do you also like it black?"
Mr Nicholas Saint shook his head. Inexplicably, memories of long ago escaped from the deep dungeon of his mind where he had suppressed them with chains of iron. The memory of his blonde, fair-skinned mother abandoning him to run away with a Negro sailor rose before his eyes. As did the orphanage without love on the menu. Images of running away and life on the grim streets came in a stream of black and white snapshots. As did his adoption by an outlaw motorcycle gang, and him roaring along open roads chasing a horizon forever out of reach. Stark images of him as a young man attending a biker's funeral; and seeing beside the open grave a headstone marking the final resting place of his mother. Of an elderly priest, seeing his distress at the foot of the tombstone, leading him to the nearby vicarage. Of the vicar giving him the short letter that his dying mother had entrusted to the man. Worst of all, the letter now once more stared him in the face:
My darling, darling Nicholas,
I am so very, very sorry.
Please forgive me for my terrible mistake.
I did not mean to hurt you.
I was young and so very foolish,
But I loved him so.
My darling boy,
I would give all my yesterdays and tomorrows
for all of it to be undone.
Believe me, dearest
I did not mean to hurt you.
All my tears and smiles are just for you,
And I love you still.
I will love you long after the stars
have forgotten how to twinkle,
and beyond even when the sun
can't remember how to shine.
My heart weeps for you,
and my soul sings to you,
my darling Nicholas.
Oh my darling, darling son
please forgive me.
With all my undying love.
And Nicholas Saint wept brokenly in The Stormy Drop Café. All the long years of hurt that had festered into silent and crippling anger at the mother who had betrayed him were washed away with his tears. He saw her anguished face weeping. A tormented face with eyes imploring him. A crucified face begging for him to end her agony.
"Mother, mother," he sobbed. "I love you so. I love you so."
Peter Pan leaned over the table and patted his hand. Tinkerbell perched on his shoulder and softly caressed his cheek. And so they stayed until the Titanic struck not Moby Dick but the iceberg. Nicholas Saint began to rise up in alarm.
"It's all right!" Tinkerbell said soothing. "We've hit the iceberg again. But you're quite safe. You're now with us in Never Neverland. There's nothing to fear."
"This café," said Peter Pan "is just like cabin 13. Only those in Never Neverland or those ready for a helping hand to get there can come to either place. Except for Azrael. She can go anywhere. No one else! Just she and us."
"The navigator?" asked Saint Nicholas, wiping away the tears on his cheeks. He'd just ceased to be Mr Nicholas Saint. "Why?"
Tinkerbell flew down onto the tabletop, seeing the saint's spirits rising. "Azrael," she said softly, "is not just the navigator of the ship. She is the Angel of Death."
"Of course!" exclaimed Saint Nicholas. "Although she seemed somehow familiar from a distance, I just couldn't place her. But I actually met her quite some time ago. Over a coffee, by the ocean, in The Last Drop Café." "But why," he asked in a puzzled voice, "is she the navigator on this ship?"
The Titanic's stern began to rise.
"Don't be alarmed!" said Peter Pan. He rose up and began making a coffee. "There are about three hours before we sink."
"But, but we'll all drown!" exclaimed the saint.
"Oh, Nicholas!" said Tinkerbell. "All the passengers are already dead. This is a ghost ship. The same passengers and crew sail in her each time, until each one of them comes into the café. And looks in the mirror of yesterday, and puts the past to rest. Then when the ship sinks, they fly up beyond the stars."
"You mean we're also dead?" asked Nicholas.
"No!" said Peter Pan. "You're a saint who came to clearly remember what it means to be saintly. And that's quite simple. It means to love and be loved without conditions. That and only that. There is no other way to be at peace and offer peace."
"And Peter and I" said Tinkerbell, "are enchanted! We are as eternal as is the trusting smile of a child. We live as long as anyone believes in the dreams of the heart. But we can leave the ship anytime. It only takes a sprinkle of stardust, and we can fly away beyond the very stars. But we won't. We're here to help people to remember who they really are. They are their hearts!" She clapped her hands happily. "And we don't even get our feet wet in cabin 13 when the ship goes down. It's like a magic submarine."
The ship lurched again, the stern rising higher.
"You're about to leave," Peter Pan said to Nicholas. "You've faced yourself in the mirror, and it's time for you to go."
The faint strains of the ship's orchestra playing, Nearer my God to thee drifted into the café - as did the weak sound of screams.
"Tell me," said Saint Nicholas. "Was hitting the iceberg an accident? Or did Azrael steer us onto it?"
"Neither, really," replied Tinkerbell. "Azrael only charts the passage. It's Captain Ahab who decides the course the Titanic will actually follow. It's he who also sets the speed. But the ghosts of hate from the past keep him blind. And so it is with everyone. Each life has but one captain. He or she can ignore the best course to blindly follow the worst one – with the wrong one plotted by a captain who knows nothing about navigation."
A whiff of thick fog entered The Stormy Drop Café and enveloped Saint Nicholas. The last thing he saw there was the clear image of himself, Tinkerbell and Peter Pan in the crystal clean mirrors. When the fog cleared a moment later, he was standing on the quay of a harbour he knew quite well. He'd had many a skinny flat white coffee in the vicinity. There was a bus stop not far away. He'd get a takeaway coffee and sit in the bus shelter waiting for the coach to take him home. To his black motorbike.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes