The Star Drop Cafe - Skinny Flat White
For some deep, psychological reason Saint Nicholas avoided the leafy suburbs bathing in showers of money and dripping wealth.Â There the newest luxury car was the Holy Grail parked in the driveway for all to covet.Â With a stock broker being the favoured Messiah, preaching the vision of a rocketing stock exchange.Â With atonement found in new hairdo and blue rinse; and salvation in manicure and pedicure. Â And with avarice boldly proclaiming redemption.
Yet it was through these very portals that pilgrims must pass to worship at the Nirvana of The Star Drop CafÃ©.Â The chic coffee emporium had been converted from what had long ago been a small slaughterhouse, though this fact was all but forgotten.Â It sat in the sprawling grounds of the neglected ruins of the very insane asylum that it had once supplied with the fresh flesh from chickens, ducks, geese and sheep.
Virtually all of the patrons were thinking sinners, accepting that they were as camels unable to pass through the eye of the needle.Â That being so, hell was where their best interests lay.Â And being totally insane, they were salesmen with a roving commission for the selling and buying of souls.Â They knew that they had a captive market.Â That the seven deadly sins were cherished and sought - as drugs by the addicted â€“ by the bulk of humanity.Â That all were destined for riotous reunions with those waiting in the tumult of hell.Â That the saintly were fringe dwellers destined for the quiet boredom of heaven.Â And good riddance!Â Let paradise be the dumping ground for all those unworthy of hell.Â God was welcome to them!
Saint Nicholas was such an unworthy one â€“ a feral gathering no moss.Â His sparse baggage was neatly folded in the saddle bags of his motorcycle. Â After months of self-imposed confinement in the guesthouse, he'd inexplicably run the gauntlet of the suburbs. Now, on the evening of Easter Sunday, he sat pensively at an outdoor table of The Star Drop CafÃ©.Â From where he sat nursing a mug of skinny flat white coffee, a grassy bank rolled down to the sweeping curve of a broad river.Â Nothing interrupted his view of the woodlands on the other side.Â Their dark shapes were mirrored on the waters, which reflected the orange-red glow of the setting sun.
An elderly man, once an inmate of the asylum at the top of the hill, slowly ambled to the nest of almost empty outdoor tables.Â Instead of selecting his own table, he sat down opposite the saint without as much as a by your leave.Â Not that Saint Nicholas could have been bought to leave.Â Nor did he mind the gentleman sitting at his table, for the saint was a kindred spirit of all such as him.
Saint Nicholas picked up a book he'd been reading: The Memoirs of the CEO of Hades.Â "Do you think the river down there," he said to the old man, waving the two-page book, "is one of the five bordering hell?"
"Rivers of hell?" the man asked, startled.
"Yes," the saint said pensively.Â He held the book under the man's nose.Â "It says in here that hell is bounded by the rivers Acheron, Cocytus, Styx, Phlegethon, and Lethe.Â I'd like to know if we're on the borders of hell."
"Oh, I hope not!" the elderly man said with a laugh.Â He squinted at the book under his nose.Â "What else does it say?"
"There are two words on the last page that might be of interest."Â Saint Nicholas opened the book to its second and final page.Â "To quote: Paradise lost."
"It'll never be a best seller!" the old man said wryly.
The saint smiled wanly and held out his hand.Â "I'm Saint Nicholas," he said.
"I'm Father Time," replied the elderly man, shaking the saint by the hand.Â He rummaged in a vest pocket and pulled out a tiny hourglass.Â "See!" he said, holding up his credentials.
The saint smiled.Â "May I?" he asked, holding out his hand for the hourglass, and with the other he offered the two-page book for the man to peruse.
They made the exchange.Â Father Time began reading the terse description of hell, with the, valuing of the valueless being stipulated as the only entrance requirement. Â And Saint Nicholas stared pensively at the hourglass.
"You know," he mused out loud, "we constantly travel in time.Â It's either into the past through our memories or into the future through our hopes and fears.Â Doing so, we entirely overlook the here and now.Â Yet this very instant is the only time that we actually have."
"What?" said Father Time, aghast at an unthinkable heresy spoken here on the possible banks of hell.Â "What's that you say?"
The saint shrugged.Â "I'm probably a barking lunatic," he said wryly, smiling at the sudden insight.Â "But it's just dawned on me that it's best to forget in order to remember better."
"You are mad!" blurted Father Time, experience making him an expert on the matter.Â "Totally and absolutely mad!"
Saint Nicholas shrugged.Â "It seems best to forget all that doesn't really matter so as to better remember all the things that do.Â In the here and now!"Â He gazed unflinchingly at Father Time's agitated face.Â "So I suppose that means I don't believe in time anymore."
"That means," said the elderly gentleman rising to his feet and brandishing the book like a weapon, "that you don't believe in me!"
"You don't exist, in a manner of speaking," the saint said sagely, though not meaning to give offense.
But Father Time took umbrage.Â "You young upstart!" he said angrily, waving the book; and in so doing knocked the hourglass from the saint's hand - it fell and shattered on the table.Â "My glass!Â My glass!" he wailed, stumbling away into the deepening twilight, still holding the book.Â "My glass!Â My glass!"
Overhead, the evening star shone brightly, only to fade with the switching on of The Star Drop CafÃ©'s outside lights.Â Almost as a sop, soft piped music began to play from the cafÃ©'s outdoor speakers.
"Nicholas, you really put your foot in it!" said a laughing female voice behind him.Â His guardian angel walked by him and sat in the chair vacated by the elderly gentleman.Â She smiled warmly.Â "You know, Nicholas, it's taken you a while to work it out about time."
Nicholas cocked his head as he gazed at her, clothed as always in white.Â "Oh, what do you mean?"
The angel laughed softly.Â "That there's no time but now.Â Only now!"
The saint nodded.Â He gazed at her with an odd expression on his face.Â "Remind me, please.Â Eternity," he said slowly, thoughtfully, "is also only now?"
His companion nodded.Â "Eternity is this instant, constantly.Â It's always!Â And always has no direction."
At last the great truth dawned on the saint.Â "That must mean that Ms Right, if she exists, must also be here - right now!"
The angel smiled.Â "She exists, Nicholas," she said softly.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed the saint.Â "It's you!Â You!Â It's been you all along, right under my very nose.Â You've been there right in front of me, and I didn't see.Â "It's you!"
"You have said it," acknowledged the angel.Â "I've been with you always.Â You searched without for what was always within."Â She cocked an ear at the waltz music coming from the cafÃ©'s speakers.Â "Shall we dance, my lord?"
And there, with the cafÃ©'s outside lights suddenly switched off, and the stars across the night twinkling strong and bright, the former knight of the open road and his lady danced.Â How they danced, waltz after waltz, holding each other close.Â Saint Nicholas and Miss Right twirled and flowed there, with the river below gleaming in the moonlight and the stars shining brightly above.Â When they finally sat down, another angel appeared.Â The saint had met her before.Â Like then, she was dressed all in black.Â And they danced the swirling Vienna Waltz, keeping faith with the promise they'd made more than a year before.Â Oh, how they danced!Â And when they finally sat down, the saint felt giddy and light-headed.Â It was as if his heart was singing a soaring song of love and bursting with joy.Â And he slumped forward with his head resting on his hands.
Miss Right, guardian angel of Saint Nicholas, looked at Azrael, the Angel of Death.Â "Let's take him home," she said softly.Â "Home to the Halls of the Father."
The doctor looked down on the still figure slumped on the old work bench.Â She'd come to investigate, for an elderly gentleman suffering from dementia had ranted that the devil had crossed the river and was in the slaughter house.
"Poor Nicholas," the doctor said softly, feeling no pulse.Â "You're finally out of the madness."
She brushed away a tear rolling down her cheek, for she had grown quite fond of Nicholas over all the years of his incarceration in the asylum.Â Except at the very beginning, he'd not received a single visitor.Â Which wasn't strange.Â For the old chap had never known his father, and his mother had abandoned him when he was just a lad to run away with a sailor, and was long dead.Â And Nicholas had never married, for no girl would have him.Â Thus there were no children.Â Tragically, when he was but a young man he was involved in a motorcycle accident, causing head injuries so sever that he was committed as an inmate of the asylum.
"Poor old bugger!" muttered the doctor.Â "Poor old bugger!"Â The sudden loud squawking of hens in the slaughter house assaulted her ears.Â "Shut up!" she cried in a distressed voice.
Saint Nicholas, hand-in-hand with both the angel in white and she in black, smiled down on she who believed herself to be a doctor.Â Who was convinced that she was the chief psychiatrist, walking away from The Star Drop CafÃ© and back to the asylum to mollify an elderly man.Â One who believed unequivocally that he was Father Time â€“ yet was merely a ghost of what had never actually been.Â With the doctor herself a wraith locked in a long defunct asylum.Â Who was once a psychiatrist at the asylum; but as a mother, had gone insane on the death of her little girl in a vehicle accident in a car park.Â Who had herself then been committed â€“ they were the walking dead held fast in time, frozen by memories of yesterday.
"Poor old thing," murmured Saint Nicholas, watching the fading figure of the doctor.Â "It's all so very insane!'
"My lord," Miss Right in white said gently to her knight, "shall we go?"
Saint Nicholas thumbed the starter button of the black motorbike with sidecar attachment.Â It rumbled into life.Â Then with the lady in white seated behind him and she in black in the sidecar, the three of them roared along the stardust road high above hell's river and leading to the lofty Halls of the Father beyond the stars.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes