The barista is a dead woman, or she soon will be. As she prepares his coffee, he sees a bug crawl out of her empty eye socket. It scuttles down her cheek, dislodging a piece of flesh. Rotting meat and bug fall with a plop into the coffee she now offers him.
“Anything else?” she says, smiling. Or at least, Brett thinks she is smiling. It is hard to tell, what with the lower jaw hanging at that odd angle. Yes, he considers saying. Stop serving coffees for the minimum wage, and the occasional tip. Go and experience life: enjoy yourself, while you still can. Life is short. For some – for you – it’s shorter than you could possibly imagine.
But he doesn’t say this. There is no point.
“No, thank you,” Brett says, taking the coffee. He hands over a note, waves away the change. “Keep it,” he says.
He sits at a table, in the corner. There is a mirror on the wall and by sitting with his back to the coffee shop he can use it to see what people really look like. What they look like right now, rather than how they will appear in exactly three hundred and seventy two days time. The woman who served him, he sees now, is an attractive twenty something. She looks healthy enough, no sign of illness. He wonders how she is going to die. By the state of her future self, it will be in the next six to nine months. A car accident, perhaps? A victim of a crime? Wrong person, in the wrong place. She glances over, catches his eye in the mirror, smiles. He looks away.
He takes the wooden stick – a poor imitation of a spoon – and half-heartedly stirs the coffee. There is no bug, no decomposing piece of cheek, floating in the dark liquid. It doesn’t work like that. It was an illusion. He knows this. But he looks anyway.
Brett doesn’t really believe in curses – although he acknowledges that part of him must do for it to work – but there is no other explanation he can find to better describe what happened, so he chooses to accept it.
To be fair, when they first met, Divina said she was a witch. Brett laughed, spraying beer out of his mouth and nostrils.
“It isn’t funny,” she said, her lower lip sticking out, the beginning of a pout enhancing her cuteness. “I’m a good witch. Although, if you cross me, you’ll regret it.” He stopped laughing, then. Not because he believed in her threat, but because it was obviously important to her, and, he realised, he really wanted to sleep with her.
It took eight weeks of hard work (romancing not coming naturally to him, Brett experienced it as such) and tongue biting (her pseudo-hippy-pagan-occult beliefs irritated his scientific-sceptical-atheist brain) before he managed to get her into bed. Weeks became months became a year and he found love had replaced lust (or that’s what he told himself), and they were living together.
One morning, a week before her twenty ninth birthday, he found her crying on the floor of the bathroom, a pregnancy test in her hand. Although Brett was shocked to see the test – he assumed she had been taking precautions, and had no wish to be saddled with a child – he sat down next to her and took her in his arms. Divina sobbed salt water and mucus all over his clean shirt. It took fifteen minutes before he could understand what she was saying. It would have been her Grandma’s birthday, today, a week before her own, she said. Grandma had been a witch too (her head buried in his armpit, Divina would not have seen Brett rolling his eyes at those words). Before she died, twenty years ago, she told Divina she would find her love of her life, but would be alone and childless by the age of thirty. With a year and one week to go she was worried that the prophecy would come true.
“I promise I will never leave you, my love, and we can try for a baby, if that’s what you want,” he said, checking his watch. He was late for work, and wondered if he had time to iron another shirt.
Promises are easily broken, especially when temptation, dressed in a short skirt and low cut top, calling herself Eloise started work in Brett’s office, the very next day. Of course, Eloise wasn’t to know Brett had a girlfriend. Brett kept that information to himself, as he found divulging such facts tended to spoil his chances of sleeping with beautiful women.
Brett finally told Divina he was leaving her, on the eve of her thirtieth birthday, not for any other reason than he had been seen kissing an obviously pregnant Eloise by one of Divina’s girlfriends and was given an ultimatum: you tell her, or I will, you lying, cheating, little shit.
Contrary to Brett’s expectations, Divina did not breakdown into a teary, snotty, begging, mess, nor did she shout, scream, punch or kick.
She simply said, “You promised.”
“That was a year ago!” he said, knowing, even as he said it, the excuse was weak to say the least.
“One year, and one week,” Divina said.
“I couldn’t predict what would happen. No one can see into the future, no one can see what will really happen a year and a week from now,” Brett said. And then he said the words, that would come to haunt him: “I wish I could, but I can’t.”
When she arrives Brett is still stirring his coffee. It is cold, now, and bitter tasting.
It is ten years since he saw Divina last. He is single, and despite the loneliness of his situation, he survives. Eloise left him with a stinging face, the final straw a casual observation that she would still be a fat hog a long time after she’d given birth. He has had few dates, and no real relationships since. It is simply impossible to say the right things when you are looking at the image of what someone will look like in three hundred and seventy two days time. He is jobless, but he gets by, thanks to an inheritance: his mother dying, the only luck he has had recently. He lost his job, the same week Eloise threw him out, through unwise, and unkind, comments made to customers.
Brett wants to be normal. Not just for his sake, not anymore. Brett is pleased that Eloise is with Paul – a kind, decent man – he treats Brett’s child as his own. But Brett would like to be a good father to his son.
Brett is a better person, now, he admits to himself. A humbler person. A person who considers others feelings before his own. Most of the time.
Brett is here to ask forgiveness, to ask for the curse to be lifted. When Divina sits down opposite him, the smile on her face as warm, and sweet, as his coffee, he isn’t surprised to see she looks no older than the day they met.