I sip my usual coffee: two creams, two Splenda, and whip cream on top. The warm liquid soothes my slightly irritated throat. It distracts from the laptop in front of me with the blank page. I narrow my eyes at it: It demands I put something on it. It commands me to bare my soul. It wants me to write words that flow from sentence to comparative paragraph to transition sentence to brilliant idea never written about before.
What’s even worse is my page isn’t entirely blank. I know, I spoke a small fib earlier: My page has a prompt at the top. It should be an easy prompt, perfect for a coffee shop: Write out the conversations around you. Good idea, writing prompt! So, good, I ran here the moment my creative writing class at the University of Toronto was done. I ordered my usual writing beverage of choice: coffee with two cream, two Splenda, and whipped cream on top. I set my laptop up, and sat down in my not usual seat. Normally I sit at the booth in the corner of the shop. It has an outlet underneath it, and I find it’s more secure for my more intense homework. Not today: I don’t plan to be here for hours, and the seat with wooden table in the middle of the conversations made it the logical choice.
I sat with my coffee and was ready to type. My hands were at the keyboard ready to type. I heard interesting conversations at first: Business deal going well, daughter talking to her father about troubles with her siblings, and mother soothing her baby to calm its tears. I wrote these down in my small notepad while I waited for my laptop to boot up. Then the words around me slowly grew quiet. It was strange.
Why are the conversations are so quiet? The people around me don’t appear to be whispering. I discreetly leaned over to hear. I could catch a few more words in my notebook. Then I heard words in a different language. I tried to ignore them, since I wouldn’t be able to write them down. But then it interrupted the other conversations and I couldn’t hear a damn thing.
Now all I can hear is Latin! Latin! It started as a small sentence. I hardly heard it at first– I thought it was French. Slowly I realized it was more Latin, like the Harry Potter spells. Why is Latin, Latin, Latin, and more Latin all I can hear now? I didn’t come here to learn Latin, but to write out English conversation! Is that a fancy form of deafness?
“She thinks she’s gone deaf, hah! What an idiot!” I look around when I heard the English. I can’t see the voicer, so I write down her sentence and the conversations I’ve heard already. What am I going to do? A few sentences seem so incomplete. Yet, it’s a start, right? A start can spark something more: Like, I can build on the conversations so the infant can’t be consoled; the business deal is about to go south; or the sibling being bitched about walks in, OR the mother walks in on the father-daughter conversation only to hear the daughter complain about her! These ideas are good; I’d best get to work!
“What if the place blows up in a fit of black magic? What if you shift a bit and fart into the seat?” It was that voice again! What is this voice, where is it coming from? I look up and around—There’s no one speaking to me? Did the voices in my head go awry?
A smile crept across my face: voices go awry? That would make a good story, wouldn’t it? I write the questions in my notebook to set aside for later; slowly a small smile creeps across my face as the scattered sentences become in depth conversations. In the back of my mind, as the day of coffee drinks, and shattered dreams, slowly take over my conscience, I notice the Latin has stopped, but English conversations still haven’t resumed. I could worry about it, but I just shrug and keep writing. Peace and quiet is a good thing for writing a tale. Still, shouldn’t I be worried I can’t hear anymore? Like, what if I’ve gone deaf?
The strange voice comes back: “You’re not deaf! I just want to see what a mere mortal does when I drown out their hearing. I’ll say you’ve made it entertaining. What’re you working on?”
I look around when I hear the voice. “I’m writing a story about what’s going on in this coffee shop.”
“Really? That would include me? Am I a character in this story? Make sure you get my looks right: I have reddish skin, deep brown eyes, flowing black hair, and wearing robes given to me as tribute. They’re made from Aztec gold, you know.”
I look around and I feel my eyebrows knit in confusion. I scratch my knee as I do a second glance around. “I don’t see anyone meeting that description…” I mutter out loud.
“That is because we’re not here physically,” a male-sounding voice makes itself known, “She is simply toying with you. She does this to every customer who dares to sit here. It’s why the table is haunted- Didn’t you notice your fellow patrons avoiding it?”
I think to myself. This chair is almost always empty when I sit down here. I don’t often pay attention to it, nor ask why. I’m too busy creating a scene, or writing a poem!
I suppose this is my que to get up and leave: I’m talking to a fricking chair! Yet, I couldn’t really: Something’s or someone’s invisible, and having a conversation with me? This is too golden an opportunity to pass up!
“I don’t really notice this particular chair,” I admit cautiously, “I’ve too many voices in my head that need to be recorded. No time to worry about a haunted chair… Haunted table?”
The lady’s voice laughs aloud. “Voices in her head? Does that mean she’s mentally unstable already? We hit the jackpot, Mesobaite!”
Mesobaite barks back, “Don’t you have anything else better to do than torture customers, Dizahab? Be nice to have my first conversation in decades not be scared off by you.”
Dizahab? That’s an interesting name. So’s Mesobaite. I’ve never heard of them but it’ll do for now. “Didn’t seem to mind it when I was shouting spells that no longer work,” Dizahab answers back with a loud huff, “or sing you an old folk song our brothers from Rome taught us.”
Brothers from Rome? Spells that don’t work? Who are these people? Why are they arguing? They’ve hit the jackpot—Hah! Only person here who’s hit a jackpot is me, and I’m raking in the gold.
“That’s no excuse,” Mesobaite answers in return, “for trying to scare away another customer! Our very existence depends on this place succeeding, remember? If this place goes, we go!”
“You’re worried about what happens to a magic-less owned coffee shop? Concerned about the table we’re trapped inside? How touching! I thought you were a wizard, not a bleeding heart.”
“Bleeding heart is better than a charcoaled one, and that’s our final fate if the owners believe the rumors and get rid of the haunted table,” Mesobaite answers calmly, almost too calmly.
“Maybe I will shut up? Or speak a dialect you haven’t learned yet…”
I look up from my computer and state quickly, “Please don’t switch languages! This conversation is getting good! It’s just what I need to keep the reader engaged.”
The voices go silent and I use it to finish writing out their last words. The silence remains for a solid five minutes, and I nearly slap myself; why did I interrupt the best conversation in here? The prompt was to eavesdrop on other conversations, not interrupt them!
“You’re writing about us?” Mesobaite asks tentatively, “did you include that we sound like squabbling children?”
I can’t help chuckling at the question. “Not exactly. Let’s see: I wrote how you two somehow got trapped in a table, Dizahab’s description of herself, and the ability to make someone selectively deaf.”
“Don’t forget to mention that your laptop is warmer than the coffee that has been placed on here. It’s the coziest I’ve been in 200 years,” Dizahab speaks up, “and that my colleague is dreary and depressing to listen to. He never wants to have any fun.”
I glance down at the table. It had beautiful carvings in it, and looked as solid. Though see some light glow through the wood. I widen my eyes: This is too much for a budding author to pass up! I must learn more about them. “You two have been a table for 200 years? That’s a long time to be around. I bet you heard interesting conversations. That’s why I’m here- to hear and record conversations into a story.”
“I must ask you revise the 200 years as a table part,” Mesobaite pipes up and the table glows almost a purple colour, “Dizahab and I have been trapped inside a tree for 200 years. This tree was cut down recently and cared into a table. A year ago, this cafe bought us as part of a set of 30 or so tables.”
“How did you two get trapped in a tree? Get into a marital conflict? Or were you curious about how trees work?”
“Because my associate here,” Dizahab’s voice came out making the table glow a more yellow-ish colour, “Mesobaite Raynes was an idiot 200 years ago, and casted a spell that left us in the tree. It eventually got cut down, and turned into a table. Well the parts of it that contained Mesobaite and I, anyway.”
“Self-denial at its finest,” Mesobaite said in a voice dripping irritation and some malice, “what my colleague, Dizahab Lachance, didn’t mention is the spell I casted was supposed to turn the tree into a mediator to ensure peace was between our two houses. Our households have been at work for over 1000 years. My people were tired of the constant fighting. I was tired of the constant fighting. The spell I was casting was our last hope at peace with ourselves, and perhaps peace with our brothers and sisters that were flocking from Europe and Africa to come here. She casted a curse spell just I was finishing the ritual. Then I wake up tasting wood and able to convert air, water, and sun into sugar.”
“You also can give the world oxygen, while absorbing all the carbon!” I glance down at my chair. “Not to mention the person who cut and cared you did a beautiful job. All isn’t lost!”
Mesobaite sighs and speaks quietly, “Wonderful, someone with a sharper wit than Dizahab.”
“I like her already,” she retorts, “and she is clearly courageous, and a bit mad, since she didn’t run out of the shop screaming when she realized her table was talking to her. Hmmm… Wait, isn’t it presumptuous to assume she’s a she? Remember the politically correct stuff, and talk about gender when the last two customers sat on us? She could be a man, a man and a woman, or neither if she chose. At least, I think I heard the conversation correctly.”
I’m about to answer when Mesobaite retorts, “She is trying to poke my buttons, not ask about your preferences. She was complaining after the conversation that all humans have to show after 200 years is ‘Choose your own gender’.”
“What? I thought they’d solved world hunger by now, or gone to Mars at least. Choosing one’s gender seems pointless in the face of those things.”
“Now she’s trying to push your buttons, miss. Best to ignore than get into a debate.”
“Hey!” I jump in after downing the rest of my coffee, “I know it’s probably dumb to get into a debate with an old lady, but She is fine for a pronoun. It keeps things, though I really don’t care. It sucks that people try to tell you what to do based on what your genitals are.”
Dizahab laughs. “I wouldn’t know, nor care. Unlike you humans, wizards and witches have no use for such judgements. We don’t fear who has certain genitalia, but those who have certain spells. For instance, what use is a penis as a tool to lord over other people when I can cast a spell that makes it fall off? Or even better, electrocute your spine until you bow before me?”
“You can do that?” I write this down and add more to my tale, “You could shock me right now? What else can you do, Dizahab? Or you, Mesobaite?”
I hear sighs and angry grunts from the two. “I used to be able to restore life to someone nearly dead, make the harsh snow that would come over Ontario lessen. I once helped a small child walk again despite her legs being crushed beyond repair. Unfortunately, those are very distant memories of magic mostly long forgotten. No,” Mesobaite, “we can’t use magic at all anymore.”
Dizahab continues the thought, “If we could, we would’ve been out of this useless place a long time ago. No, our powers have been leaking out since we were stuck in this tree. Only thing we can really do now is heighten our language accumulation, talk despite no real vocal chords, and try to terrify patrons.”
“The terrifying part is what Dizahab does,” Mesobaite retorts and I think I can sense a glare behind those words, “The terrifying part is how Dizahab amuses herself. I try to use what little magic to read. I must say your story is becoming interesting. Quite the conversation; I especially liked the way the business conversation is proceeding. Reminds me of the many mediations I had to 800 years ago, and the peace talks I tried to have with Dizahab….”
Dizahab shouts in a way that makes me jump out of my seat, “DON’T TURN THIS INTO A COMMENTARY ABOUT OUR PAST! You were the one who cozied up to strangers who killed our people, unlike the Natives who saw us as assets. You deserved your good intentions blowing up in our face!”
“Don’t let her harsh words frighten you. Yes, I made mistakes and I regret them, but I was the one who for pushed for peace while she made every effort to ensure there would be infinite battles until the newcomers to our world were destroyed, and our people protected. Well, our people minus those among my house. I distinctly remember coming home400 years ago to my apprentices were burned thanks to her use of persuasion spells to convince new settlers we were dangerous.”
I smile up at a server who gives me a refill—a refill that is free! Therefore I come to this coffee shop: They give refills without me having to ask. Dizahab continues to talk to Mesobaite, her voice still raised but not shouting: “Ah yes, that incident. Those very settlers were the ones you directed to trade with a small native village. A village whom was dead in under a year from small pox, and other disgusting diseases. Children’s blood is on your hands, Mesobaite!”
“I didn’t know they were carrying diseases! I’m a wizard, not a doctor. How could I have known?”
“You could’ve known if you had listened to the seers within many villages who said those people were a danger. You could’ve–”
“Isn’t it pointless to argue about this now?” They both grow silent and I close my laptop, and sip my coffee, “Whatever you were was centuries ago and irrelevant now, ain’t it? Wizards and witches are fictional now. ”
“We know,” Mesobaite answers me, “we see it daily. I can’t help but wonder these days if I had not summoned Dizahab for peace talks that I could’ve prevented our people from dying out.”
“Yes,” Dizahab agrees, “wonder in what if land until your heart pulls a match to the table and lights it. The wonder will only fester, and make one realise we can’t do anything about our predicament. We’re trapped. There is no getting out of here. That’s it!”
Dizahab goes silent. Mesobaite remains silent. I finish up my coffee and close the story now that the draft is done. I won’t look at it until I get home. I check my phone’s time It’s time for my next class already? Shit! Well, wizard and witch, its been a slice but time to go. Thanks for the interesting conversation; it will glue my readers to the screen!
“Can you turn towards the table, and move your head a bit closer?” Mesobaite whispers.
I do so as Dizahab remains quiet. He whispers, ” My… jet black hair that is mostly straight with some curl at the roots, brown eyes, and light brown skin? You have a nice appearance, miss. What is your name?”
“Kaerae Fallat,” I answer, “and thank you. Never been complimented by a table before.”
Mesobaite laughs. It’s a nice laugh, and I find myself moving my head closer. “And I haven’t had a real conversation with a patron before. It’ a new day for us both it would seem.”
” No one has really bothered to talk to you two?” I shake my head. “Well they’re stupid, then. Though I suppose my reasoning is a bit selfish: You two are perfect material for a story!”
“No. Not really. And I don’t mind being used for a story— It’s better than becoming firewood, certainly! In truth, we used to be good friends. Her house and my house were allies in the struggle to forge magic and wield wonders in North America’s wilderness. I was always in awe at the way she could converse with birds regarding where the seasons were headed; her ability to manipulate insects, weather, and even humans from warring tribes; and how she connected with children. It was a good time then.”
“Why then all the warring? She seems to hate you beyond all reason now?”
“When the Europeans came, I saw it as a chance to share our wonders and abilities with more people. Surely these humans would come to appreciate our abilities like the Huron and the Algonquin. Instead, their wonders of technology wowed and overcame me. I couldn’t see how those people were destroying ours. The entire village dying of small pox was the last straw for her, and she attacked me. Yet, I was stubborn. We fought and fought for almost 300 years. Eventually my eyes were opened, and I wanted peace and to rebuild what we had. Dizahab clearly didn’t. Now…” he sighs and goes quiet, though I hear a small sob.
Dizahab reminds us of her presence: “Now… I’ve just been with my bitter enemy watching the rest of our people die from small pox, witch trials, polio, wars, famines, and other ailments brought by those European people! If I was out of this table, I would burn it right now. You can know what our people have gone through for over a millennia!”
Mesobaite speaks up again in a voice quieter than a whisper, “If I were out of this, I would push you into a corner and write ‘contaminated’ on it so no one would sit hear. Then you could be alone for your miserable life like I’ve been.”
“You two are stupid,” I cut into the conversation while putting my books and laptop away.
Mesobaite grunts, “Does it matter if I am?”
Dizahab’s voice is low; very low, “How dare you speak to me in that tone…”
“Nope and can it, Dizahab; you’re both in no position to get threatening, nor make any demands” my response is quick, “because at the end of the day you are just two voices talking through a wooden table. Instead of making the most of it, you’re blaming each other for something that happened centuries ago. Newsflash: You are both responsible for it. Mesobaite for kissing up to the Europeans, and Dizahab for going to war til judgement day. ”
“And you expect us to listen to you? Some coffee drinker who likes to write?” Dizahab laughs bitterly. “You mortals are so humorous.”
“I thought age brought wisdom? Hah!” I laugh and zips up my bag. If I run, I may be able to make it to class with two minutes to spare.
“No, Dizahab,” Mesobaite retorted, “Despite lingering anger and bitterness, I can’t deny that she is right.”
I stand up and stretch my arms and legs. Joys of sitting too long. ” Whatever. I bet the moment I leave you will be back to your old ways of arguing from dawn til dusk. Guess war is war, regardless of if it’s fought in a field, trenches, at sea, or in a table at a coffee shop. Though I should thank you two: my story will give the readers a good laugh, I’m sure.”
“How dare you!” Dizahab’s shout makes me smirk. “I’m not some side show comedy for you to perform all over the internet! I command you to delete that story or I’ll… or I’ll… ”
I smirk and shrug my shoulders. “Make Mesobaite’s life miserable? Okay, whatever you say.”
“No! I will not have this,” she shouts back, ” The internet shouldn’t laugh, but celebrate a woman’s rise to power, and putting a man back in his place. They’ll see you as the oppressor, Mesobaite. Good- You are the oppressor!”
“What makes you say that?” I look down at my chair and continue my thought, “You both fucked up during history and are both the reason I’m talking to a table.”
“This will stretch your imagination,” Dizahab speaks, “But if you write stories then your imagination should get stretched. Mesobaite and I are 1000 years old. We were good friends at one point, and our magic was unrivaled. Then unwanted Europeans came to Canada, along with their wizards who couldn’t keep to their own territory! He embraced oppressors . Is that not right, Mesobaite?”
I hear a sigh from him. A different kind of sigh. A sigh that comes from people who are lonely. Very lonely. No, worse than very lonely. It is the lonely sigh that comes from someone who has had to live with their own guilt. The sigh that people give I think it is a sigh that comes when you’ve been alone for so long and listening to people who blame it on you. Tentatively, I pat the table and state, “Mesobaite, no need to be this sad. You wanted peace; that counts for something. . ”
“Do my motives really matter??”
“To a writer, yes it does! Motivations are what ensure a story gets going until it comes out at the end! Your motivations matter, Mesobaite. Same with Dizahab’s. If I didn’t understand her motivations, I couldn’t ensure her character acted in tune with them, and you’d just be blank and wooden characters that just does what my plot needs them to. Can’t have that in my story.”
Mesobaite laughs with a sound that goes beyond bitterness, like his sigh went beyond sad and lonely. “There are no holes here, really, beyond the hole that was my life over the last 200 years. And the knowledge my attempt at peace has always been made with the wrong person, or people. Foresight is not one of my abilities, and I was too arrogant to listen to her seers. Now our people are gone, many of our beautiful descendants are murdered and missing, and many of the Americas’ original inhabitants have lost their way. It’s all because of me…”
“I told you!” Dizahab shouts back and I jump back in shock, “I told you! And I told you: Those witches from Europe and Asian were clouding their abilities! They knew what the Europeans would become; they knew and instead of warning us they hid it and then watched as all our people burned!!! Yet did you believe? No, course not. I should’ve murdered you with the death curse the moment I met you 1000s of years ago. ”
There is silent between the two. Then I hear weeping. I think the weeps come from Mesobaite! Huffs are coming from Dizahab. It’s time for me to go- I’ll barely make it to my class on time! I prefer to get there with five minutes to spare… Yet can I just leave these two here?
“Mesobaite, don’t let her get to you. You’re just one dude. How in the hell can it all be on you? What, Dizahab, are you that stupid and tiny that you can’t see the forest for the trees? Now, I need to head to my class. Please give me my hearing back. If you do so, I will be back.”
Finally, I hear the conversations return and I smile. I go to head out the door, and walk back to school. When I’m nearly there I hear a male voice: “Thank you for that.”
“How can I hear you, I’m down the street?”
“Well… I did have one bit of magic back,” he answered, “that Dizahab didn’t know about. I just didn’t want to use it until I met someone who tried to be kind to me. I used it. Now here we are.”
I widen my eyes and blink. “Here we are,” is my thoughtful answer back and I walk into the meeting, “Alright, I guess you can stay. Just don’t you speak during the meeting now, alright? I can’t listen to a wizard and my instructor at the same time.”
“Of course, of course. Your thoughts are pleasant to listen to, anyway, much better than hers.”
A wizard in my mind? Watching everything I see and do? Commenting? Now that would be an interesting story… I rush to the coffee shop near home when my class is done so I can get the all the ideas down. This is too golden an opportunity to pass up.
“You’re right,” Dizahab speaks up, “this is too golden of an opportunity to pass up…”