THE IMPORTANCE OF NAPKINS
You’re having coffee, a kid is crying somewhere, there’s heavy traffic outside the café. Someone is shouting abuse at their ex on their phone and suddenly you have a brilliant idea for a story. You have a pen, borrowed from the reluctant lady at the next table. You scribble it down on the napkin. It’s amazing, wonderful and finally you get home and turn out your pocket and all it says is … ‘Grumpy Boy Meets Shining Girl’.
You add it to the pile of other ‘brilliant’ ideas written on napkins. One day you tell yourself I will get out those napkins and find that story.
Years later. It’s raining. You have writer's block. It’s time for desperate measures. You discover the long neglected shoe box with the napkins in them. Some with coffee stains, some you can’t read at all and then there is one with a Shell logo on it. It says ‘It was the kind of place where you wouldn’t want to be and yet for some reason can never escape.’ It sparks a memory.
You were driving your Citroen 2CV. You stopped for petrol and a cold coke on the baking hot Cape Town to Joburg highway N1. You had to rush inside as a swarm of locusts swept in and began to eat everything. You drank a warm cola as you watched the windows get slimed. You started to talk to a cute girl who was doodling with sugar on the nearby table, hiding behind her blonde hair to avoid seeing the insects swarming outside.
You remember writing on a coffee stained napkin and wonder why you never got around to writing that story.
The back of the napkin tells the rest of the story. A lipstick kiss. She was going South. You were going North. She couldn’t stay, was desperate to get to some event that she thought would change her life. She had a bright happy smile. You remember the small scar on her cheek from a careless firework thrown when she was a kid. She wore red Converse shoes and her laugh was infectious. She wound her hair into a bun as you talked. You can’t remember her name. It might have been Mimi. She squealed with horror at the door, hated the way the locusts crunched underfoot when she finally got to her beat-up Mini. It took you forever to clean her windows free of slime. She gave you her phone number. ‘But if my mother answers, hang up.’ She added ominously.
So the story begins. A boy meets a girl at a lonely gas station in the desert as a locust storm approaches. They talk, they fall in love, they promise to meet, they never see each other again. All that is left of a brief romance is this lipstick kiss on a Shell gas station napkin.
The sadness of napkins can never be underestimated.
© Sam Hawksmoor 2020
Sam Hawksmoor fiction
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