The coffee beans fall into the spinning grinder, they give a small scream as they’re ground into powder. I use this blunt instrument to flatten it as hard as I can. Put it into the coffee machine.
Two men enter, one with a cap covering his face, the other with a face that could've done with a cap covering his face. I Stop making the latte. They put their backs to the counter, start whispering to each other, shoulders touching the space below, filled with the passing of notes. Money.
The larger of the two asks for a pie and mash. “What kind of Pie?” “A meat one.” “There are ten types of pie that have meat in them” “And a beer”
I turn my back to pour the pint. The shorter of the two asks me, in an irish accent, how much I make in a year. I turn back. “I don't know. It's my first day. Haven't even seen the contract yet”
Eye contact. Eye contact.
Taller hands me a twenty, takes the place and goes to his table. Irish asks for a pie.
“No wait. I want a. No wait. I want a. I want a drink” We walk along the counter to a row of ciders. “What's good?” “They had this one at the first Glastonbury festival” “It is good?”
“It's, four pounds”
He sticks his hand across the counter, palm open. I hand him the cider. His teeth lock, bubbles rise, cap falls to the floor. Necks it. Nods. “Yeah. I'll have that” “Pie with everything plus the cider, thirteen pounds please” He puts his elbows on the counter, takes out a wad of fifties and shuffles through them, deliberates- hands me the one he doesn't mind parting with. I hold it delicately, look at how red it is, stroke-
“I've never held a fifty pound note before”
Irish leans back, as his heels touches the ground he smiles. “So you're telling me, the first person to ever give you a fifty pound note is an Irishman?”
“Well, I'm not Irish, but my name's Irish. Sean Mahoney The only time people have ever thought I was Irish was when I was boxing.” His heels leave the ground. Eyebrows raise. “Boxing?” He takes a swig of the cider- starts pacing up and down the counter- and begins an inquisition.
“Did you ever fight?” “How many fights?” “How many did you win?” “Any competitions?”
He nods to every answer, walking up and down; yeah, yeah. yeah.
He swivels on the ball of his left foot, facing me and points to a scar the stretches from his temple to forehead. “See this?” Taller shouts from his table- his pie is nearly finished. “See this?
“I got hit in the head. I got hit in the head with a pipe. That's why I can't box anymore”
“Yeah. I used to box. Can't anymore. Cos I got hit in the head. With a pipe. I was doing building work. And I got hit in the head, with a pipe. So I can't box anymore”
He slowly lowers the finger from his head like people do in films when they're talked into lowering their gun. It’s not enough. He carries on. “You still box?” “No” “Why?”
Never in my life have I wanted a scar more than I do now. I tell him my dad kind of got me into it, that for a while it was more his thing than mine. But I did get into it and. I really loved it. More than anything.
“Did your dad used to be a boxer then?” “No. He's a, Writer”
He looks at me like I’ve stolen his cider, trying to figure out if I’m a liar. And I suddenly feel closer to the Latte side of the counter than I do the pies- I turn to the till. Fifty in hand. There are three buttons that have notes on the screen. A fiver, a tenner, and a twenty. My fingers hover over which one.
“There an issue here?” My manager pops up, takes the note from me, grabs a yellow pen, scribbles on it, puts it back on the counter, points. “This note's a fake”
Manager points at the yellow scribble and says- “it’s a fake”
Irish points at the yellow scribble and says the ink is still there, so it isn't a fake
manager says because it is there- it is fake. This goes back and forth till the manager says
they don't take fifties anyway.
Irish digs into pockets, bottoms of pockets bottom pockets and bottoms of bottom pockets to put on the counter four pounds fifty in shrapnel. Short by eight pounds fifty. Irish rolls his shoulders back and the anger leaves his face as he gears himself up for another form of expression.
His mate at the back is smiling, pie finished, with arms crossed.
manager looks at Irish as if he doesn't know what the scar is for.
“The gravy is already on the pie, just eat it now and we'll deal with it later”
The vacant stare is turned on me. A stare that doesn't try to gain advantage by intimidation but by assessing weight and shape. Eye contact. Eye contact. I hand him the plate and he sits next to his mate, who’s laughing.
Manager says I should really watch out and that we don't take fifties when they're fifties from people who don't look like they should be having fifties. Plus there's an estate down the road so, you know. Use your judgement.
I keep my eye on Irish while I'm being talked to. I ask the if the fifty is fake. Manager says “yes” followed by, “probably”
Manager leaves .I try again on the latte. Froth then repeat. Froth then repeat Froth then repeat.Turn the steam knob off. Take the metal jug and bang, swivel, bang, swivel. make the milk look like silk and pour pour pour and it's shit. pour it down the sink.
I look up, Irish and his friend have gone. Pies eaten, half a pint of the cider still on the table. It's dark blue outside. the time between after sunset and lampposts turning on, the time of night I'd be on my way to boxing. Throwing punches now feels alien.
I have to shadow box in my room just to remind myself I used to do it. That I did it. Every day. But on the days I make shitty Latte’s those days can feel so far away.
Manager enters, looks at the plates.Nods. Looks at me. And then (raises his arms) with a “typical” face. and then his face changes.
Irish stands at the entrance. Walks towards the manager. Manager is frozen. Irish takes the bottle, swigs it in front of him, walks to the counter. Puts his right hand in his jacket pocket takes out a twenty pound note, raises it in the air. Puts it on the counter, looks at me. Gives me a wink, and leaves.