She surveyed the inside of the coffee house from the barista line. The informer assured her Simeon would be there, his morning coffee ritual, tucked invisibly in the corner, the only remnant of his former life. She located him easily, hunched over the table, a grey hoodie covering his head, back to the world,
“Which table?’ the barista asked, itching the side of a hooked nose, just above the silver piercing. His LED name badge said “Mickey”.
“The one right up the back. Up there on the right.”
“With Simeon?” he asked, dark brows colliding.
“I’m his sister.”
“Ahhh.” He tapped the table number into system.
“Is he always alone?”
The barista nodded and scanned the back of her hand, knocking a black finger nail against a crooked front tooth, while the system recognised the chip and transfered payment for the short black.
“All good,” barista said and looked around her to the next customer.
She untied the long red trench coat and moved slowly through the swarm of coffee drinkers and conversation, taking in the kaleidoscope of faces and body language as she did. When she arrived at Simeon’s table, she silently slipped into the bench seat opposite. He didn’t look up, his finger tapping the tablet, transforming the screen into an ever quickening blur of text and images.
Was he trying to out run the lead story of the hour?
He ignored her and kept tapping the screen. Her small, cool hand covered his and the frenetic movement stilled. They sat there like that, the café bustling around them, his untouched latté growing cold and oily between them.
“Mandatory Government testing…” he finally said, tremors starting in his shoulders and moving with insidious grace through his entire body, his pale blue eyes a slick of unshed tears.
“They don’t understand, Charlie. The act of testing alters the result. Shrodingers Cat,” he choked on the words and Charlie quietly observed his battle with the rising tide of grief. “Nat didn’t commit suicide. She was happy, she had the world at her feet, she… we…” he bowed his head, the tears falling like fat rain drops preceding a summer thunderstorm on the faux marble table top
A waitress placed the single shot of coffee in front of Charlie and melted into the background without a word.
Charlie pulled the tablet free from under Simeon’s hand, slid it across the tiny table separating them and placed it on the cushion beside her.
“It’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy, Simeon. It’s science.”
“How the hell do you know?” He bore his knuckles into his eyes, grinding away and Charlie wondered if he was trying to erase the lead pencil mistake which was Nat’s death. “She wasn’t suicidal.”
“Her work was stolen. Distorted. Commericalised. How do you think that made her feel?”
“Someone killed her and made it look like suicide.”
“You’re in denial.”
“The only thing I’m in denial about is how any of this is inevitable, like everyone thinks. A natural progression. Advancement. Bull shit!”
“Society sees something novel and shiny, a new piece of technology and thinks it is progress. The rich have access to it. Everyone lusts for it it. They lobby the Government for democratisation of it. The company sees an eternal stretch of profits if the Government takes it up… just like vaccines. Some bean counter in Treasury teams up with some bleeding heart on the front bench and next thing everyone has subsidised access to it. Win-win. Especially when it assures the Government will be returned in the next election.”
“No one wins. This wasn’t how Nat wanted her research used.”
“You think Einstein wanted the atom bomb or Simon Binet the IQ test?”
“This Test changes everything.”
“And the atom bomb didn’t. For Christ’s sake, Simeon.” She took the glass, blew into the contents and knock it back in one go. A tear ran down his flushed cheek. “She tested you, didn’t she?”
He looked away.
“You can tell me.”
“I don’t believe it. It’s not how I’m going to die.”
She squeezed his hand tighter. “It won’t be such a burden if you share it.” He pulled his hand free and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You’re not doing anyone any favours being like this. I want you to come and meet some friends. People who think Nat’s work was important as well. I think it will help you.”
“I’m not a fucking extremist.”
“I – ”
“Isn’t it enough I lost Nat?”
“You won’t like me for saying this, but…” she turned the minature cup on the carousel of the white saucer. “Have you considered if she was still alive, you wouldn’t be in this position. She’d be here to fight for her work.”
Simeon pushed his chair back, the screech of metal on tiles slicing through the buzz of voices, ending in an explosion of glass and ceramics when he collided with a waitress. He muttered an apology and hurtled around the tables, disappeared out the door and into the swelling pre-lunch crowd.
Charlie sighed and sat back, sinking into the worn velveteen cushions at her back. Several people stared at her and she forced colour to rise in her cheeks, tucked the new tablet into her satchel and walked out.
Several doors from the coffee house, she stepped into the door way of a formal hire shop and pressed her finger into the hollow where the line of her cheek boned met the top of her ear.
“Agent eleven-dash-eight,” she said, when the dull resonance in her skull settled and breathing was audible in her head. “Assignment complete. Test 132a is a success.”
Written as background exploration for a story I’m in the throes of writing, compliments of the [fiction] Friday prompt #212: “Your character is sick with sadness”.