Short story

LE CAFE MAN

 

            It was very unusual for Silver to be so skittish. Carly tightly gripped his reins and calmed him by softly rubbing his velvety nose. She put her arm around his neck and he settled for a short time. A twig suddenly snapped and Silver jerked his head away from Carly, lifting her from the leaf-covered ground his hind leg muscles knotting and rippling. Under the trees at Woodhill Forest his coat was dappled by moving shadows. With every jerk of his body, Silver’s polished leather bridle with shining studs rattled. His brightly shining stirrups swung like pendulums beside his freshly washed white coat.

            Carly shortened the reins and tugged Silver so that he stood beside her. Feeling his familiar closeness, she leaned against him and until his anxious breathing relaxed. She had ridden to many pony club events and won many prizes. For the moment she flicked to a memory of them at the nationals she sitting triumphantly on him, as she received her prize. Carly ran her hand gently down his side and soothingly said, “There, there Silver…no need to be jumpy. You’re used to these.”

 

 Her blue eyes wandered around the film set and settled on the man sitting on a tree trunk, nonchalantly smoking. She bit the inside of her tanned and freckled cheek and her short brown pony-tail bobbed. Although he was her father, she had not agreed to this film shoot but Wayne, her father had over-ruled her. This made her very angry.

 

“He can earn his keep for a change,” her father had rumbled when she objected to her father exploiting her beloved horse for commercial gain.

Just a short distance away, marketing executive for Angles Advertising Agency, Shelly stood beside Jen, the director and they were intently examining the script. Although they were in the middle of Woodhill Forest Jen wore black high heels, tights and a very short skirt, a frilly, white blouse and her long blonde hair loose. The wind kept whipping it across her face and she kept pushing it away from her hazel eyes with slender fingers. Shelly was more sensibly dressed with snugly fitting jeans, boots, tee shirt and jacket.

“See, it says it here, ‘Le Café man has to be sitting beside a real camp fire,” Shelly said, stabbing the word with her forefinger. "Real," she repeated emaphatically.

 Jen looked across to Wayne, who pretended he knew absolutely nothing of the dilemma presented by shooting an advertisement in a forest using a real fire.

 

Earlier that week Mack, the sound man had said they would never be allowed to shoot the commercial and Wayne had airily replied, dismissively waving his hand, “Let the girls work it out. I pay them to sort my problems out.”

Mack had shot him a sly grin because he knew that sorting out locations was not all he paid Jen for. She was also the recipient of expensive wine and piquant dinners at high-class venues. Wayne had responded with a chuckle and a wink.

“I bet Mum would never agree to you using her horse in your advertisement.”

Jen looked up sharply and shot a quick glance to Wayne who shook his head slightly to tell her she had nothing to worry about. She was, without doubt the most important woman in his life.

“You leave your mother out of this,” Wayne growled. “He might be her horse but I pay his damned bills and cart him around the country every weekend.”

 

And he was right the girls, Jen mainly, had sorted the location problem out by calling up a favour with the local Council’s protection agency. They had a man with a back pack of water on standby should anything get out of control. They had emphasised the fire had to be very small and Jen had been adamant in her fervent assurance that she would make sure it was.

 

So with all the permissions in place they had trooped out to Woodhill Forest. Wayne was looking forward to a day away from the office and to getting back to the craft that got him into the business – acting. That he was also saving on budget was a plus. So there he was, reminiscing about his glory days and wearing fashionable jeans, tasselled jacket over a red and white checked shirt and black hair smoothed in shiny waves away from his tanned forehead. He languidly rested his well toned body on a raised trunk of a tree and waited for someone to build. His job was to drink Le Café Coffee as only Le Café Man would….coolly oozing testosterone.

 

He lazily lit a cigarette and blew smoke rings into the air. As he leaned back he watched the smoke rings curl and break up through half closed amused eyes. From the corners of his brown eyes he could see Jen observing him.  She gestured for him to put out the cigarette. He took one last puff then stubbed it out in the sandy soil. He leaned back against the tree trunk and crossed his jean clad legs at the ankles. 

Shelly gave a dramatic shudder. ‘I don’t know what you see in him,’ she said. "He just thinks he's god's gift..."

Jen smiled as she let her eyes rest on Wayne, long and lovingly. "He’s great."

“And married.”

Jen carelessly tossed her head making her blonde hair fly about her face. She plucked a few thin strands from her lips where they had stuck to her bright red lipstick.

“He’s leaving her.”

“They all say that. He's also twice your age. He'll be hobbling about with a walking frame and picking you up from night clubs.”

Jen laughed out loud and cuffed Shelly, who pretended she had hurt her by rubbing the spot vigorously. “He will. You wait.”

 

Carly intercepted an intimate look between Wayne and Jen. At ten she was old enough to understand what that look meant and she groaned out loud.

"Not again Dad."

Wayne raised his shoulders innocently. "What?"

"You know what I mean. Mum will be really mad."

Jen looked up sharply from the form she was filling in. Wayne stood with his hands on his hips. "There is nothing for her to be mad at."

Jen marched over to him and stood in front of him with hands firmly on her hips. "And what do you mean by that comment...she deserves to know about us, especially since you're moving in."

"No Dad, you can't."

"Yes, he can," Jen retorted.

"Shut up the lot of you!" Wayne shouted. He held his hands out to his daughter then to his lover, pleading. "I truly can explain."

"I don't think so," Carly stormed as she gathered up Silver's reins. “Find your own stupid horse,” she yelled behind her as she urged Silver on with a kick from her leather riding boots.

“Dammit!” he helplessly watched their main prop disappear over a hill covered in purple lupins.

Wayne pulled out his mobile phone and stabbed at the keyboard with his big knuckled fingers.

His wife answered.

“Your daughter’s behaving like a spoilt brat. When she gets home tell her to get back here immediately.” He took a deep breath “And don’t believe anything she says. She’s imagining things.”

 

Shelly sidled up to Mack and whispered. “This’d make a great radio play. Hope you’re recording it.”

They giggled.

Wayne slumped down on his trunk and sat with his chin in his cupped hands.

“Why did you have to say that?” he asked Jen.

“Well, it’s true,” she said huffily. “She had to know at some point.”

Shelly’s eyes narrowed as she saw the denial flicker in Wayne’s eyes. He was never going to leave his wife, she decided.

“Look,” Wayne said changing the subject abruptly. “Let’s just do the shoot and get a horse added using computer graphics.”

“Oh we might as well do the same for the fire,” Jen added sulkily.

“Yes, let’s.”

Smiling Shelly added, “And why not add the Le Café man using computer graphics as well.”

Mack laughed and Jen allowed a smile to flicker over her lips.

Wayne scowled.

“Get on with it,” he said adopting the pose of Le Café man holding the mug of coffee.

The pose showed off his broad shoulders beneath the black and checked shirt reminding her of Clint Eastwood. He lit another cigarette and winced as the smoked curled into his brooding eyes.

The sound of hooves beating on the loamy ground made them all look up. Carly was returning with Silver. When they stopped, she slouched in the saddle and pouted.

“Mum said I had to come back.”

Shelly was, by now becoming impatient with the delays. “We are going to get this photoshoot out of the way before the sun goes down if it kills me.”

The air was already chilly, despite the sun flickering variable patches of light through the shifting trees.

Le Café Man took up his pose. The props person set up a small fire and then poured some coffee from a flask into a mug then handed it to Wayne, who took it.

“Get of the horse, Carly,” Jen snapped, every muscle tense and full of resentment toward the bearer of a truth she wanted to ignore but knew she could not.

There was no doubting the way Wayne’s eyes kept sliding away from hers whenever she looked to him for reassurance their relationship continued to be strong.     

The little fire added a cheerfulness that no-one felt as they stonily went about their work.

The props person put the stand over the fire then looped the billy handle over the arm that rested in the two upright forks.

He stood back and admired his work, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

“Looks pretty good.” He looked at Jen who was talking to the camera operator. “I thought we could have saved ourselves this bother by adding it in post.”

“No, I was after authenticity here,” Jen snapped sending Wayne a sharp angry look…. “Make up for the lack of it in other places.”

 

Overhearing, Wayne laughed and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees so that the tassels of his cowboy jacket draped over his legs. He took a long drag on his cigarette and flicked the butt in the direction of Silver. The horse jumped away, his hindquarters rising in small buck.

Carly yelled. “Dad, you can’t do that to Silver.” She soothed the animal with strokes along his neck. Silver pulled away, his nostrils flaring and his hooves kicking up the sandy ground.

Smoke rose from where the butt had landed.

“You better watch or you’ll set the forest on fire,” Shelly stamped at the flames with her Birkenstocks.

 

Shelly shot a quick look at Jen whose eyes had lowered in a quick scowl. Shelly felt a pang of pity and put an arm around her.

“He’s not worth it Jen. Truly.”

Quick tears filled Jen’s eyes. “Maybe,” she sniffed.

Silver’s nostrils flared as he blew out of them, sending out a grumbly riff. To hide her tears, Jen ran her hands over the black blaze between Silver’s eyes. As if sensing she needed comforting Silver muzzled into Jen, his eyes half closing and head nodding. Shelly glowered at Wayne.

 

As if sensing Jen’s eyes on him, Wayne looked up and was shocked by their chilliness. He looked away, pinching his lips together and lighting a cigarette.

Shelly gently stroked Jen's arm. She had tried to warn her. However, Wayne had waved his credit card and that was all it took to get her where he wanted her.

Shelly shook her finger at Wayne.

“You know smoking is forbidden in here, Wayne.” As if he had not heard her, Wayne sucked on his cigarette and blew the smoke out towards her. Shelly turned to Jen. “I don’t know how you could stand being kissed by that breath, anyway.”

“I won’t be any more.”

She hugged herself miserably.

Shelly patted Jen on the shoulder.

"He's not worth it."

Jen covered her face with her hand and looked away. He might not be worth it but her heart was still breaking. She just wanted to get away.

 

Mack stood and stretched, groaning.

He loudly sucked in air and blew it out, “My dad died of lung cancer,” he announced.

"God," Wayne snorted as he impatiently flicked his butt into the sand and screwed it in with the heel of his boot.

“Yeah, well it sounded pretty awful when he was gasping for air too.”

He carefully hooked the microphone under Wayne’s shirt.

“Sound of Dad’s rattling lungs…never forget that…bloody terrible,” he said.

Wayne’s handsome face tightly screwed up and a curl fell over his forehead.

“You sound like the some dark prophet of doom. Shut up!” Wayne shouted.

The breeze gently tugged at Max’s denim three quarter pants and goose bumps formed on the skin that showed. His Nike’s made little dust storms as he shifted in the dirt and held the microphone to Wayne’s chest. As if in terrible pain, he scrunched his body up. ‘I can hear your lungs begging, please, fresh air….give me more fresh air.”

"Who the hell is this guy?"

"The best in the business."

"Yep, I know but he’s also a preachy little bugger."

His sarcasm churned the air.

 

Wayne settled into position against the tree.

Jen pointed to Paul, the camera operator. ‘Frame up on a close up of the fire then widen out to a two shot, horse and Wayne.’

Wayne lazily stretched.

‘You know what Shelly it’d be great if I could drink real coffee,’ he looked at the jar set beside the fire. ‘Not that instant muck. Give me the real thing any day.’

A set assistant added some dry grass to the fire and dark smoke spiralled up through the trees.

“It is the real thing,” Shelly retorted. “The Le Café real thing so ham it up…you’re the actor.” Silver tossed his head and snorted. Wayne shot the horse a venomous glare. ‘And I hate him….’ Silver stomped his foot as if he understood. ‘Smelly bloody thing.’

Silver neighed loudly, shook his mane and stamped his hoof again.

“Hey you, shut up about Silver,” Carly shouted stroking the horse’s neck and resting her head on it. “He’s handsomer than you.”

Wayne shook his finger at her. “You watch it young lady.”

 “I think she’s right,” Shelly said.

Jen had drifted off with her phone to her ear. She was in an intense conversation with someone.

It was some time before she came back.

“You do know who pays your salary?” he growled.

Jen shrugged. “At the moment, I couldn’t care less.”

She took up her position beside the camera operator. Wayne scowled at her back. Curls of smoke drifted upward. The breeze caught the smoke and fanned it over Wayne who started to cough.

“Bring Silver over,” Jen called.

Carly positioned Silver just behind Wayne.

Wayne screwed up his nose.

‘Yep, perfect,’ Jen said. ‘Hold him there.’

Silver shook his mane and his bridled jangled. Wayne flinched away as if afraid he could be hit by a loose piece of leather or metal.

“Dad you’re such a whimp.” Carly mocked.

The camera operator settled his eye over the view finder and waited...

‘Come on Wayne get into character.’

Silver’s tail whipped across Wayne’s face. “Jesus, that hurt.”

The make up artist raced over with her kit and smeared foundation over his cheek where premature red veins had begun to show his age.

Silver turned and settled with his back hoof up, resting.

Carly gave a derisive laugh. ‘You know Silver never kicks.’

A frown perched on Jen’s forehead, sending tracks from one eyebrow to the other and she tugged at her pony tail so that it bounced of her shoulders.

She pointed at the fire with its flickering flames. ‘That’ll be out before we’ve got a thing done. Grow up Wayne and bloody behave like an adult.”

Jen was furious. Over the last hour she had begun to realise what a fool Wayne had her for. She wanted to go up and kick him but knew that was unwise.

Subdued by her tone everyone settled into place. Carly led Silver back to position and the props manager handed Wayne a cup of coffee. He took a sip in exaggerated slow motion, then cupping his hands around the mug looked into the camera.

“Silence.” Everything became still. ‘Roll camera and cue action,’ Jen called

“When a man is out in the rough country, bringing in the sheep…”

The sound of Silver rattling his bridle drowned out Wayne’s next words.

“Carly, shut that animal up will you.”

“Cut,” Jen shouted, exasperated.

The lash of Silver’s tail flicking at a fly rode under Jen’s mumbling.

Of his own volition Silver moved into shot and rested his muzzle on Wayne’s shoulder.

Wayne jerked away spilling coffee over his front and making him leap to his feet holding his jeans away from him. Silver bounded away sending cascades of mud flying through the air. “Dad, he’s an expensive horse you know,’ she screamed racing after the disappearing Silver.

‘So are my family jewels,’ Wayne snapped.

Shelly was desperate.

‘Can’t you guys get it together,’ she screamed.

The fire had gone out and the props assistant was re-setting it. Carly returned, holding Silver by his reins and stroking his neck. Silver’s nostrils flared as she led him back into position. Carly gave Silver a handful of feed.

“Put a sedative in it,” Wayne suggested.

“Dad, Carly admonished.

Shelly whispered to Jen. “I think he needs the sedative.”

As he got closer to Wayne, Silver planted his hooves in the ground.

‘Come on Silver.’

Carly’s voice was strained and impatient as she hauled the horse into place. Wayne tightened his belt around his clean jeans and sat again. After much coaxing Carly settled Silver and it looked as though shooting could resume.

 

Wayne nursed a mug of coffee and the billy was on the fire just in front of him. A cloud came over the sun and the camera operators ran about adjusting lights. Behind them the generator hummed. But Silver was still jittery. So was Wayne. Every time the horse got closer he tensed and if he twitched the horse leapt away, eyes wild. Wayne became very still. The set became still. The fire cracked into the silence., little spats of sound.

‘Roll camera,’ Jen called.

Wayne looked off to the side, his eyes narrowed and thoughtful.

‘When a man is out in rough country, bringing in the cattle after a long hard winter….’

A wind machine howled and hoses poured rain. Wayne took a long drink from his tin mug.

“….a man needs a great cup of coffee.’

‘Cut.’

‘Thank God,’ Shelly cried, her frustration coming out in one spurting expletive.

Wayne spat the coffee out onto the ground. At the sound of the liquid hitting the soil, Silver leapt away.

“Jesus, get that animal out of my sight,” Wayne growled.

Shelly kicked the fire dead with her boots and the firemen ensured no sparks remained.

With coldly deliberate strides Jen walked up to Wayne and flung a piece of paper at him.

“This is my resignation, to take effect from today. I’ve been offered a job with Hutchins Films and I’ve accepted it.”

Wayne’s mouth dropped open.

 

The sun was out again but the wind was buffeting the trees, making them cast odd shadows over the set. As they packed up a woman’s form ducked around the trees, first shadow, then an outline then a recognisable form. Carly leaned into Silver and watched her progress. Shelly was replacing her birkenstocks with high heels. Jen was making sure the area was as they had found it.

Wayne, still sitting on the tree trunk, fixed alarmed eyes on the woman as if she was an apparition. The bulging black bag she carried added to the impression. Her blonde streaked black hair flew wildly from under the hood of her black jacket.

Wayne started to stand.

“No, you just stay right there," she ordered. Her eyes wildly taking in the scene. Wayne obediently sat, his eyes fixed on her.

She lifted the bag. Horse dung tumbled over him leaving behind bits clinging to his hair and clothes. Wayne brushed at his jacket, his face screwed up in disgust,

“I know all about your various horses." She faced Jen and sneered. "You think I don't know.” She flung a piece of dung at Jen who dodged the missile. "You're welcome to him."

“I don’t want him,” Jen replied.

"Well, that's sensible,' the woman muttered then sneered at Wayne. "Looks like you're on your own buddy." She gave a half smile then caught Shelly's eye. They gave each other the thumbs up.

Wayne saw. "Hey, what's going on?" he demanded.

No-one answered. Silver flicked his head.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

It is truly amazing how you can jump from one character to another without loosing the narrative of the story. Can I say I want more?

Thanks Sumanda. I'm glad you felt I maintained the storyline thread while jumping between characters. That was a challenge.

Do you want more of Le Cafe man or more of the story (:

Thumbs up. A nice 'tidy' story. It's always a challenge to write about relationships when writing a short. It's hard to produce a 3D character but here I can see the characters and get a strong feeling regards individual mentality, attitudes and little naunces. Have posted on web site. 

Cheers Ray. It is not one of my best but I'm glad the characters stand up and the nuances come through. Appreciate you taking the time to leave a note.