He Waits by Cath Barton

He’s written it down for them. Taken a seat. To wait his turn. He’s been polite. As always. He’s asked about a cup of coffee. Enquired, politely, if it would be possible.

He coughs. Could there possibly be –?

A cup of coffee? The supercilious laughter upset him. It was a perfectly polite request. From a man who has taken the trouble to put on a jacket and tie. It wasn’t a demand.

Could I please ask?

Could you please ask? The raised eyebrows. The muttered – What now? What does he think this is, a flaming cafe? Which they probably thought he couldn’t hear. Which he could. Perfectly. After which he sat down again. To wait. As they had requested. Not very politely.

He can hear them back there. A deep voice. Others. A high-pitched one amongst them. A girl, by the sounds of it. Giggling. Mocking him, he thinks.

This won’t do. It will not. Do.

Presses his hands firmly on his thighs now. Pushes down. Shoulders forward and up he gets. Smooths down his jacket. It’s his second-best. A discrete dog-tooth check. Worn with a brown tie. (It seemed appropriate: this is a duty, not a pleasure.)

He’s up at the counter. The sergeant has his back to him. On the phone. Get off the phone! He taps the counter.

Excuse me. He coughs. Excuse me (louder). Get off the fucking phone! No, he doesn’t swear. Never swears (except in his head).

The girl has come up behind the sergeant. Look at her. She’s that close to him – is she really a policewoman? Hair tied back with ribbon. Red ribbon. Red nail varnish too, he wouldn’t mind betting. Look at what she’s doing: touching the man, stroking his arm, fondling his genitals now it looks like, judging by how her arm is moving up and down, it’s difficult to see, there’s a filing cabinet in the way, but no matter, a so-called officer of the law carrying on, carrying on like that in full view of him, him, a member of the public reporting a crime.

He could report her. Isn’t responding to people carrying out their civic duty more important than sexual gratification at ten o’clock in the morning? What the–?

Sweating now. It’s so bloody hot. In this (his second-best) jacket. Why did he think it was a good idea to wear a tie? For all the notice they take. Stop it. It was a suitable choice. It sodding was.

Excuse me. You bastards.

Coughs more loudly this time. The girl has gone. The sergeant has gone. He bangs the counter. Sits down again. Loosens his tie.

Perhaps they’ve gone off duty. Fucking hell!

He stands. Looks around. There’s no-one else there. No-one. At all.

He sits.

He coughs.

Cath Barton is an English writer living in Wales. She is the author of two novellas: The Plankton Collector (2018, New Welsh Review) and Inthe Sweep of the Bay (2020, Louise Walters Books). Read more about her writing on her website cathbarton.com. She tweets as @CathBarton1

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