Christmas morning always smelled of pine trees and new clothes, and it’s strange how April in the southern hemisphere reminds me of those days. The weather turned from summer to autumn on Monday morning, and with it comes a shift in wardrobe and attitude. I opened the front door and it didn’t stick in the jamb as it has since late December. The air had dried up overnight, the winds picked up, and there won’t be any sailing in the harbour until the door sticks again, right around Christmas.
I stepped out on the porch and the air wasn’t crisp yet, but the weight of summer mornings had lifted. A few folding beach chairs will need to be stored, but the boy will keep riding his bike through the cold and the rain to come. He’s too tough and young to be fussed. I’ll pull my hat down low and turn up my collar while I watch him at the skate park, inventing new tricks in the rain and puddles and mud and muck, earth caked on his shoes and in his pedals. He’ll stop at nothing. I’ll be bundled and squinting on the sidelines. It’ll be our last season like this, before he starts school and I lose my job.
Even if they didn’t have incandescent lighting, Imperial Lane Café would be the best downtown. It’s a space between two buildings, bricks and concrete and plaster exposed, unfinished. Used to be a warehouse. The ceiling is black steel I-beams and a lighting rig and a heater that runs to the firehouse doors that open to Fort Street, a few tables spilling out among the delivery trucks and refrigeration units of the adjacent towers. The acoustics should be atrocious, but the interior shape is just right to transform talk-waves into a din at arm’s length. The gentlemen next to me chat, animated, serious, and I can’t make out a word. I can work in din like this, enjoy it to the point that I invite it, blend into it.
Electric wires in grey flex conduit power refurbished green-rusted iron task lamps. I adjust one over the leather wing-back chair and settle into the filamental glow. Lacquered steel side chairs and round brass coffee tables dot the interior. Mid morning and they are full of power brokers and artists and tourists, some meeting, some mingling, some laying back unnoticed.
Much of the clientele are dressed business formal, on break from the office tower attached. The servers and baristas are in casual black. I am in casual black, writing in a black notebook with a black pen, drinking a black coffee. It is autumn for sure.
The floor slopes toward Fort Street and the stools at the counter rise higher and higher to accommodate the angle, all level at the communal bench covered in design and fashion magazines. The manager sits at the bench with a laptop, clicking, and a notebook, scribbling, monitoring sales and inventory while workers work around him. A delivery truck honks through the alley, scattering pedestrians, and its brakes squeal as it stops, and the steel doors swing open and clang against the sides of the truck, and the man loads the boxes on a dolly, and he wheels them to where the owner sits among the fashion magazines, and the owner counts the boxes while the man waits impatiently, and the owner signs an invoice and keeps a copy, and the man wheels his empty dolly through the espresso crowd and back to his truck and takes off, and through the conversational din I can hear a kitchen knife slice through the packaging as the owner checks the beans and mustard and spices, and a woman in black suede pumps clicks across the black brick floor to the till and orders eggs on toast and a flat white and the girl gives her a folded metal number to place at the edge of whichever table she chooses because she’s the first of her group to arrive, and the owner takes the boxes to the back, behind the chain-link cage that separates the beer taps from the kitchen, and the printer at the line cook’s station eeks out “eggs on toast” and he cracks two over the flat top, as a man in brown leather loafers shuffles across the black brick floor to the till, and the cycle continues. And yet I still can’t make out a word of the conversation two metres away.
My cappuccino arrives and it’s as I like it. A chocolate powdered meniscus. Decadence. Fuel. I scrape the edges of the mug with the tiny spoon and drop it on the saucer, adding to the clatter and clang of silver and porcelain, and I find some comfort in these sounds, so familiar. A tin pan tune of days past, I want to think. As catchy a beat today as ever. An old coffee counter out of a Rockwell painting, dressed up for the big city, like me.
I’m a lucky man.