Wednesday, June 5, 2019

At the Cafe Gallifrey

Tilse was rinsing the last of the dirty dishes when she heard the door wisk open, footsteps drag across the floor, and a barstool squeak with the weight of someone setting down.

“Last call was over an hour ago,” she said, turning around to face an old woman leaning wearily on her elbows and looking worn as an ancient Gallifreyan dollar bill.

“Um,” the girl said, and hesitantly pulled out her last bottle of Vesuvian wine. “Something to help you relax, ma’am?”

“Gah,” the old woman scoffed and waved the bottle away. “I’ve enough of that drip to last me lifetimes.” She laughed, and her laughter turned into a spasm of coughs that ended in a deep and long sigh.

“A pick-me-up then,” Tilse said, stowing the V under the bar. She put two cups on the counter and pulled out the coffee dispenser.

“My lords, real coffee? I’ve not had real coffee since -” The old woman stopped and peered at the calendar behind the bar, unwilling to say further.

“For a long time, I s’pose,” Tilse said, completing the old woman’s sentence as she pressed the dispenser button and filled each cup. “Cream and sugar?”

The old woman nodded, her eyes wide at the prospect of real cream, and tapped the rim of the cup nearest her, “Absolutely!”

Tilse obliged by twisting the dispenser once and pushing the button again, tracing out an ornate symbol within the froth.

“So,” the girl said, pausing to consider if she could afford the answer to her question but knowing the bar could have regulars who would. “You say you’ve enough of that V to last a lifetime.”

The old woman nodded as she blew on her cup, causing the steam to drift away. “Uh huh.”

“Well, um,” Tilse drank from her own cup, “if you have any bottles left, even opened, I’d be happy to purchase them from you. We're running low what with all the new tariffs.”

"Isn't everybody?" The old woman raised an eyebrow as she savored a long swig of the brown brew.

“Ahhhh, that’s good,” she licked the froth from her upper lip. “You can have the V. I just want to rest awhile if you don't mind.”

Tilse couldn’t believe her luck. “How much?” She knew if the bar had more V to pour, patrons would return and make life easier for her and her parents, and her newborn sister.

“As much as you can carry. But,” the old woman hesitated, looking sadly around the empty bar. “Officials are looking for that Box and will confiscate everything if they find it.”

“A whole box?” Tilse counted in her head the credits they could make from a box of V, and decided to worry later about how to forge the registration numbers. She put her cup down, “Tell me where to go.”

The old woman shook her head. “We've time for another.” She pointed to the coffee. “Let's enjoy a last round together before you rush on out of here.”

Tilse frowned but filled their cups, and watched impatiently as the old woman blew the steam away and slowly savored every sip.

“You don’t seem too alarmed,” the old woman said finally, putting her cup down. “Maybe you should know…”

Tilse couldn't wait for the old woman's pause. “Know what?”

“I said, a ‘Box’. You know, the kind that travels through space and time.” The old woman fiddled with her cup, then tilted it back and drained the last drops of coffee.

Tilse looked closely at the wrinkled but vaguely familiar face. The pale white hair and tired eyes, and light blue veins underneath thin, yellowed skin. She recalled the joke her Dah would yell out whenever a VIP sat down on a stool: “When does a Time Lord walk into a bar?” and all the patrons would reply in unison, “any time he wants.”

The girl shook her head in disbelief, “You’re a Time Lord?”

The old woman chuckled as confusion played across the girl's face, resulting once again in a fit of coughing that caused Tilse to fear the old gal would regenerate right there in the bar.

The woman wiped her eyes and spat into a napkin. “I’m a Time Lord? I s’pose that explains a few things.”

Tilse wondered if she should trust the old woman or shoo her out.

“Um. I thought TARDIS's were, you know, a bit particular.” Tilse blinked rapidly, letting her impatience get the best of her. “Aren’t you supposed to introduce me before I can enter?”

“You’ll be fine. I’ve already introduced you, so to speak.” The old woman caressed the cup, “Thank you, that was as delicious as I remember.”

“More?” Tilse held the dispenser at the ready.

“Oh no. I’ve had plenty now, and it’s time for you to get along.” The old woman closed her eyes and leaned forward, as if she would fall asleep at the bar.

Tilse put the dispenser away and came around the bar to tap on the old woman’s shoulder. “There’s a shower in the back room, and a cot where you can rest.”

“Ah, that sounds lovely,” the old woman yawned as she lifted a bag from the floor that landed on the counter with a thud. She rummaged around as if looking for something, then handed the bag to Tilse.

“What’s this for?”

“Just a few things you'll need. Directions to the Box are on the first page of the blue notebook. Don’t go readin’ the whole thing in one sitting though. Spoilers, ya know. You'll figure it all out in time.” The old woman stood and swayed as she yawned.

Tilse steadied her, then led her to the back room and helped her lay down. She pulled off the old woman’s boots and laid them by the cot, acknowledging the similarity to her own, though the woman's were worn and weathered and needed new soles.

“You rest now," the girl said, pulling a blanket up and tucking it under the old woman's chin. "I’ll be back in a just awhile.”

“In due time,” the old woman whispered as she fell asleep.

Tilse sighed, and wondered at the strangeness of the evening. Certainly not what she was expecting when her Dah had gotten the call from the hospital earlier in the day, leaving the girl to tend the bar alone. But she had a new sister now, and would soon have a box of V that would help bring regulars back, along with their money. Enough for the growing family, and maybe a fresh coat of paint for the bar.

She looped the bag over her shoulder and took out the notebook. It was as old and worn as the woman asleep on the cot, the pages yellowed and curling. She could just make out the faded pencil drawing of the city with a small yellow star about ten blocks away, and a picture of the clock tower overhead.

She looked closer at the drawing, then at her own watch, and then back at the drawing. The clock face was just ten minutes ahead of the time on her watch, and written on the page was one word.

Run.

<word count: 1200>