Hero of the café – a (very) short story

It was a typically dull morning in the café when Les’ shift started. It may as well have been copied and pasted from the day before and the day before that. Arnold the chef told Les that the usual crowd were there, doing their usual thing and having their usual breakfast. Gary was reading the Sun and enjoying the vegan special. Occasionally he’d comment on some news story or other, never minding the deafening silence each comment received. Matilda was people-watching, or rather she would have been people-watching if anyone was actually doing anything. Just the cup of coffee for her, which she would eke out as long as possible, not saying a single word. Amal was catching up on emails over his toast. The only thing that distracted him from the screen was adding just that little bit more butter to the slice. And Elizabeth, as always, was tucking in to a full English. No distractions for her – the food occupied every ounce of her attention.

Perhaps it was the sense of banal repetition which caused it. Perhaps Arnold wasn’t paying attention. Or perhaps Les had put things away in the wrong place. Whatever it was, the oil caught fire, and the flames soon began to spread. It took a while for Les to notice, despite there being literally nothing else to capture their attention. But the flames were there, visible through the glass window in the kitchen door, and Les raised the alarm. Les’ cry drew everyone’s attention away from what they were doing. Amal was set to calling 999 – his phone was already on the table – and Les made sure that everyone else cleared out. Almost everyone, that is. Nobody noticed one customer as they grabbed a handy item and headed towards the kitchen…

Later, when the smoke had cleared, Les sat with Arnold as he explained to the fire fighters why they hadn’t, in the end, had any fire to fight. Drawing a foil blanket around himself to calm his shivers, Arnold told then how he had been rescued from the blazing kitchen by a mysterious person with a bucket over their head. They had burst through the kitchen door, held out their hands and suddenly there was a chill.  The temperature dropped and the flames were doused.

Les glanced over at the café patrons, assuming they would be swapping theories about who could have been under that bucket. But it was not so. Gary seemed despondent that he couldn’t return to his newspaper just yet. Matilda, as ever, was watching everyone else for their reactions rather than offering one of her own. And Elizabeth was sympathising with Amal, who had rather hoped that his swift action in summoning the emergency services would be the most heroic thing to happen that morning.

A strange lack of curiosity, Les thought. Whoever had been under that bucket, Arnold owed them his life. However, none of the regulars really talked about anything important – this wasn’t a secret they would learn easily. But looking over once more, Les thought they could see a flicker of an amused smile on Matilda’s face. Could it be?

The end. Or the beginning.

Why this story?

In the summer of 2020 (doesn’t that seem like an age ago?), I took part in NODA’s first ever online theatre summer school. For most of the week, I was learning about backstage roles in the theatre, mostly stage management and costume. But one of the optional workshops I attended for this revolved around storytelling, run by Sarah Osborne. In this workshop, we were given a random genre, setting, item and twist, and had a short time to write a story. No time for second-guessing ourselves, just put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and go. My random items were:

  • Genre: Drama
  • Setting: A café
  • Item: A bucket
  • Twist: Someone has a super-power

What you have read here is the result, edited very lightly since.

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