Weak Signal

The decision had been made: Clara Eaton would walk to the coffee shop to clear her head. With a smile, she stepped off the front porch of her house and into the soft, spring sunlight that slid down the length of her bare arms. The tan that usually filled them in had disappeared during the long, dark winter. Clara hoped that the walk would help bring some of what she had lost back. After all, spring was about rebirth, Clara thought, even second chances at relationships. 

Clara’s steps echoed through the empty streets and bounced off the lonely houses sitting in their lines. It was unusual for a Sunday morning to be so deserted. But every stride that she took, every footfall, brought her closer to the coffee she craved to clear the fuzz in her head, which she had acquired from the night before. 

Crossing the threshold of the shop, she discovered that this was where all the people had migrated. Almost all the tables were full. It was luck that a table for one was clear for Clara to take her seat in. 

Within seconds of sitting down, lifting the menu, and quickly browsing through, a waitress appeared at her side, asking what it was that she would like to order. ‘A cappuccino please,’ Clara said. With a nod, the waitress was off to the counter to let the barista know what coffee had to be made next. 

Normally the clatter and din of conversations held by the other patrons in the café wouldn’t bother Clara. Rather, it usually had a calming effect on her. But as she sat with a head still full of alcohol fizz, a headache started to grow. She was lucky to even feel well enough to walk to the coffee shop in the first place. So, Clara sat, waiting for her cappuccino, half-heartedly listening to what the others around her were saying, thinking about the night before. 

***

The bar was crowded. Her friends, and friends of those friends, were all squished onto one long table, chatting over the music, trying to be heard over all the other people around them. It was Clara’s friend’s birthday. Jugs of beer sat in the middle of them and it was a mess of hands reaching for them at some point or another, constantly changing whom the glass belonged to. Clara didn’t sit next to the same person for very long, chatting to anyone that seemed to be at least somewhat interesting. 

***

The waitress returned. A small cup of coffee sitting atop a black saucer was placed in front of Clara. She thanked the girl before she returned to the counter to collect someone else’s coffee. Clara sipped at her cappuccino; the froth stuck to her upper lip. She wiped at it with the back of her hand.

She did this the night before as well, Clara remembered. She had just finished another pot of beer, talking to a guy about how she was halfway through her university degree and how she could not wait for it to be over and done with. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to go back to high school, Clara mused aloud. She excused herself, wanting to order a different drink from what was sitting on the table, leaving the guy to talk to some girl next to him. 

***

Clara stood in front of the bar, squeezed in between the different men and women laughing and enjoying themselves, thinking about what type of drink she wanted. Rum and coke, definitely. A barman came up, took her drink order, placed the filled glass in front of her, and it was when she handed over her card to pay for the drink that a woman she recognised slid into the empty spot beside her. The woman’s long brown hair hadn’t changed since high school. Yes, it was unmistakably Susan Rowe: a past friend, a past lover. 

‘Hello,’ Clara said with a smile. Susan turned to her, studied Clara’s face for a moment before a smile landed on her own lips. Susan returned the greeting, asked how Clara had been, and that’s how it continued for the remainder of the night. Talks of the present and plans for the future, until nostalgia from the past overshadowed. Little fingers grazed the other woman’s hand, a gentle buzz of affection returning. The pair reminisced about their days as a couple while their hands moved to mingle and caress more than just hands and arms. Clara said to Susan that those were some of her happiest days. She forgot what had brought the pair to an end. 

Susan suggested bringing those happy days back. ‘Yes of course,’ Clara said in response. The smile that stretched across Clara’s face could not be stopped. 

***

It was the same smile that Clara had on her face as she brought the cappuccino back up to her mouth to take a sip. Just as she lowered her cup, her phone dinged from her pocket. She set the cup away with a smaller smile. Susan had asked Clara out, a dinner to have a proper catch-up for the following weekend, a chance to reconnect. She had probably sent a text to confirm the time and place.

The phone slipped easily out of Clara’s pocket. The screen lit up with a click of the middle button, displaying a message.

FROM SUSAN: Sorry, I was drunk last night. Don’t think I can go out with you..

Clara’s mind went blank. The rest of her body went numb, even as the string of old texts somehow stored onto her phone flashed in front of her. Line after line of disjointed messages that should have served as a warning to leave Susan in the past. A reminder that they never had a great connection.

She set her phone aside, took up her coffee cup again, and let the noise of the surrounding people consume her. 


Julia’s work has appeared in the Discord and Euphoria editions of WORDLY Magazine.

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