Her apron was filthy. I guessed it had been for days; the hardened stains had fallen apart where it had been scrunched up several times. Patterns seemed to emerge in the lines absent from them. It was half four, so she must’ve been working all day, but her composure implied she had never worked a day in her life. She had her hair tied back into a low ponytail, with a fringe running free that covered her right eyebrow. When I’d ordered my coffee she had seemed like another attractive coffee shop girl amongst thousands of attractive coffee shop girls, but the more I looked at her the less I could look away.
And I was overly aware that I was staring, too aware to explain it as being ‘miles away’ when I was inevitably caught. But I wasn’t caught yet, so I went back to sipping my coffee and glancing at newspapers whenever it looked like I was directly in her line of vision. She was attractive in a way that I only find women when I’m sober. I was affected by the sight of her, and dreamt of knowing why she would touch the centre of her eyebrows every time she opened the cash register. ‘Sabine’ read the name tag, although I know I’d never seen her here before and new workers are always given fake name tags until theirs is made up. Equally she could have illegible handwriting; she could be Sabrina, Sadie or even Nadine if she really couldn’t write. She looked like she could write though. She looked like she had some grand scheme to make everything perfect.
I imagined the house she lived in. Probably still with her parents; I guessed she was about 20, that this was only part time work. You had to walk a little way up to the house through a wooden gate, and the garden was perfectly trimmed. The whole house was white; the doorbell set into a black plastic casing. Inside, the floors were all wooden, and the walls a pristine white. When you looked around, there was a door to each side of you; the one on the right was open, revealing a black leather sofa set against the wall in front of a huge television. This is where her dad watched football on lazy Sundays, drinking a beer with crisps in a bowl on the glass coffee table. On the left, a dining room that went to the back of the house, where a conservatory sat for her mum to paint and listen to Radio 4 in.
If you walked forward, there was the newly fitted kitchen, but to the left, a spiral staircase lead upstairs. Up here was carpeted in shining white. You weren’t allowed to wear shoes up here. Turning left brought you to the parent’s bedroom, through double doors, and if you followed the wall down the corridor you’d reach the bathroom, with its shower made for two and jacuzzi bathtub. But on the right was her room.
Her room was covered in pictures of her friends and posters of adverts from the 50s. A poster of Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie sat at the head of her double bed, covered in overly decorative cushions. On her desk sat a few books; some chick lit, some philosophy. A lined notepad and a sketchbook aligned with the wall.
I took another look at her, making sure she wasn’t likely to catch me, using my peripheral vision. She was still touching the middle of her eyebrows whenever the register opened, as if she was going to do the Catholic crossing of herself but got tired. Maybe this was an in-joke with her friends, or even better, herself.
I could see her on a night out. She was dressed well. No outward signs of sex, but by no means unattractive. Her friends weren’t glamorous or judgmental, they were just out to get drunk and laugh. They walked down streets arm in arm insulting each other and drinking from a bottle of rosé wine. The bars they went to were poorly lit, smoky establishments that softly played blues in the background. They sat in the corner and drank a bottle of wine each before heading to one of their houses. They talked about films and their shitty boyfriends. Sabine didn’t have a boyfriend. I could tell.
As I stared at her again, this time for what seemed like a straight minute, she seemed to exude a bizarre kind of purity. The more she touched the gap between her eyebrows the more naïve and sweet she seemed to me. As if she’d never been kissed or hurt, or hurt anyone for that matter. Her eyes were a strong shade of blue.
I looked away again and stared at my phone for a while. Nothing had changed. Nobody had got in contact with me. There was nothing to expect, but it still felt like a shame. I wanted people to think of me as much as I thought of them. I started to think of names of people I wish would give me a call, or an e-mail, just to let me know they were doing okay; the people who got lost in the desert of post-teenage while I stutteringly went to university.
I looked back up at her, hoping I could once again lose myself in some grand delusional vision of her lifestyle. She opened the cash register, but didn’t touch the middle of her eyebrows. I wondered why. There seemed to be no pattern. For the customer after, she didn’t again, and so on from then. It seemed strange to me – every single person before that that she had taken money from had signified a need to touch the centre of her eyebrows, but they didn’t any more.
I ran out of coffee so gathered my stuff and queued up. I wasn’t finished with sitting around. She had served me before but she didn’t mean anything to me then. I’d invented a world around Sabine without her knowing. The queue was about five people deep, which gave me time to compose myself before I had to order anything.
The queue was moving quicker than before, I could feel it, and I forgot how you order black coffee at one of these places, where you can’t even order a ‘small’, ‘medium’ or ‘large.’ There must be some special phrase I’d used in the past but it escaped me now.
I got to the till and she smiled up at me from behind her fringe. She had thick black eyeliner on that I hadn’t noticed before. I asked for a black coffee, smiling, and she set to making it.
While she did it she started talking to another of the employees. She glanced back at me and, still smiling, I acted like it was nothing. I thought that maybe after this cup I would give her my phone number or something, it had been so long since I’d gone out on a limb with a girl like that and it usually felt good for at least an hour, before the crippling embarrassment kicked in.
But it bothered me that she wasn’t touching the point between her eyebrows any more. I couldn’t say why. As she stood there smiling with her co-worker, she looked at me again, and this time let out a filthy laugh, a cackle that seemed aimed at me. What was there about me to laugh at? I was wearing a purple t-shirt with a black cardigan, and as I checked my reflection in the floor-to-ceiling windows my hair was exactly as it should be. My shoes were clean. My grey jeans were tight but not revealing anything. She brought me my coffee and I walked back to my seat.
As I sat down, I looked at her again. The eyeliner around her eyes seemed even thicker now, and her serene smile had turned into one of malice. Her eyebrows seemed pointed downwards. The teeth she showed in that vicious smile were points, and her hair seemed to have been affected by static. I thought again of her house.
She lived in a bedsit above a takeaway restaurant, someone had died in it and so she paid less rent. She didn’t know where her parents went at weekends, and in the week they never contacted her.
When she went out with friends she went out to bring any man in a polo shirt home with her. She drank vodka from the bottle, walking alone and pissing behind industrial bins. She talked to her friends about the cocks of men they’d met the weekend before, and how drunk they’d been. She wore dresses that were level with her vagina, and sometimes her arse fell out, of which there were tens of photos on various websites. There was a video of her pissing filmed on her friend’s cameraphone as she smoked a cigarette and told her to fuck off, cackling. She sent nude pictures of herself to near-perfect strangers in the hopes of seducing them, whether they had a partner or not. She was everything I hated and I refused to drink her coffee. I stood up, and I saw her touch the space between her eyebrows for the last time. Her foundation was so caked on that she had realised it had cracked at this point, and was trying to get it flat again. She looked at me leaving, and as she bared those yellowing, ragged teeth at me in a smile, I kept my head down.