Bruce (still Macy) and I are sitting at an outdoor table at a cafe. It’s hot. I don’t remember us arriving here, but somehow I know that we sat down at this table only moments after It (still Bates) had departed. Her body heat was still evident on the seat of my chair when I sat down.
The cafe reminds me of that scene from Inception, in which the landscape of the surrounding city begins to explode. It feels creepy, even though nothing dream-like is happening. Yet.
Bruce is now wearing a black t-shirt. On his right upper arm is a tatoo of a single rose. Though I know that he just got it earlier today, it looks as though it has been there quite a while, as though it belongs there. His Bible, currently about the size of a hymnal or a “pew Bible,” is open on the table in front of him. Romans, chapters 7 and 8.
I am nursing a cup of black coffee. He has an ice water and a smoothie. I can smell mango, but the color of the concoction leans in the direction of pink. We’ve been silent for several minutes, enjoying the refreshment.
“It’s not red.”
He looks at me, possibly a little annoyed. “Black.” He slurps and looks away. “I like black.”
“But your Bible is not black.”
“Right.” He looks down at it, as if he had forgotten it was there. “Am I right that it’s closer to gray?”
“Maybe dark gray.”
He glances my way again, but then looks at the nothing about seven feet behind my left shoulder. “I don’t know what that means yet.”
After another half-minute of silence, he looks directly at me, his expression suggesting that he just realized something.
“We’re waiting for someone, aren’t we?”
I hadn’t known it until he asked. “Yes, but I’m not sure who.”
“Not Godot, I’m guessing.” Am I joking?
“No.” His reply is almost a whisper. He begins studying the floor a few feet from his chair, where there is another nothing.
The transformation of the situation from refreshment to waiting creates a palpable discomfort. Luckily, it doesn’t last more than a couple of minutes more.
Both of us look up. I shiver ever-so-slightly, realizing that I had not had any sense of the newcomer’s approach or presence before he spoke. The actor is Ron Glass, appearing as he did in Firefly, but dressed in a more contemporary and nondescript way. That hair, though.
“Shepherd Book?” I seem to have developed something of a habit of realizing after the fact that I had said something.
His face breaks into a dazzling smile. “Nope, but I can enjoy the fact that you remembered. Is this seat taken?”
I hadn’t noticed until now that our table had three (and only three) seats. Bruce made a gesture at the seat, indicating permission. “Welcome” might be a bit strong. He sits gracefully, and looks over his shoulder for the wait staff. We wait. He raises a finger to a passing waiter, then points at my coffee cup. The waiter nods, and our new companion returns his attention to us. “You’ll want to know my name. It’s actually not important, but you can call me ‘Fred.'”
Without quite meaning to, I slip into an officious tone. (Remember how that tone bugs me?) “Are you a part of the selfsystem, or are you a drone?”
I look at Bruce, who shakes his head, indicating that he doesn’t think it’s important to pursue. He picks up the questioning: “Why are we here with you?”
“I believe I’m supposed to help you formulate some questions.”
“About recent happenings,…” He points to the rose tattoo. “about that,…” He points at the Bible. “…and that,…” He looks up at the approaching waiter, who bears his coffee. “…among other things.” As the waiter places the coffee in front of him, he reaches for one of the plastic containers of creamer.
Bruce’s eyes have narrowed, and he takes a deep breath. “You said formulate questions. Am I correct that this implies that you will not be answering them?”
As he stirs his coffee, Fred meets Bruce’s eyes, looking serene. “Correct, sir.”
I speak up again: “Who will answer them?”
Fred gives me a surprised look, then gestures at Bruce. “He will, of course.”
The waiter returns carrying a yellow legal pad, which he places on the table between Fred and Bruce. Then he produces a high-quality mechanical pencil and lays it on top of the pad. He then departs without a word.
Fred looks neither at the waiter nor at the pad, but at his coffee. “Shall we get started, then?”
Bruce’s eyes are still narrowed, but there is a hint of a grin. “Where do we start?”
The serene manner departs, and Fred’s look becomes serious. (…as a heart attack, I add mentally. I still expect the city around us to start exploding.)
Fred pauses a few seconds, then answers:
“In the middle of things, as always.”