The Red

The man with barely any meat on his bones walks into the coffee shop with a carrier bag from the supermarket around the corner. Perhaps not that particular supermarket but it could be. Aside from his skeletal frame, he is as inconspicuous as the next man.

He joins the queue and nobody pays more attention to him than they do anybody else, but I see him and he smells bad. I fold the corner down on the page of the book I’m reading and watch him - but nothing of particular note happens. He orders himself a frappe milkshake along with a triple chocolate muffin and bounces from foot to foot as the ice is punished in the blender.

The lady with the expensive hat who was standing in front of him in the queue collects her drink from the end of the counter and looks around for a seat. There are many to choose from. She takes one step and falls to the floor as the earth seems to disappear from beneath her feet. Her coffee flies up to the ceiling and everybody is watching now as it comes back down to earth in slow motion. It spins twice and lands next to her base down with the lid still attached - a miracle of physics. Only when it lands do we hear the splash. We did not hear it when the woman fell but we hear it now, delicate as it may be.

All eyes fall to the floor and we see the woman, her expensive hat and the cup of unspilled coffee sitting in an ever growing pool of red. The woman begins to cry but the rest of us are wondering what the red is even though we know already. What we really want to know is where it has come from.

Simple detective work leads us to the supermarket carrier bag where the red is now dripping freely through the holes that let children breathe if they happen to put it over their heads.

The man with the skeletal frame is aware that all of us are staring at him. I had never seen a look of chagrin before now. The barista asks him what he has in the bag and he tells her in a low voice. Her hands fly up to her mouth. The other barista who was standing next to her asks the same question and he replies again a little louder - loud enough for me to hear this time.

“It’s my mother.”

I look down at the bag and see it has something round inside it. Football shaped? Melon shaped? He opens the bag, reaches in and pulls a human head out by the hair which he places on the counter.

The coffee house erupts into a sea of people desperate to escape and rush for the doors. Two people linger long enough to take a photograph for social media. The barista calls the police. The man with the bag is still waiting at the counter for his frappe. He has paid for it after all.

I push my book around on the table in front of me and wonder how far away from yourself you have to get before you consider cutting your mothers head off and taking it out in public to be a good idea.