He listens to them talking, wonders when they might see him. Clears his throat, ‘It must be true; at my age I seem to have become invisible. Tea please, when one of you has a moment.’ The two young women look at him. ‘Without sugar.’ A cup is filled, tea slopping into the saucer. ‘Better take a paper napkin.’ The cup is pushed towards him spilling more tea. ‘Better take a couple more.’
‘One pound twenty.’
‘Thanks, and I’d like my tea topped up please.’
Coins drop onto the counter. The girls look at the money, at him. He smiles, picks up his tea, turns and walks towards the window table with a view onto the promenade. In the background the wheeze and sputter of a coffee machine softens the girl’s voices, their harsh laughter.
The cafe feels neglected; paint flaking from the window frame, putty cracking. He runs a finger round the rim of the chipped saucer, notes remnants of food scattered across the floor, and under tables.
He takes a creased envelope from his jacket pocket. Reads the letter again.
The cup is placed on the counter, ‘The tea’s a bit chewy. It might be a good idea to add new tea bags to freshly boiling water. Make a fresh pot.’
He steps out into sunshine breaking through clouds. By the Clock Tower a cluster of gulls swoop and dive to catch chips thrown by a young man. A woman takes photographs. He watches, smiles, seeing time slip away.
At the end of the promenade the shelter overlooking the beach is empty. It takes a little while to find the initials carved into one of the wooden walls. Through successive layers of paint he manages to trace the outline of a crudely drawn heart bisected by a line. His initials above, and below D.W. He knows that either side of the heart there will be a date: 1967. He remembers an anxious time, but exciting; stumbling into sex, into love. And such a long glorious summer, before she left, moved away. He mumbles, ‘Funny how things turn out.’ Is surprised to see the sun so low, wonders where the time has gone. Looks again at the initials picked out in the evening light, shivers.
Streetlights are shining through the gathering gloom, as he walks back, just an isolated figure strolling along a deserted promenade.