A story about a terrorism/shooting incident.
You will hide under your table in the café until someone gives the all-clear. It will take hours, certainly feel like hours. When it happens, you will look over at Pierre – later on, you will learn that the waiter’s name is Pierre – and he will give a thumbs up. He will motion for you to crawl just in case, and several of you will emerge like woodland creatures from your hiding places under marble-topped tables, beneath the copper-panelled counter, behind large plant pots with leaning palms. You will not look at the people on the ground.
Outside afterwards, you will feel a stab of euphoria to see the two elderly ladies who were having tea near you when it happened. One will be fussing over her handbag, left behind in her panic.
“My photos,” she will say. “It has my photos.”
You will look around for the family. In the moments before, you will have idly studied them – a father cradling a jam-smeared baby boy in his arms, a mother framing photos on her phone. She will zoom in on the baby, while the father, just a grey T-shirted backdrop, stares into the middle distance.
You will be wondering whether the circles under his eyes are due to sleep-deprivation or some sadness when it starts. First shouting out on the street, the pitch quickly rising to screaming. Heads will turn in the direction of the door then, everyone on higher alert than normal because of other recent events. People in suits with briefcases will start running past, toward the river. The manager of the café will go to the door and look out down the narrow street. What he sees will make him slam the door shut with such force the bell detaches. He will lock the door with keys that jangle as cheerfully as the bell, his hands clumsy. For a moment, he will hesitate as a couple of young people, student types, bang on the door, begging to be let in. He will relent, unlock it, and then lock it again just as someone else approaches, someone dressed all in black.
The first gunshot will shatter the windows and pass cleanly through the manager’s shoulder. The person in black will stand for a week or a moment and spray bullets into the café with casual abandon, but then continue on their way.
You will watch the manager moaning on the floor, blood flowing slowly outwards from beneath him, but you will not dare leave your blessed safe spot to help. You will wish you had studied first aid. You will wish you had more courage. Soon, you will try to communicate with your eyes. Help will arrive soon.
I’m sorry, you will try to communicate.
You will pray. You will strike bargains. You will wish you’d never come here, to this café in this city on this day.
By the time help arrives, the new you will doubt that it is real. What if it is a trick designed to lure you out? You will think that maybe it would be safer to remain on the floor forever, face pressed against the cool wrought iron of the central table leg. Your hands will be comforted by repeated stroking of its scrolling curves, like the grounding of gnarled roots. Your eyes will love the symmetry of the tiled floor, black-white-black-white. You will have a fondness for the corner beyond reach of the nightly mop, where grime has been allowed to build up. You will only emerge because you see blue lights pulsing out in the dark street. You will be reassured by Pierre’s kind face and oddly jaunty thumbs up.
You will start to crawl, but soon give up on that because of the glass shards everywhere, the overturned tables blocking the way. You will stand and feel the air crackle along the entire length of your unprotected body.
You will see a shoe without an owner as you move towards the door, towards the police uniforms you will hope are real. You will see the manager beneath a huddle of high-vis jackets. Your feet will crunch through glass, and you will kick against something as you pick up speed. A baby’s bottle. You will not look around. You will keep going.
Anne O’Leary lives in Cork, Ireland. Her work has been published in Dodging the Rain, The Nottingham Review, Halo Literary Journal, Spontaneity, The Incubator and the Sunday People newspaper. She has won the Molly Keane Award 2018 and From the Well Short Story Competition 2017, was runner-up in the UCC/Carried In Waves Short Story Competition 2015, shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and 2017, and longlisted for the Greenbean Novel Fair 2016 and RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition 2015. She blogs about writing without any great authority at www.anneoleary.com.
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