we’re getting coffee and chai at a neighborhood cafe before trundling off to work. there was a man asleep behind mirror shades – business suit, nice tie – in one of the comfortable chairs. i sat in front of him, my back to him. she sips her chai and nibbles food. she stares at the back of my computer screen while eating, because she is waiting for me to finish edits on a book — the purpose of coming here was the wifi where i could review the final changes e-mailed to me — but there’s this man behind me, sleeping behind mirror shades. he hasn’t moved a muscle all night. i saw him here before, in the same chair. i saw him two days ago, at midday, when i rolled in for a fix while working on a book. he never leaves.
rumpelstiltskin is his name. he fell asleep before this place was a cafe. back then, it was a forest in a small, country town. he’s hidden by the magic that keeps him here. he sleeps and sleeps, while the ground shifts beneath him.
by the time he wakes up, all the cafe and the suburban sprawl will be a dream of chatter. we’re here for him, to talk where he can hear, and live our lives. we populate his dreams with this cafe, where the staff hasn’t changed since i moved into this town.
all the city is his dream, i think. he’ll wake up in a few more decades when the bubble breaks and it all falls into decline: forests taking back the streets, and rivers running where the streets are hot black tar. Everything will crumble in his dream.
i’m moving in two months; i won’t be back. maybe a few million days from now, if she –god forbid–leaves me, i’ll go on a pilgrimage through the places where people knew us by name. i’ll find the man who is currently sitting behind me. he’ll be shrouded in his own beard, sleeping on a stump.
i’ll order coffee from the squirrels who remember my drink — americano, room for cream; apple fritter — and leave a note for the man for when he wakes up.
“there were people here, sharing this place with you. they were happy.”