HE came in from the rain and I wished it had hailed.
I was sitting at a table and sipping my coffee, when I saw his bald head as he entered the cafe. The bitterness of the coffee, once so comforting and heavenly, became gritty and foul on my tongue. Such power he still held over me.
I've been a regular for years, so Sue the cafe owner knew me well enough to give me a concerned look and turn to the newcomer. Seeing my frozen stare, she reached a hand under the counter. I gave a little shake of my head and swallowed my coffee.
The man hadn't noticed me, but I had to be vigilant. Our history had drastically changed my life.
"Coffee. Black," he ordered.
He shook his umbrella as he waited, uncaring about the stray drops, which flew on to the display case of pies and pastries. A woman waiting in line behind him wrinkled her nose, but said nothing.
I wondered what to do. It was a moment I had thought about obsessively for years, but I was hardly prepared. On the other hand, when would a chance like this present itself again?
I gave a quick glance to my right, paused, smiled brightly and waved.
"Hey, Brent Blackthorn. Over here."
For a moment, he looked puzzled and I was afraid he wouldn't recognise me. How dare he not recognise me!
Then his focus cleared and his face drained of colour. He looked like he'd been hit in the gut and I took grim satisfaction from it. Soon, I would be delivering the blow.
He faltered, then put on a smile equally as fake as mine and came to my table. He was adept at keeping up appearances. Good at avoiding making a scene. He had to be.
"Alice. Long time, no see."
His attention drifted to my right. I stole it back.
"Wish it had been longer."
He blinked but revealed nothing.
"I'm surprised to see you at all."
We spoke civilly but there was a rising tension that coiled tighter with each exchange. My hand fisted tightly around the teaspoon in my lap, the handle pointing out like a knife. It was blunt, but with enough force I bet I could pierce his eyeball.
"I'm full of surprises," I said. "You should stay and see my next trick. I've been told it's to die for."
His moustache twitched, a furry caterpillar doing its death spasms above his smirking mouth.
"Maybe next time, my dear. I'm late for an appointment. You know how busy I can be."
I shivered when I recollected of his "appointments". I glanced down, a habit I'd hoped I had suppressed. Even after all this time, he could bring out weakness in me. I saw that the sharp tip of his umbrella pointed at me.
Did I threaten him?
Maybe some things had changed after all. If the objects were for combat, which would win - the teaspoon or the umbrella?
I felt a kick to my right shin and I suddenly awakened to the vulnerable situation I was in. We were in.
"Mummy, who's this?"
I froze. How on earth was I supposed to answer?
Blackthorn leant down and I could smell the stale cigarettes and sweet mint on his breath. I had a flashback of that awful taste being forced into my mouth. He held out his hand to my son. My son.
"My name is Brent. I knew your mother a long time ago."
He winked at me as he said this.
My son held out his hand. I'd taught him that shaking hands was a way to make new friends. Like hell! I grabbed his hand and curled it under the table, beyond Blackthorn's reach.
"Sweetie, your hands are all sticky. Why don't you go to the bathroom and wash up."
I was speaking to my son, but my eyes never left Blackthorn's.
"But muuuum . . ."
"Go now. When you get back we'll get icecream."
My son pumped his fist and raced to the bathroom.
"Good looking lad. Pity about his mother. Does he know his mother's a . . ."
"Coffee. Black," called out Sue with a steaming takeaway cup in her hand. She glared at the man, ready to throw the cup in his face.
He straightened, adjusted his umbrella and took the coffee. He towered over me. I felt the teaspoon dig into my palm.
"Another time perhaps,"he said. "I know where to find you now."
As quickly as he had arrived, he exited into the downpour.
"You all right love?" asked Sue. "Do you know him? He looks a right bastard."
"I knew him a long time ago. I was a different person then."
She nudged my shoulder, and laughed.
"Well, all that matters is who you are now."
My son rushed back in and gripped my hand, forcing me to drop the spoon.
"Yes, I suppose it does," I murmured.
I stood in the rain, allowing the water to cleanse me. It felt like a baptism.
At my feet, Blackthorn lay twitching in a pool of blood. His umbrella in the gutter.
My son was waiting for me in the car. I had ice-cream to buy.
Entrants were asked to write a short story inspired by one of four photos. Short-listed stories will be published every day in the Newcastle Herald until Friday, January 23.