How did we end up here? The floor consists of smooth but unfinished concrete in shades of grey with traces of the liquid phase, the beginning, in the curls, swirls, eddies. The chairs have green-painted steel legs and plywood seats and backs.
Some people claim that we still have the impressions of our earliest surroundings embedded deep in our memories. Not our personal surroundings but those of our species. Gentle green hills with some bushes and trees dotted here and there… How did we end up here? Among these industrial angles, beneath an open ceiling where we can see the piping and wiring and lagging that keeps us so comfortable? I feel fine here. Enclosed.
—Could I have one large cappuccino?
—Sure. What beans?
—Colombian. I want a hint of chocolate.
I choose a spot, sit down with my back in the corner and look round the place. Did I choose this spot or did the corner entice me here without me realising? A phantom of an embrace. A concrete embrace.
And the machine’s metal tube blows out steam as it sinks down spluttering into the creamy milk.
A guy sets my coffee on the table. A restrained, dull tap, and suddenly I am unable to recall what it was I was just thinking about.
—There you go, one large cappuccino.
—…then they cut me open. Anaesthetised me and cut me open. But I’m telling you I was out in three days, as good as new, that’s what I said.
It isn’t the guy bringing the coffee who says this. A greying man is sitting next to the window, near the entrance. He is on the phone. It’s not that he talks particularly loudly but he has one of those voices that expel certain sentences a long way from the mouth. You suddenly hear him really clearly, as if the sentence has deftly woven its way round the other people, circumventing the other voices.
—Did you want sugar?
The outside of the coffee cup is pleasantly smooth but still too hot for me to curl my hands around it, so I stroke the cup with my fingertips. The greying man next to the window was cut open. Cut open… words with a sound that doesn’t seem to fit with the sensation of a living body. What were they doing in that man’s body?
Like a skin, I think, a skin that cools off slowly. Most people find 70 degrees the ideal temperature for their coffee. A skin that is almost twice as hot as normal, I think as I stroke the cup with my fingertips.
—Sometimes it sounds worse than it is, says the man. You have to stay calm.
About halfway between him and me is a girl who is thinner than she should be. Captivatingly thin. Unhealthily thin. She has a body that is in the process of disappearing; she is only just still here.
When you lose weight, most of that loss consists of fat. You breathe out most of the fat you burn. The fat’s residual products, I mean. A small proportion is converted into something called fatty water. I look at the girl and imagine a kind of extremely diluted butter, her final reserves. Soon her body will start devouring itself, consuming itself, in order to continue functioning and stay warm.
And her bones, so close, her ribs with just the skin covering them. A single, paper-thin layer that protects her insides from the world. From me.
I feel my own bones on the seat of the chair, my own hard bones, and for a moment it seems as if we are both one body that has sat down here.
—…what they cut out? Nothing, says the man. They just had a look.
He sounds nonchalant, as if he is constantly thinking: we’re only discussing organs. Discussing meat. As if he can easily rid himself of all his bodily tissues and still be there.
I can tell from the look on the girl’s face that she has heard him. The girl would also be able to tell from the look on my face that I’ve heard him, but she’s not looking. She is not looking at anyone.
She disappears, and I imagine her vanishing like air from a room. A slow loss of pressure, an imperfect vacuum, a force building up to fill the new emptiness. Just as the lungs fill with air because the chest has expanded. I wonder what will be left of her when my body, caught up in the flow, reaches her. Whether I will still be able to touch her. Whether I will come to a stop at precisely the spot where the last part of her vanishes.
Some dogs are trained to track down people in the rubble after a building has collapsed. What they can smell is the specific odour on the breath of a body that is starving. A fruity odour, which can also be smelt by people when it has reached an advanced stage.
And a body that has remained long enough in my field of vision to move in front of me, obeying my will, if I close my eyes. Dress-up dolly, always underdressed. The things you think when you’re looking at an object. I can turn you around, you consist of the same material as I do, there are videos of you. An object has qualities that can be dispensed with to some extent.
I imagine her asking me: how did you end up here? And me saying: I can smell you and you leave an emptiness. I lean forward slightly in her direction. I stroke the cup with my fingertips and curl my hands around the cup.
…Me saying: I’ll take you up in me.
I raise the cup to my lips.
And the warm void. The dark, warm void next to my mouth, the velvety foam of the milk on my tongue.