Chapter 77 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

"What time is it?" asked Umberto, as he and the Twins strode into the Saturn Cafe on a snowy Wednesday evening.

"Nine minutes till eight," said Peter.

"We're early," said Umberto.

They took their usual spots at their usual table and ordered their usual drinks. They set up their Icehouse pieces, ready to start a game as soon as Dave arrived. They even set Dave's pieces up for him, so that they could start as soon as he rolled in. Then they leaned back in their chairs, and awaited his arrival.

After a bit, Maria brought their drinks out to them, and they exchanged pleasantries.

"What time is it?" asked Umberto.

"Three minutes after eight," said Peter.

"He's late," said Umberto.

Peter shrugged. "He'll be along."

They sat drinking their beverages, waiting. They had nothing on their minds, so the conversation was sparse. The synthesist played a mellow, harmonious tune.

"What time is it?" asked Umberto.

"Nineteen minutes after eight," said Peter.

"He's late," said Umberto.


"He did say he'd be here, right?" asked Paul. "This day, this week, right?"

"That's what he said."

"Eight o'clock, right?"

"That's what he said."

Paul took out a small pocketknife and used it to dig the dirt out from under his fingernails.

Bert spent some time arranging the pieces on his stash pad in various different patterns.

Peter got up and disappeared in the direction of the restrooms.

"What time is it?" asked Umberto.

"Thirty three minutes after eight," said Peter.

"He's half an hour late," said Umberto.

Peter nodded.

Maria wandered by and asked if they wanted anything else. They asked for a plate of Tringos.

Paul suggested that they play a three player game while waiting for Dave, but the others didn't feel like it.

The synthesist played a piece consisting entirely of synthesized drums.

"What time is it?" asked Umberto.

"Quarter to nine," said Peter.

"He's late," said Umberto.

"Maybe something happened," said Paul. "Maybe he got stuck on a broken down subway, or maybe there was a track fire, or something."

"Maybe he just couldn't be bothered to meet up with us," said Umberto, bitterly.

Umberto ate the last of the Tringo crumbs, by licking his thumb and using its resulting stickiness to pick up the tiny bits of food.

"What time is it?" asked Umberto.

"Two minutes to nine," said Peter.

"He ain't coming," said Umberto.

Peter sighed. "I guess you're right, Bert. You want to play a three player game, or should we just get out of here?"

"I'm willing to play," said Paul.

Bert stood up. "I don't feel like it," he announced. "Let's just go."

"I think we should give him a little more time," said Paul. "He might still show up."

"I don't feel like waiting anymore," said Bert. "He ain't coming."

Then Peter stood up. "He's right, Paul. I think it's time we realized that Dave doesn't care about hanging around with us much anymore. He's more interested in his girlfriend than in us."

Paul stayed stubbornly in his chair. "Maybe he just lost track of time," he said, hopefully. "He's only an hour late."

"What do you mean, only an hour late! He's never an hour late! If he's this late, he ain't coming!"

"I still think we should wait a little longer," insisted Paul.

"You can wait if you want to," said Bert. "We're going."

"We might as well get on with our lives," said Peter. "Dave doesn't seem to have time for us anymore. I'm sure we'll see him now and then for a game, but we've just got to accept the fact that things aren't going to be the way they used to be."

Paul chewed on his tongue. Then he reluctantly stood up. "I guess you're right," he said, softly. "I guess you're right."

Outside, their feet crunched softly on newly fallen snow.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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