FICTION (November 2018)
Two Silver Coins
by P.F. Grazioli
A MAN walks into the coffee shop… the collar of his coat is up, I can’t see his face.
Without saying anything, he sits at the table at the corner, apart from other people. He sits wrapped in an unreal calm. His immobility makes him similar to a statue always facing the same direction. Maybe he is looking… for someone.
A sense of curiosity pushes me to observe him discreetly; I just have to look at him, and yet… even if the lights in the bar are low, I’m afraid to do so.
I bring a hand to my forehead, and, as if it were the visor of a medieval helmet, I lower it by partially covering my eyes in the hope of not crossing his eyes.
What am I afraid of?
I don’t know.
Suddenly, from the twilight that surrounds him, I see his wrinkled hands emerge, with long thin fingers ending in pointed nails; the comparison with claws comes to mind.
I see those diaphanous hands, resting on the table and then starting to move on it with a slow drumming, similar to the macabre dance of skeletons. A cold thrill runs down my back.
I see him scrutinizing the few people present in the room, and shortly after I feel that I have caught his attention, even if the reason escapes me.
I lower my hand even further, so as to cover the upper part of my face, leaving little space between my fingers. Just as a soldier looks out of the loopholes of a bunker, I’m going to spy on that unusual figure of a man, and suddenly I see him slowly turning his head in my direction.
A strong sense of discomfort takes hold of me… the fingers of my hand close at once, tight, like a shutter; I can’t see him, but I’m sure he’s looking at me. I have the impression that he digs into my soul.
To my relief, I notice that I am no longer the object of his curiosity, something else must have aroused his interest; he bends over as if looking for something in his pockets.
And now he has just put an hourglass on the table.
I look at that strange object, and I realise that inside it there flows some grey sand, not unlike the fog that I see outside the window of the bar.
It’s curious to see how that grey blanket can change the normal perspective of things, giving the environment outside, a surreal and grotesque aspect.
I can’t get my eyes off the window… the train from which I alighted, the station canopy has disappeared, almost everything has gone. I can only distinguish the lanterns of a few lampposts, made weak by the grey veil that surrounds them.
I don’t know why, but all this fills me with anxiety. I feel an irresistible desire to leave, to leave that coffee bar and its unusual atmosphere.
I get up, I go to the checkout and I go to pay. To my surprise, I take two silver coins from my pocket… but how did they get there?
As I look at them, a feeling of frost envelops me. I feel a cold breath on my neck. I slowly turn and find him behind me.
Two horrible, flaming eyes stare at me.
Seconds pass slowly, as if they were hours. I try to distinguish the features of his face but I can’t. The high collar of his coat is closed at the front like a barrier, letting only thick white hair emerge on a wrinkled forehead, under which dominate those horrendous eyes – burning like embers.
His breath condenses in the air while, with an unnatural calm, he opens the pale fingers of his hand showing me the hourglass. The sand has finished flowing.
My breath freezes in my throat. Everything seems motionless> In the silence I can only hear the beats of my heart.
He calmly places the hourglass, and offers me a newspaper.
His fingers, like a dry branch, begin to tap on a photograph beside an article, indicating it to me.
I look at it. I feel estrangement, disbelief and, finally, a sense of rejection; an absurd image portrays me half-length in a coffin, with two silver coins on my eyes/ Underneath are the words: “He diesd accidentally overwhelmed by the incoming train.”
The newspaper reports the date of tomorrow.
He stares at me in silence and offers me his open hand. I understand… and now, resigned, I drop the two silver coins into his hand, which, closes immediately.
I look at the woman behind the counter.
“But I can’t leave,” I tell her. Not like this. I haven’t even paid for my coffee.”
“The last coffee is on the house. It is the ferryman whose payment must not be forgotten, ” she answers with a smile.