A cappuccino with an extra shot of espresso
‘If you must know, it’s not every day that you meet a giraffe under a full moon.
The circumstances were odd, I’ll give you that,’ Gillian said, spooning up the froth from her coffee and licking it with her delicate pink tongue. Miriam, shifting in her chair, said nothing.
The girls were sitting in their local Costa whiling away a rainy Saturday morning with coffee, cake and some juicy gossip, when Gillian blurted out this conversation stopper. Friends since school, they met every Saturday, and when the weather was good, they always sat outside so they could watch the passing crowd and intersperse their own opinions on the fashion sense of the great British public – and had done for years. Too many years if they cared to think about it.
This morning, having already discussed their fellow customers, they were searching for something else to talk about while eyeing up the brown leather couch in the corner. Their favourite spot had been taken over by a group of teenagers who had draped themselves all over, shouting and laughing hysterically. Steam obscured the windows, and the rich aroma of roasting coffee failed to disguise the damp-dog odour of wet coats. A grizzled old man in a black gabardine raincoat struggled to rise from his chair, pulled up his coat collar and ambled towards the exit. As he opened the door a blast of cold air cut through the fug of a wet Saturday morning.
Miriam tightened her flower printed scarf closer around her neck, took a deep breath and broke her self-imposed silence. ‘Hmm, that’s a new one,’ she ventured, as she stirred her coffee and looked around the room, wondering why she hadn’t heard about this before.
‘No seriously,’ Gillian retorted, tapping her long finger nails on the streaky table, ‘It was a very scary night. Let me tell you about it.’
Not waiting for Miriam’s response, Gillian leaned forward and lowered her voice. ‘I was walking down by the canal, you know under the bridge that crosses Rowlands Road. It was a beautiful night, even though David had just dumped me for that red-head who works in the Royal Oak on the High Street. Huh! Why he would want to take up with her, I can’t imagine. Such a scrubber!’
Miriam nodded, she had also had issues with her boyfriend Gerald and the self-same red-head. ‘I think Bridget is her name,’ she hissed.
‘Anyway,’ Gillian continued, picking imaginary fluff off her purple pencil skirt, ‘I was walking along the towpath minding my own business enjoying the full moon, even though it was quite chilly and I was feeling devastated,’ she paused to pull a tragic face, ‘when I tripped over a log lying in my way. An odd log, I might add, seeing as how it was sort of ginger coloured with quite a fetching pattern and little horn type branches sticking out from one end.’ Gillian licked her spoon again, quite aware that she had drawn a small audience from the surrounding tables. Miriam dropped her gaze and stared at her own bright pink fingernails. ‘Go on,’ she said, picking up her cup and taking a deep slurp. Gillian’s coffee was now left to grow cold, as she warmed to her story.
‘As I said’, she glared at Miriam, ‘I was walking along minding my own business, when I tripped over this thing on the path. I have to say, I did let out quite a scream. Anyway things got worse.’ Gillian paused for effect, her eyes wide. ‘The log reared up, and I was looking into two long-lashed brown eyes with tears slipping from the corners. I kept my cool.’
Miriam snorted at this last statement, ‘When did you ever keep your cool? Did no one hear your scream?’ She laughed looking for support from the other occupants of the café. Now drawn to the women’s table, they nodded in agreement.
However, not to be deflected from her story, Gillian dismissed their nods with an uplifted hand and a glacial stare. ‘The creature, whom I now recognised as a giraffe, began to make a low moaning sound deep in its long throat.’
‘How did you recognise it as a giraffe?’ Miriam was sceptical.
‘That’s easy,’ Gillian replied, ‘everyone knows a giraffe when they see one.’
‘Well, yes, in a zoo or a safari park or in a picture, but not in real life, under the canal bridge.’ A young girl with short blond hair, a dark brown coat and red leggings, now moved closer. ‘I mean, you wouldn’t expect to see one on a towpath in this town,’ she sniggered. ‘Had you been at the booze?’
‘I most certainly had not!’ Gillian could see she was now losing her audience, as odd people left the group and returned to their cooling coffee cups, clearly bored. ‘I tell you it was real. In fact it licked my hand with its long black tongue; felt like my fingers were being rubbed over with sandpaper.’
A hush fell on the room. All that could be heard was the hissing of the coffee machine and an embarrassed scraping of chairs.
Gillian was almost in tears, ‘I tell you, I stroked it. Its hair was rough, and it had a lumpy ginger topknot between its ears. It felt like the hairiest of hairy blankets and smelt like one that had been out in the rain for months.’ Her hair had fallen out of the messy bun she normally wore and was hanging around her eyes. Black streaks of mascara ran down her cheeks. ‘I tell you! I found a giraffe on the towpath under the full moon!’
Miriam, sensing her friend’s distress amongst the now hostile coffee drinkers, took her hand and asked gently, ‘What was wrong with the giraffe? You said it was moaning and crying. I didn’t know giraffes could cry.’
‘Well,’ said Gillian eagerly, leaning forward, her eyes shining, ‘neither did I, but this giraffe had a large tear dripping off the end of its nose, and its eyes were swollen.’
‘How can you tell they’re swollen?’ the girl in the red leggings piped up. ‘Have you seen a giraffe’s eyes close up before?’ She turned to the rest of the crowd and smirked. A few people were beginning to sidle up to the girls again.
‘Well, if you look at a giraffe, its eyes are brown and clear, but this one had huge bags under them as if he hadn’t slept for a week. If you were lying on a muddy towpath on your side, you’d be crying too. And it flared its nostrils, snorting horribly, trying to sniff back the tears,’ she added, now indignant.
‘Why was it on the towpath?’ Red Leggings persisted; she had her own audience now.
‘Well, it had fallen over on its side and couldn’t get up of course.’ Gillian pulled a face at her.
‘Did anyone else see it?’ The girl was not going to let go. ‘How the hell did it get there?
‘I was the only one under the bridge, apart from the giraffe that is, and I don’t know how it got there!’ Gillian retorted.
‘Did you phone anyone? How come we’ve never heard about it? This is a small town you know.’ She was poking Gillian on the shoulder with short sharp jabs.
Gillian flinched and dropped her gaze. ‘I didn’t have my phone,’ she mumbled under her breath.
‘You didn’t have your phone! That’s a good one! Anyway, what happened to it?’ The girl’s flushed face was now within an inch of Gillian’s. Gill gulped, tears began to form in her eyes. Miriam laid a hand on her arm and squeezed it gently. ‘Come on Gill.’ She turned to the girl. ‘That’s enough now.’
‘I think you’ve lost it!’ Red Leggings turned towards her cohorts. ‘She’s mad she is, come on lets go.
The group exited the café jeering, pushing and shoving each other as they left, leaving Gillian and Miriam sitting alone. Miriam shook with laughter. ‘That got rid of them, Gill,’ said Miriam, ‘now we can have that couch in the corner. Well done.’
Gillian looked puzzled but agreed, ‘Yes, let’s go, before anyone else gets it.’ They gathered up their belongings and moved towards the couch, signalling the barista to pour them two more coffees.
Miriam went up to the counter, paid for the coffees, and brought them back to the table, where Gillian had spread out their bags and scarves to deter other customers. When she returned Gill was scowling.
‘Thanks for the coffee, Mimi, but I have to say, it’s no laughing matter if you must know. I thought better of you. Still, now the others have gone, I can tell you all about the night I met the giraffe under a full moon on the canal towpath.’
Gillian opened her handbag, took out a yellowing newspaper cutting unfolded it, and smoothed it out on the table. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘where was I?’
About the Author
Elizabeth Cox has had a varied career which gives her plenty of experience to call on. She now loves to write poetry, short stories and is working on her first novel.
Published 11 May 2016