It was lunchtime and the queue was out the door of the hipster café-cum-hardware-store, office workers mostly, looking to offset the early afternoon slump with a therapeutic slow drip coffee, or, less frequent, in need of rawl plugs for a home DIY project. On the service counter stood a pyramid of bamboo cups branded with the name of the establishment. The reusable cups were for sale and included a free coffee with purchase. Next to the pyramid, a miniature chalkboard relayed the café’s eco-friendly ethos via a quote from climate activist Greta Thunberg: “To do your best is no longer good enough.” The message—that our consumer-capitalist approach to climate change has failed—was in all caps, and so was very forceful. That the café missed Thunberg’s point entirely was irrelevant.
“Decaffucino!” the barista announced, leaving a takeaway cup on the upcycled countertop.
Is that me? Colin thought. He looked at the caffeine-dependent vultures encircling the service counter, but as they didn’t acknowledge the barista (there was little or no caffeine in the drink, after all), he figured it must be.
“Decaffucino?” he repeated to himself at the condiments station, having collected his order. If it wasn’t bad enough the staff shamed you for not owning a reusable cup, the barista had to give the coffee—and by association, the owner—a stupid nickname. Why couldn’t they just call it what it was, a decaf cappuccino? Probably it was an in-joke that only the staff and select clientele understood. It reminded Colin of the trendy cliques he’d felt obliged to pander to in high school, a memory he’d rather forget. Still, he’d tolerate the childish pet names and oppressive eco-shaming if it meant he could avoid Starbucks, where you had to give your name with your order.
Colin hated saying his name. He didn’t care that his parents named him after his grandfather. Would it have killed them to call him something with fewer syllables instead? Colin had a schoolmate called Neil, and he always envied him. Neil rolled off the tongue, unmistakable; if he ever had a son, he would call him Neil. There was something about the two syllables in his own name that made it difficult to say in comparison, and his schoolmates (Neil included) were forever making fun of the way he answered the roll—the way he’d have to repeat himself because the teacher confused Colin with Colm (a completely different name), and how when he did, he would be accused by his public school brethren of over-annunciating—of “having airs”—when really he just wanted to make sure he didn’t have to repeat it a second time.
In the end, he’d had to devise a strategy for saying the name. Colin had employed similar devices over the years, mental cues that helped him navigate social interactions, like the way he trained himself not to say “eh” when addressing bus drivers: “Eh… City centre, please.” The device he used for saying his name was perhaps the simplest of these, though it required the most practice and attention. When prompted, he imagined he was referring to a famous person. For example, Colin Farrell. This made saying the name more impersonal, which seemed to help. Though he still didn’t feel comfortable as Colin.
“Flatty!” the barista said, leaving the next order, a flat white in a Keep Cup, on the counter.
You could do a lot worse than Colin, Colin thought as he added a lid to his takeaway cup. In the corner of his eye, he could see the young woman recently re-christened Flatty at the counter. She appeared to be staring at him. Not knowing who she was, he pretended not to notice, instead focusing his energy on the lid of his cup, which despite his best efforts wouldn’t fasten properly over the lip.
Flatty continued to stare in the meantime, her focus so obviously directed at Colin that it seemed she must know him. “Tyrone House,” she said finally, pointing a finger his way.
Colin again scanned the café, hoping another customer, this Tyrone House whoever he was, would step forward and take his rightful place as the recipient of her approach. But there was no mistake: Flatty was talking to him.
For a second, Colin thought how great it would be if his name was Tyrone House. He imagined his life would have been much different—better—had he been called this. Tyrone House—it was such a solid name. Solid, like a house.
In fact, it was an apartment block.
“Colin, not Tyrone,” he corrected Flatty while thinking about Colin Farrell.
“No, I mean the apartments. In the financial centre?”
Colin knew the apartments, he’d worked opposite them for a time, but he’d never been in one so was unsure what the connection was. He shook his head, apologetically.
“You don’t remember?” Flatty said flatly. Her disgust was supposed to instil guilt, and though Colin did feel somewhat guilty for his unintentional snub, his confused, slightly constipated expression suggested he didn’t know what she was talking about.
“You were at a party in my apartment,” Flatty explained as if merely talking to Colin was offensive, let alone having to remind him he’d spent time in her home. “Last year, before the Mumford & Sons show in the 3Arena.”
“Ahh,” Colin said, feigning understanding. Not only had he never met the girl before, but he hated folk music, so there was no way he would have attended such a party. Was it possible she was gaslighting him? He shook his head again.
“Seriously?” she said, rolling her eyes at him.
Embarrassed, Colin shifted his focus to the wall adjacent, where the store’s strangely eclectic inventory was suspended from a rack of metal pegs. Biodegradable pouches haemorrhaging thirty and forty-millimetre screws hung alongside the café’s prize-winning fair trade house blend. Pinned to the unit was a sign that shouted, “YES, THE HARDWARE IS FOR SALE!!” Despite this, Colin couldn’t help but wonder if the supplies really were for sale, or if they were just a gimmick to make the shop appear kooky and therefore hip.
He squinted myopically at the notice, making a face like he was reading the bottom line on an optician’s eye chart, like he was searching for something that was destined to be always just out of reach. The strategy was simple: If Flatty believed he’d tried to remember the party; she might forgive his supposed forgetfulness. But Flatty was not the forgiving type.
“I can’t believe you don’t remember—you spilled wine on my fucking carpet, and I had to pay a cleaning service to come and fix it!”
The outburst caused Colin to recoil. He never drank wine—it gave him a migraine—so he knew she had the wrong person. That said, he didn’t want to cause a scene; the girl’s sudden turn had drawn the attention of several customers as well as the barista and he could feel his face turning red.
“Sorry, I just…” Trailing off, he tapped his temple with his finger.
The gesture was supposed to be self-deprecating, as in, it’s my stupid brain that’s at fault. Flatty misunderstood him, however, assuming instead that he was suggesting she was mad. (Actually, he did think she was a bit mad, but he was hardly going to say this to her face.)
“Do you know how much that carpet cost?”
He considered guessing but didn’t want to make things worse by going too far over or under. The last thing he wanted was for Flatty to think he was sarcastic.
“A lot, that’s how much,” Flatty confirmed without interruption.
Colin was wincing noticeably now. It was as if he’d been shot in the stomach or was actually constipated. He’d never wanted to return to the office as much, but Flatty blocked his path to the exit. He started fiddling with the coffee lid again. It had become a kind of nervous tick. Also, it just wouldn’t sit right. The staff should really put the lid on for you, he griped inwardly.
“And it was a party that I was at?”
“And who else was there?”
“Loads of people.”
“And you invited me?”
“No. You came with Simon.”
“Yes. SIMON. I was seeing him at the time.”
Colin knew some Simons, but none that went to parties in the financial centre or Mumford & Sons gigs.
“And we went to the gig from yours?”
“Me and Simon did. I don’t know what you did, other than spill wine on my carpet.”
Again, with the carpet. Did she expect him to pay for the cleaning? He didn’t even know the girl, never mind spilled wine on her carpet before a Mumford & fucking Sons show.
He wondered what Tyrone House would do in this situation. Probably he’d use his natural charm and get Flatty’s number. They’d go out to dinner (he would be magnanimous and pay of course), and the pair would hit it off famously. They’d attend more Mumford & Sons shows after that, maybe even follow them around Europe on an interrailing trip. They’d move in together, host dinner parties, join a gym with couples’ spin classes, go backpacking in Guatemala—all the things young people are supposed to do. Finally, they’d regale everyone with the story of how they met at their inevitable wedding—how he spilled wine on her expensive carpet before their favourite band’s sold-out show, and how the pair serendipitously bumped into each other a year later in their favourite coffee shop.
What Colin would have done to be Tyrone House at that moment.
“Look, I’m really sorry about this,” he said, “but I don’t remember.” Sensing Flatty’s imminent explosion, he added, “BUT—if you say I spilled wine on your carpet, then I did and I’m sorry.” He apologised again then, first for ruining her carpet and second for not remembering ruining it. This seemed to placate her.
“It’s fine,” Flatty said, feeling vindicated (even if the man who’d committed the crime and the man who accepted culpability were, in reality, two different people). “I only wanted you to stop acting like we hadn’t met. I hate it when people do that.”
“Right,” Colin said.
There was a pause and he looked uncomfortably at the door.
“You want to leave?” Flatty asked.
“Sorry. It’s just I have to get back to the office.”
“Why didn’t you just say that?”
He shrugged meekly.
“So, you work around here?”
“Mm-hm,” she said, methodically swirling a wooden stirrer inside her Keep Cup.
Colin didn’t have a reusable cup, another characteristic which proved to Flatty that he was indeed the same man who spilled wine on her carpet a year ago. People like Colin who spilled wine on expensive carpets didn’t care about environments—any environment, not least THE environment—which made him a piece of shit, or a dick as a government campaign encouraging people to cut down on single-use cups implied.
People who didn’t carry reusable cups were “Dicks” according to this campaign, which meant that Colin was a Dick. He wondered if Dick was a better name than Colin. The genitalia connotation was obvious—his schoolmates would have slaughtered him—but he was an adult now so less prone to such abuse. Dick was certainly easier to say.
“Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick,” Colin said to himself as he stared out the shopfront window.
Flatty looked at him sideways. “Anyway…” she said, breaking his strange trance. “I have to get back, too.”
“Right,” Colin said, following her out the door and onto the footpath.
“Tell Simon I said ‘Hi’.”
“Sure, we’ll probably be bumping into each other regularly enough,” Flatty said, motioning at the café. “They do the BEST flat whites in the city. You can get me one to make up for the carpet,” she added sarcastically, or at least Colin thought she was being sarcastic. Maybe Flatty did want reimbursement? Either way, he was happy to accept so long as they parted company immediately.
“No problem,” he said. He realised that he didn’t even know Flatty’s real name. He considered asking but was worried this might upset her, so he just said bye and she replied in kind.
With that, Flatty turned and left, and Colin did the same. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever see Flatty again. One thing was certain, Colin would not return to that café in future. As he rounded the corner then, passing the Starbucks next to his office, he repeated the same two words beneath his breath as if he were rehearsing: “Colin Farrell, Colin Farrell, Colin Farrell…”
Colin Wheatley is from Dublin, Ireland, where he works as a software developer. He also tutors Film Studies at University College Dublin, having completed an MA in 2018. Colin has been published in The Galway Review and Silver Apples Magazine.