Two men sat outside the coffee shop, but it was not for the sake of fresh air. They were boys the last time air had been fresh, and they certainly weren’t boys anymore. Ash from the air mixed with ash from the cigarettes, mixed with ash from the memories they’d forgotten. They sat outside because it was the ritual they followed back when it wasn’t just a ritual to sit outside. They sat outside to remember that they could not.
As one sipped a cup of Carfee™, the iteration of coffee which replaced inessential ingredients with unimportant substitutes, the other looked at the TV Listings for the week. On the front page was a grinning middle-aged woman holding placards, amongst which, sayings such as “Say no to negroes”, “Don’t Jew come near me” and “It’s not rape if she was asking for it!” were plastered. A sub-header underneath the image heralded the start of a new season of “Bigots Got Talent”. As the latter man opened the TV listings, a smaller, supplementary package of paper fell out. Titled The News, the 8-page minizine fell to the floor and was not picked up. The front page depicted a topless woman, Janey, Aged 19, from Bolton, standing in front of Bigger Ben, a thought bubble stemming from her head containing a smiley face, and the words, ‘This Week In Politics’. A couple walked past and nodded in agreement.
The two men passed time in silence. The only sound, turning pages, flickered in their ears as the grey afternoon stumbled into a grey evening, whilst a waitress refilled their mugs intermittently. As the man finished reading his TV Listings, and completed the mandatory TV Trivia Quiz, afterwards, he sat contentedly and stared at the sky. The sun had not always been green, nor had the clouds always been there, but it was still the same sky he’d always loved. Not a day went by he didn’t wish he could be a bird, flying so high above the metropolitan sprawl. Not a day went by he didn’t wish the birds weren’t all gone. It was only after the familiar feeling of hopelessness, that he remembered the minizine on the floor. The News was a reliable manner of replacing his melancholy with mistrust, especially before his daily Church visit. He picked up the dirtied papers, glared longingly at the seductive whore on the front cover and then began to read about the world.
Sometime later the man inhaled sharply, forgetting the air he was breathing, and subsequently coughed until his hands were soaked in dark, pulpy mucus. He turned the minizine to the man opposite him, before realising his daily companion wasn’t sat there anymore. Perhaps he had gone to the toilet, or perhaps he had gone home. It mattered not. He returned to the article which had caused him such agitation. It read:
‘George Fry, leader of *explosion* organisation PONDER, has been *shaking finger* once again for making tasteless and sickening threats to the citizens of Westminster, made all the worse for his refusal to *pen* in Pictish. Though his *envelope* has been censored into Pictish for the safety of readers, The News can confirm that the original threat was *pen* on paper with ink, a notoriously forbidden means of *speech bubble*, in the blasphemous tongue of Speech. His vitriol *exclamation mark*’:
Ladies and Gentlemen, I *thumbs down* the way *Union Jack Flag* is being *marathon runner*. Am I the only one to *thought bubble* the days of free *speech bubble*. The days where we could *speech bubble* what we *thought bubble*? I miss them *sad face* and *fingers crossed* you do too. I *handshake* you, the people, that I will bring you *Statue of Liberty*, even if I have to *knife* every politician *face with halo above it* to do so. Long Live *speech bubble*.
‘Any and all citizens that have any *information symbol* on either George or fellow conspirators should *speech bubble* to their local *Police Baton* immediately- failure to do so may lead to *handcuffs*.’
The man stared at the paper for a while longer before reaching for his Carfee™, which by now was as cold as the air around him, and consumed what remained of it. He looked around himself once again, hoping his previous colleague may once again join him; he was of course disappointed. He placed the minizine on the table and, in a thoughtless mumble of noise, postulated:
“Imagine the note if it wasn’t translated”.
He was not sure whether he had intended to intonate the word, so as to show outrage or intrigue- it seemed irrelevant at any rate. His mind emptied of the thought as his cup filled with the dark liquid. As he winced through his first sip he once again looked around him, seeing as he did the immense buildings which triumphed over the many streets. His eyes returned to the glad sight of his colleague, returned to his original seat, now reading the article he had drawn attention to unwittingly.
“I would not dream of such a thing”.
It did not matter who said those words. The seat fell away behind him and his feet dragged along the mossy, cobbled floor, his arms held up by suited men. Military Police? Secret Police? Businessmen? It did not matter now. His head lulled as he stared at the sky, for now the greyness was fading into nothingness, the clouds disappearing. The sky began to return to a blue unseen for years, and the *picture of sun* shone brightly.