Celebrating Short Story Week: Story – The Elms, Morecambe

Nakata shifted; the cafe’s seats weren’t exactly uncomfortable but the angle of their upright made his back twinge. Across from him the man, Wisher, reacted to the shift by glancing up from his coffee and then back down again. Nakata waited, letting Wisher find his own timings and securities, suspecting that any pressure would lead to the man closing down into silence.“It’s closed,” Wisher said eventually. “I don’t suppose it matters anymore.”“Take your time,” said Nakata. Beyond Wisher’s shoulder, the cafe’s large front windows had grown a skin of condensation and the world beyond had become a loose morass of grey smears through which darker shapes sometimes passed. In the last week the weather had soured, becoming cold and wet. If he could have seen it, he knew that the sea beyond the wide pavements and strip of beach would be bucking and unsettled. “You know I have to record this? That you need to go on the record for this to be any use to me?”“Yes,” said Wisher, his voice thin. “Like I said, it doesn’t matter. Not now.”“It might,” said Nakata.“No,” said Wisher, and this time Nakata didn’t respond, understanding that Wisher was speaking only to something within himself.“There’s a hotel,” said Wisher, after a few moments. “Or, at least, there was. It was the best one in town until The Midland reopened, but it shut last year. The building’s still there, they started work on converting it to apartments but then the money ran out and they stopped. It’s covered in scaffolding. It’s a shame. I mean, it’s not the most attractive of buildings, but still.” He broke off, eyes leaping up to Nakata’s face and then immediately dropping away again. Whatever had happened to this man, it had exhausted him, Nakata saw; the flesh under his eyes was bruised with tiredness, and the expression on his face was one of hopelessness, all the confidence leached out of him.“It was a nice place,” he finally said.“What was it called?” asked Nakata. “The more information you can give me, the better.”“The Elms,” said Wisher after a pause in which the indecision played across his face. “It was nice, old fashioned but kept nicely, you know?”“Yes.”“The staff were good, attentive without being pushy. The head waiter was Hungarian, Polish, something like that; he’d been there as long as I can remember, always polite, good at his job. He could do that thing when he poured champagne, making it look like he was being careless and making it fizz up but knowing just when to stop so that the bubbles came up past the rim of the glass and looked like they were about to spill over, but they never did. It always made Julie smile when he did that. Funny, the things you remember, isn’t it?”