She walked down the grey, rainy high street just as she did every day. The same shops greeted her in the same places, same sights, same smells, same sounds. Ever since she'd lost her job at the architect's office, she'd made this same trip every lunchtime.
She got to the little café at her normal time, looking through the window to make sure that her usual table was free. She'd picked it carefully so that she couldn't see the menu board, or the list of daily specials. There were so few surprises left in her life that she found every one she could and religiously devoured it.
'Hello love,' Said the owner from behind the counter, 'Usual is it?'
'Yes, please,' She replied, wondering what her usual would be today.
The intriguing sounds and smells were half the reason that she came here, the kitchen was open plan and she would sit there and try to imagine what was being cooked. Was that a steak frying? Perhaps someone was chopping onions? Grating cheese? Her excitement rose to almost fever pitch. She had to force herself to stay sat down, she'd know soon enough when the young waitress would bring the completed meal to her table, gently move the cutlery out of the way, put down her plate and announce 'Today's special is –' and the waiting would be over, the time would have passed for another day.
If she was being honest, and had felt the need to justify herself, she'd say that the meal was completely secondary. She had eaten as many awful, badly cooked meals as she had great ones, for every cold in the middle liver and onions there had been a fresh Pollock in beer batter with home-made chunky chips.
'Won't be long now love,' Trilled the unseen cook.
She smiled, looking towards the source of the voice and quickly averting her gaze in case she accidentally caught site of her meal being prepared. She looked down at the gingham table cloth, the tired looking cutlery with the yellowing mock ivory handles, the ash-tray, in these days of non-smoking, now used as a condiments holder, the mismatched cruet set.
They were no longer mismatched; they were no longer the cut glass containers, one slightly taller than the other, with the well-worn, faded chrome tops. They were a pair, a matching pair of polished stainless steel pieces of Swedish designed table furniture. She picked the pepper pot up and gazed at it intensely. It felt heavy in her hand and she saw herself reflected in its mirrored surface, not the girl she kept in her mind's eye, not the life and soul of the office party, but how she really was, this distorted reflection, it was the real her, the one who'd given in.
'Today's special is… Chilli con carne with rice AND chips, as you're a regular'
She stared straight ahead, as the pepper pot fell from her lifeless fingers.