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by Callie Payne

The man had an unusual sound. He didn’t make the sound exactly, he emanated it. It was crackly — like static — almost visible.

The man was tall and misshapen. His mottled tweed coat dangled over the hand of one arm, but not the other.

Settled customers were squinting into their flat whites and latte macchiatos, and those in the queue were reading today’s chalk scrawl, again and again. Hot chocolate with winter spice special. Have a fine day. Pumpkin soup.

The girl standing next to him was tiny by comparison, she had pink cheeks and carried a frilly umbrella. They shuffled along the queue. He scratched the back of his head with a lumpy hand.

“How about this weather then?” he said.

The girl winced. His voice sounded like a Siamese cat riding in an open sidecar. Like teeth on a chalkboard. A grisly racket of snap, crackle, crrk.

She glanced up at him. He was smiling down at her — eager and hesitant. He hadn’t yet wiped the raindrops from his pockmarked face.

“Are you from England?” she asked.

“What gave me away?”

They took their drinks — ginger tea and warm milk — and sat on a table by the window. They watched the cyclists. They watched the children pass by in little yellow rain coats, following each other like ducklings in the water. They sipped. They sighed. She tried not to think about his face, which had an odd habit of rearranging itself when in half focus.

“Do you want to go back to mine? I have my own apartment.”

His voice was growing on her. Black, raspy tendrils of the stuff curled around her arm and tickled her ear.

She picked up her umbrella and took his hand.

Callie Payne is a 25-year-old writer from London who is currently living in Kreuzberg, Berlin. She’s about to embark on a five-month adventure in Southeast Asia, if only she could just find her passport first.