by Sarah Smith
Stevie walks into the café and joins the queue. He clocks the big bell that’s attached to the wall. Shiny as tinfoil, it wouldn’t look out of place on the deck of a boat or ringside at a boxing match.
This bell, though, it’s mounted on a plastic panel. There’s a wee rhyme about getting well and an inducement to ring it in public celebration if you’re lucky enough to be declared cancer-free. A thick, knotted rope dangles down. Stevie stares at it while he waits for the lassie behind the counter to get his order. He tries to imagine his Carole grabbing hold of it and letting rip; a broad smile on her face.
Stevie sits down at a table near the window and stirs his cappuccino. It’s more froth than coffee, but at least they give you a proper spoon here, not one of they flimsy plastic efforts. He slices a square slab of millionaire’s shortbread on the diagonal; the layers smash, shift, and crumble.
There’s a tune skirting around his head. An old disco number: Ring My Bell. Who was it sung that, again? Good-looking black lassie. Must have been the late seventies. Stevie gets his phone and his glasses out of his jacket pocket. Googles it. Anita Ward; aye, that was the lassie’s name. He goes to click on a link, but he doesn’t unmute, just watches the silent video. It reminds him of when him and Carole were first married. The local hotel put on a DJ at the weekends. A function suite with the tables and chairs pushed out to the side. Folk got bevvied in the bar beforehand. Guys in wide ties and dress trousers, lassies with Farrah Fawcett flicks and sticky lip gloss.
Stevie checks the time on his phone. Carole should be halfway through her treatment. Another hour or so till she comes down off the ward. He could go a walk to pass the time but the grey drizzle outside isn’t tempting. He knows fine well he’d feel better for some fresh air, but he can’t shake himself. Anyway, the café’s alright; better than sitting in the corridor up the stairs, watching subtitles stutter across a silent television screen; the same news bulletin on a loop.
She’s usually worn out afterwards, so he’ll get her a cup of tea and they’ll both sit here for a wee while longer. Then he’ll go and get the car. Drive it back round to collect her. Door to door service, that’s always her wee joke. He panics for a minute; thinks he’s forgotten where they parked earlier. Then he remembers.
He looks up at the bell again. Tries to imagine Carole walking in and catching his eye. Not quite smiling, yet. One hand on her stick to steady herself. The other reaching up to pull on the thick, knotted rope. He only realises he’s crying when a tear splashes on to the plate and pools amid the shortbread crumbs.
Sarah Smith is a writer from Glasgow. Her debut novel, Hear No Evil, is an historical crime story set in 1817. In 2019, she was awarded a New Writers Award for Fiction from the Scottish Book Trust and graduated with an MLitt (Distinction) in Creative Writing from the University of Glasgow in 2018. Her short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in a range of anthologies and journals.