This café was recommended to me by the concierge at the stock exchange. His name’s Danny. I can’t put down in writing why I was talking to him. He has two small children, and he didn’t tell me about this place because of the coffee.
The café is called La Vue and it’s on the 55th floor of a building in the city. The only way up is an elevator – a six-sided cocoon of beige velvet. The doors open right onto the street in a district that Danny referred to as the “New York End” of the CBD. The lift only has two buttons: one simply says “Show Me La Vue” and the other is the >|< button. No one ever presses <|> for anyone in this lift, and there are no emergencies.
The first time I try to reach La Vue, the elevator detects me and sends me back down. Danny did warn me about that, but I figured he was exaggerating. I watch the display as the floors tick by. But at 37, it slows to a stop, the display freezes, and the whole thing starts shuddering, like lift-off or re-entry, I can’t tell; like we’ve broken some barrier I was unaware of. I hold onto the handrail, fully aware of how little that will do if the brakes failed. The shuddering stops, a capital G pops up on screen, and the doors spring open, back down on the street. I step out, wondering what it was the lift hadn’t liked about me, and wait around till I can slip myself into the next bouquet of business-people. Before too long, the right kind of people arrive, the sounds of the street disappear, and the lift carries me and the uneasy glances around me upwards.
L I’ve just got one more thing to tell you.
L The McMahon account.
L So I’ll actually be out of town now, this just happened overnight and I’ll have to be away from the office on that day.
L Yes and I really do.
L Yep. Yep yes.
L I told them that.
L Those exact words, yes.
L So what about-
L That’s correct.
L That’s correct.
L That’s correct.
L Of course.
The doors open on sky, and the people in front of me seem to step forward into thin air. Once they disperse, I can see that the whole room is glass, with mirrored floors. There even seems to be a light breeze blowing, though there are no open windows. The room feels like a helipad, but if a helipad was enhanced with Scandinavian interior design and the aroma of finely roasted money. There are three high tables, two male models making coffee behind a mirrored counter, and a waiting area for the surprising number of people ordering take-away cups. I wait my turn to be served.
B A name for the order?
B Take a seat.
Two of the three high tables are occupied by couples wearing what they probably consider to be casual clothing. The third table is free in a way that I can’t help but interpret as intentional. Fateful, even. As I sit, I notice that almost everyone else in the café is wearing Nike sneakers.
I picture them all running.
On the table, there’s a copy of the daily paper open to the crosswords, and a pencil. Someone else has already filled in most of the easy words, but I manage to find a clue I like: 8 Down, home design, 5 letters. I write in the answer, at which point one of the models appears next to me with a glass of water as sparkling as the whole café and everyone in it – all of us a little bubble just about to reach the surface.
I look up at the model and catch him glancing at my dress. Whereas everyone else is dressed sharply, I’m dressed up like someone who is dressed sharply. He can spot the difference, and perhaps the others can too.
A Changed it up.
A That kinda day.
B Sparkling water while you wait?
B We have it on tap.
A So you do. That’s convenient.
B It looks like a beer tap.
A How quaint.
B But it’s just water.
A I can pretend it’s beer.
B It’s only midday.
A I thought we were talking about beer.
A Do you have beer?
B No, we just serve coffee.
A I know. You could, though.
B We’d need a licence.
B Big day?
A For us all.
B Pretty quiet so far. Regular Thursday.
A You’ll see.
B Latte up, thank you.
A Thank you.
My cup arrives with perfect coffee art of a swan. The idea of anyone intentionally creating something beautiful on a day like today catches me off guard. I’m reluctant to take a sip and break the pattern. When I do, I can’t taste anything in my mouth. It doesn’t even taste like water, it doesn’t taste at all: just empty, lukewarm, wet.
People come and go as though they have no idea what’s about to happen. I sit and wait, as though I don’t either.
C Twenty-five per cent off.
E Shoes too?
C Shoes too.
E But he still didn’t want to?
E If they still fit him.
C He’s growing. He gets pains, but he still won’t take them off.
E Bit old to still be growing.
C They never stop.
E Takes them off for bed though.
C Bed too.
E The smell, I can only imagine.
C You can’t.
E And he hasn’t said why?
C Says he wants to have them on when it happens.
E When what happens?
C Won’t say.
E Do you think he knows something we don’t?
C I think I need to take him to see someone.
C I don’t know, someone who can talk to him.
E I can’t talk to my children.
C Who can?
E They speak Spanish. Their father insisted. We talk about the weather mostly.
C That’s the world we live in.
E And for how long now?
C I don’t remember. Months.
E Months? The same pair?
C They’re impossible.
I almost turn to the woman as she’s leaving and tell her that her kid does know something she doesn’t. I think better of it just in time. I can’t risk anything that would give them an excuse to ask me to leave.
I It’s a matter of class.
H It’s not a matter of class.
I It’s a matter of class. It’s a level of perspective you get working on these kinds of cases.
H Class is an excuse.
I It’s a very real issue, Harold.
H So you think these people should just get a free ride?
I It’s more complex than that.
H Hey, how about this: “free rides for free rides”?
I Because these people-
H Like if you want a free ride, you have to give someone a free ride.
I In a car?
H Not in a car. Or I don’t know, maybe in a car. But not that kind of ride. You know?
I Don’t know about that.
H Why not?
I What about the blokes?
H You reckon Belinda wouldn’t go a free shag from a dole bludger if she could?
I Wouldn’t wish it on the poor fella.
H Ha ha.
I Ha ha ha.
Danny mentioned that he likes a long macchiato. An espresso on busy days, or a long macchiato if he has time. Maybe I should order one now, to have it waiting for when he gets here.
F This is nice.
G This is so nice.
F It’s really nice.
G Great coffee.
F I’ve been thinking.
G I like the newspapers on the stand there. Nice touch.
F They let you do the crossword too. People share it.
G Do they?
F Hey, wait.
G I’m just having a look.
F In a minute.
G Someone else’ll do the crossword.
F No one else will do it.
F I love this song.
G Oh, fuck.
FRANK OCEAN Or do you not think so far ahead?
G Oh, fuck.
F No it’s fine.
G You’re about to say one of two things and I don’t want it to be either.
F I want to keep it.
G That’s even worse.
F What did you think it was?
G Everyone’s running.
F I don’t understand you when you get all poetic.
G No, look. Everyone’s running.
It’s hard for us to tell from all the way up here, the mirrored floors gleaming in the midday sun and the rest of the world so far below, but it’s true. One by one we move to the windows and push our faces to the glass like children. We peer down into the streets, craning for a view of those below. For kilometres around, everyone is running, all in the one direction – away from the water of the river that surges through the city. As far as anyone but me can tell, there’s no reason for this – no tsunami, no monster of the deep. And as the people run, more and more people start to arrive in the elevator. Most of them are the right kinds of people, the people the elevator wouldn’t reject. But there are others, much more desperate, who’ve clearly followed the people who look like they know where they’re going. I keep an eye on the doors, waiting for Danny to arrive. The doors open on more and more tableaux of flustered clusters of the well-to-do coping more or less violently with the rabble they’ve caught in their wake. As they first start arriving, I assume it’ll be like Danny said – that they’ve all planned for the worst and made arrangements to come to this place or other places like it. But the more of them that arrive, flushed and dishevelled, spouting laughably naïve theories about what’s going on, the more it seems that maybe it really was just a handful of us who knew this was coming.
J You might not make it there in time.
D That’s true.
J Should I try to find you?
D I don’t know. Should you?
D You don’t know me.
J I’ll do my best.
D I have other places I can go.
J Can you tell me why?
J But someone knows?
D There isn’t a why. Things happen. Tornadoes, earthquakes…
J But it’s not an earthquake. It’s not like that.
J Those things don’t happen here.
D They do now.
J Is that it? Is that why?
The café is getting packed now. Any sense of a breeze is gone. We’re too far up to see any of the people in the streets below clearly as they fall down, but the dots who haven’t run fast enough are halting, resting, scattered like breadcrumbs. The lift is still going up and down, but there isn’t enough room to fit anyone new. I see the same mass of people try to push their way out of the lift once, twice, three times, and then the lift finally returns empty. Danny is somewhere else.
A kind of peace descends over the city below, with only the tops of trees and the electronic billboards flickering in the breeze. No one is talking anymore, and someone has turned off the music. I wonder about the people in the middle of the room who are packed in too tightly to see what’s going on. I turn to look. They’re mostly looking up and out. I look past them to the opposite windows. The way the wind is pushing the clouds past us, it feels like we’re moving.
Image: Martin Duggan
Georgia was raised to believe that it’s impolite to talk too much about oneself… but then again, she was never all that polite. And she doesn’t think it’s overstepping any kind of social boundary to tell you a little about her practice as a writer and maker of live and interactive art. This year, her work has been programmed in the Digital Writers Festival, Apocalypse Theatre’s ASYLUM, and Metanoia Theatre’s Live Works Program. She has received an Orloff Family Charitable Trust Scholarship, an Australia Council ArtStart grant, and a whole lot of good luck.
She’s got a whole ton of projects coming up in the second half of the year. If you’d like to stay up to date, check out her website.