TOWARDS THE END OF Glebe Point Road, the 438 bus pulled up outside the Valhalla Cafe and a gang of suburban kids poured out the back exit, swearing and laughing onto the street. The door squeaked shut as the bus stoically merged again with the mid-morning crawl.
For a few of the boys, this was their first time ever in the trendy innercity of Sydney. They looked around, amazed by the different types of people walking up and down the street, some with dogs, some carrying coffees; with all kinds of accoutrements: beards, moustaches, pierced noses, dyed hair, long tresses, floral dresses, tattoos and smart suits, and lots of quick, clipped conversations that passed the boys in a Doppler effect. On the say-so of the shortest kid of the group, they went barrelling into the cafe.
Cody who’d been prepping in the kitchen a bathtub-sized batch of gazpacho, stuck his head through the hatch.
“Where’d all those kids come from?”
“Haven’t the foggiest!” said Lauren, wiping down the milk nozzle of the espresso machine. She smirked: “Not from around here, I bet!”
Cody pretended to call out: “Hey fellas, no icy-poles in here!”
“Shhh – don’t say that!” Lauren slapped his arm with a milky chux.
“Don’t you want to get rid of them?” he asked.
“Nooo! What if one of them’s Joanna’s son? That’ll be the end of our jobs.”
“Not mine,” said Cody, flicking his fringe with a good-looking arrogance. “I’m the best plant-based chef this side of Broadway!”
But it was too late, anyway. Marsha, the other morning shifter was already taking their order. Without asking permission, the boys had pulled three tables together to form a mega-table, and had flagged her down mid-order from another table. The short kid seemed to be the spokesperson for the group. Whatever he lacked in height, he seemed to make up in social confidence. Holding a menu in his left hand, he ordered like a local, consulting the other boys on the fly.
“Can we have five cappuccinos, two mocha mugachinos, and one croissant,” another boy piped up that he’d also like a croissant. “Two croissants, thanks. And one banana smoothie . . . and one berry smoothie – and ah, maybe one more coffee, another cappuccino.” Marsha overheard one of the boy’s grumble that he didn’t like coffee and wanted a coke instead, and she wrote that down.
Gliding back to the counter, she handed the order in to Lauren. From behind a cloud of steam, Lauren said: “Really, that’s what they want? Aren’t they a bit young?”
“It’s not like cigarettes,” said Marsha. “You can drink coffee at any age.”
“Yeah, I know. But doesn’t caffeine stunt your growth?”
“Well maybe they’re just progressive kids.”
“Hardly,” said Lauren.
And the compass of Lauren’s snobbery was not completely off-course: these guys really did look like the sort of kids who would jump up and down behind a news reporter at a sporting event, pulling a face, maybe even giving the finger – as they weren’t behaving far from it now, leaping up to slap decorative streamers hanging from the ceiling, plopping carelessly back into their seats, breaking off into multiple noisy side-chats; and shaking water over other customers on their way back from the bathroom.
Feeding time at the zoo! thought Lauren.
But then the short one pulled out something from his bag that made her almost fall over in shock.
It wasn’t a creepy-crawly like a pet rat or a turtle – it wasn’t a bag of fireworks either, or anything sleazy like a porno mag. Instead, it was something that was instantly recognizable to the third-year film and theatre student; a collection of A4 sheets, with black 12-point courier typeface on the cover and a metal shiv binding it all together.
A movie script!
Her jaw slowly opened with astonishment as she watched the small boy produce more scripts from his bag, passing them around to his friends like an invigilator with final year exam papers. With not enough to go around, some of the boys bunched up to share, and through this, Lauren could see just how much of a height difference there was between them all, something her mother would’ve once described as “being at steps and stairs.” The short kid pulled out a black pencil case and called them all to order.
“Okay, first up we’ve got the issue of funding. Our Patreon page has almost reached two hundred dollars. But I think we’ll need more than that! I was thinking we could see if Johnny Dark wants to invest some money, and we’ll pay him back by selling DVD copies through his shop; he might be cool with that. But another thing I was thinking was . . . ”
All morning the Anatolian pop-tunes of Altin Gün had been serenading through the speakers, the album discovered last week by Marsha on a Dutch radio station. The cafe had been awash with a good feeling, making the work of the staff lighter, the coffee for the customers more delicious and strong.
But now Lauren found herself bumping down the volume on her iPhone, as she wondered how the boys could have morphed so suddenly from a monkey’s tea party, into a writers room for rugrats.
And it wouldn’t have seemed so strange had they been the well-behaved teens she would often see down at the Glebe growers market on the weekends shopping for vintage clothes and vinyl records. Honestly, she thought to herself, aren’t these guys just one bong away from washing line theft? And with an unaccustomed feeling of irritability, she plucked their coffee order from the row of metal clips and started on the first cappuccino.
Marsha was also watching them with great curiosity. One of the boys, a plump one named George reminded her of her younger brother Samuel, who was 15, which she guessed the rest of these boys must be. She was taking the order for a couple of regulars, lecturers from nearby Darlington University; but she could still hear what the boys were saying.
At the head of the table, the small boy was thumping his fist on the laminate. “It can’t be mainstream . . . it has to be underground!”
“But how can we do that?” asked a blonde boy with a Japanese robot on his t-shirt.
“We can shoot it in a carpark,” said a lanky redheaded kid. “You know with one of those ramps going down under street level; and if we use a gimbal, we can maybe create a gliding effect with that first shot.”
Another boy, whose name was Derek, added: ““Yeah, we can make it like Blade Runner by using a filter on the footage. I was playing around with one last night to get this retro grungy effect.”
“That would look awesome,” said the redheaded kid.
Then a Eurasian boy who had something hanging off his shoulder that looked like an audio recorder, suggested: “Well, there’s a dripping waterfall in the bush near my house. I’ll go there on the weekend to record it. Let’s make the carpark sound like a big creepy cavern!”
The small boy made a note of this on the top of his script. “These are all great ideas!” He looked up. “Okay, let’s have a read through.”
He nodded at the blonde kid.
“Adam, can you play Richard for the time being?”
“And Vinnie, could you play Elise?”
“What – the girl?”
“But I do special effects!”
“Alright, I’ll do it.” Ivan glanced around the table. “Let’s go from the top.”
Lauren carried over the first half of their order: two cappuccinos carefully balanced along her forearm, a third cappuccino in her left hand. She unloaded them one at a time, sliding them into the middle of the table. She returned with three more cappuccinos, two mocha mugachinos; the smoothies that Cody had whipped up in the kitchen; croissants from the pastry hatch – one more coffee, and a coke. Ten drinks all up – yet she counted only nine boys. A fresh thought crossed her mind; would they have enough money to pay for everything?
She watched the boys pour unmeasured amounts of sugar into their coffees, stirring so vigorously that the milk lapped over the ceramic edges like ocean waves over a sea-pool wall. The croissants were torn up and shared; smoothies burbled their way up straws.
With her curiosity taking centre stage, Lauren put her cool demeanour to one side, to ask the boys, “You working on a movie?”
The small boy looked up with a chocolate speckled milk-moustache.
“We are! It’s a remake of an old film.”
“Cool. What film?”
The boy tried to hide his feeling of pride, but was unsuccessful. “Somewhere in Time,”he beamed.
“Oh that one.”
But Lauren had never heard of it before.
“What’s so good about it?” she asked, pushing down her embarrassment with some attitude.
“I just like the story,” the boy said earnestly. “It’s completely romantic. But it’s also very strange. He’s stuck in time, and people are trying to reach him from the present. But he doesn’t want to come back, because he’s in love with this girl.”
Lauren did her best to fake familiarity, nodding at all of the salient points.
“But then it’s also like a dream, isn’t it,” he continued. “Because his body is in the present, but his mind is back in time; but the experience is just so real he can’t tell them apart.”
The boy folded his hands over the script, and Lauren looked around at all of the boys, who were listening to Ivan, but also glancing back at her with curiosity, wondering why this beautiful waitress would be so interested in what they were doing.
“And this is what you guys are going to make together?”
The head boy nodded.
Lauren wanted to say something like holy shit, then call the others over to hear this. She just couldn’t believe it! This kid spoke like he was thirty, or something. He was precocious – but that was not the exact phrase she had in mind for him.
“Well, good luck with that,” she said, “and enjoy your coffees.”
But as she walked back to the counter, she could feel a real sense of unease growing inside her, as she thought more about what the boy had just described to her. She couldn’t help but compare it to the short films she had made with her classmates Charles and Meera; one had been a gory horror film that Charles had written and directed with lots of supposed symbolic meanings that she’d never been able to figure out – and the other film with Meera was more of an experimental documentary with a strong political message about dismantling the patriarchy. But neither of these films had quite been anything like what the boys were trying to make.
Back behind the counter, away from the public view Marsha, about to go on a break, was checking her phone and pulling a vape from her purse.
“How’s that lot going?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” said Lauren, “they’re making a movie. A real one.”
“Oh yeah? About what?
“A time traveller who falls in love with a woman.”
“Bullshit! Really?” said Marsha, screwing up her face with disbelief. “Aren’t they meant to be into superheroes and shit?”
“Not these guys!” said Lauren with an increasingly wistful look. “And you know what’s weird, though? If I was to be completely honest with myself, I would say that their film really appeals to me; I like romantic movies. I used to watch them all the time with my mum when she was sick. I don’t know if I ever told you this, but my mum used to be the manager of the Orpheus Cinema and she loved Meg Ryan movies. So I would find these films online for her, and we’d watch them together while she did her treatment.”
“Like When Harry Met Sally?”
“Yeah, but there was another one called French Kiss. That was her favourite.”
“Never heard of it.”
A thought then occurred to Marsha, and she glanced over at the table, nodding her head.
“Why don’t you ask the boys to be in their film?”
“What? Act with a bunch of kids?”
But Marsha had kicked that one straight through the goalposts of Lauren’s snobbery, straight into the nylon strings of her heart. The thought of starring in a romantic film completely appealed to her – she imagined her mum looking down from heaven to see her daughter acting in a Nora Ephron movie.
Well, mum, it’s not that exactly . . .
“Oh, well, maybe I could,” Lauren said finally.
“You could, totally,” said Marsha, geeing her up. “You’d be great at it. All they need to do is get some decent looking guy to play opposite you. Not a kid.”
“Yeah,” said Lauren, feeling an undercurrent of excitement ripple through her sternum. She dusted her apron of chocolate dust. “You’re right! I’ll go ask them.”
But just at the moment, she looked over and saw something that made her freshly manifesting dream begin to deflate like a kid’s jumping castle at the end of a party — there was a mutiny afoot!
“You fucking promised Ivan!”
“I know, I know I did . . . But I had to spend the money photocopying the script.”
“Fucking bullshit you did!”
“That was all of our money, Ivan.”
“But I had to get the scripts ready in time.”
“Mick’s dad would have done it at his work for nothing.”
“Well I’m sorry, but we had a deadline!”
“And how are we going to get to Coogee Beach from here? You said it’d be easy.”
“It is easy! You just get the same bus back to Central Station and then from Eddy Avenue, get the 372 or the 374.”
“Ah what? That sounds like a ton of bullshit to me.”
Ivan emptied his pockets out onto the table, a handful of loose coins went spinning over his travel card and a crinkled ten-dollar note from his wallet.
As a few of the boys swept up his money and the card, another boy Jeff, the film’s supposed stuntman was already re-evaluating the situation on his phone.
“Hey Clay, it looks like we can just go across the street and get a 370 bus that will take us straight there.”
“Fucking bonza, let’s go!”
And six of the nine boys disappeared out the door leaving behind just Ivan, their stand-in leading man Adam, and Doug the lanky redheaded kid; even the sound recordist had deserted them.
Ivan went around the table, quietly picking up the left-behind movie scripts and packing them away in his school bag.
Over at the counter, Doug paid for everything.
Ivan came up behind him and clapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey thanks man.”
As they began to walk out, Lauren suddenly felt a funny feeling go through her. She had no idea what it was – but she suddenly found herself leaning forward, her right hand outstretched, calling out across the cafe floor.
The small boy spun round.
“Don’t give up on your movie!” she said. “I think it’s a really good one!”
Ivan was obviously a little bit embarrassed, but also seemed very happy at the same time. “Thank you,” he said and waved goodbye.
Vaping by the bus-stop, Marsha watched the boys come out of the cafe, overhearing one of them say: “Hey, why don’t we go to Johnny Dark’s? He might have Altered States back in.” And off they went down the street in the direction of the city, disappearing behind a parked delivery truck.
Looking back into the cafe, Marsha could see that Lauren was already breaking up the boys’ mega-table.
She caught Lauren’s eye through the glass and shrugged an “I don’t know what the fuck that was all about!” gesture and Lauren smirked. Going on the sleight sway in her co-worker’s hips, Marsha could tell that she had already bumped Altin Gün back up again.
Which was just as well. Lunch hour was almost on.