Au Péché Mignon

[Editor’s note: The author was afflicted at the time of writing with a pinched radial nerve, which has led to chronic pain in his right hand. As a result, he has left off his normal florid prose to write in the concise ‘telegraphic prose’ of the young Earnest Hemingway. We apologise for the inconvenience.]

[Editor’s other note: Originally posted in October, 2005. Copied to the Scriptorum because the author [sic] thinks it’s worth keeping.]

The café is a clean, well shaded place. The kind of place a man appreciates once he’s lived long enough to appreciate good, honest coffee. The kind of coffee picked by hand by the good, honest people of Tanna.

The cafe is named Au Péché Mignon. The man likes to call it the little sin. The kind of sin worth living for. The kind of sin people forget about when they are searching for something to die for. It is a good sin, the little sin. An honest sin.

The waitresses are both named Marie. They stand together at the end of their shift, waiting for the man to leave. Their dark faces take on a copper hue as the sun sets over the bay.

Marie, the younger one, says, ‘There he is. Just like yesterday.’

‘And every day,’ says Marie, the older one.

‘He’ll make us late.’

“He always does. Why do you worry?’

‘It is nothing. Forget it.’

‘Take his order.’

‘You take it. I am tired.’

‘You take it. He likes you more.’

‘He likes no one. You take it.’

‘I cannot. It’s –‘

‘What is it?’

‘It’s nothing. Forget it.’

‘All right. I’ll do it. Stop crying.’

‘It just –‘


‘Which one of us just said that?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve lost track. Which one are you?’

‘Stop that. This is a Hemingway parody. Beckett is tomorrow.’

‘Fine. I’ll take his order.’

The man is reading a newspaper. It is all lies. He likes some of the lies. He laughs at others. This one here, it is a good lie. The lie is about the government. Everything about the government is a lie. The man does not wonder why this is.

The waitress waits for him to order. She does not speak.

‘Bring me a coffee,’ he says.

‘What kind of coffee?’

‘The good coffee. The best coffee. Hurry up. I am thirsty.’

‘If you are thirsty, you should not drink coffee because it dehydrates you. Why are you looking at me like that?’

‘That last sentence you spoke. It was far too long. It was not concise. It is wasteful verbiage.’

‘You are a fine one. You said verbiage.’

‘What of it? It is a good word.’

‘You hate me.’

‘I don’t. I love you.’

‘How can you love me when you hate what I say?’

‘You don’t understand. Bring me coffee.’

Marie goes to the bar to make the coffee.

‘The man. What did he say?’ asks Marie.

‘Nothing. Bring him his coffee.’

‘This is the good coffee.’

‘He asked for it. The best.’

‘He asks. You give. It is always that way.’

‘Be quiet. You don’t understand.’

‘Of course not. I never do.’

‘You love him.’

‘I don’t. I hate him.’

‘Why hate him? He is nothing.’

‘To you, perhaps. Give me the coffee.’

‘You are holding it.’

‘Give me the milk, then.’

‘Which milk? The good milk?’

‘Of course the good milk. Always the good milk.’

‘You love him.’

‘I don’t. I hate him.’

‘Why hate him? He is nothing.’

‘To you, perhaps. Give me the coffee.’

‘We’ve done this part already.’

‘I lost track.’

‘You are young. The young lose track. It is like that. Bring him his coffee.’

The man lights a cigarette. It is not a good cigarrette. It is hard to find a good cigarette. It is the tourists. They come and they take everything. How can we live, he wonders. The tourists, always the tourists. It is not so much: an honest coffee, a good coffee and a good cigarette. But the tourists, they make it impossible. They buy the cigarettes. It is a good thing they do not know about coffee. They would take it too, if they knew.

Marie, the younger Marie, brings the coffee.

‘Bring me a crepe,’ says the man

‘There are no crepes. Today is not the day for crepes.’

‘What day is it,’ he asks.


‘But today is Thursday.’

‘I know. I just told you.’

‘No the crepes. What day is the day for crepes?’

‘You speak so much. You hate me.’

‘I don’t. I love you.’

‘You say that. You don’t mean it. You never do.’

‘Give me something else.’

‘I’ve given you everything. Everything.’

‘Stop crying. I meant something else to eat.’

‘I will bring a croissant.’

‘What kind?’

‘What kind? The good kind. The best kind. You won’t have anything else.’

‘I know. I’m sorry.’

‘This post is getting long. I must go.’

‘Not yet. What is it?’

‘It is nothing. Forget it. Forget me. Stay. Stay with your coffee. Your good coffee. The coffee is always good, and you will never be. I am leaving.’

He does not watch her walk away. There is no need. There is just the good coffee, the honest coffee. The coffee from Tanna. Even without a good cigarette, it is good. Some things can be good on their own. Coffee alone is a good thing.

Marie brings the croissant. It is a good croissant. Not the best, but good. It is a decent croissant. The kind with chocolate inside. They call it pain au chocolat, but it is just a croissant. The shape, the shape is nothing. It is the dough, the decent dough, and the coffee, and the chocolate, the decent, robust chocolate makes it all good, and it is a good thing to sip the coffee and to taste the decent dough and the chocolate, sometimes the chocolate, but always the coffee.

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