Live from the Cafe


By Tory Gates

“What did you dream today?”
Harlandsville, Quebec—look up the definition of small town in a dictionary, and you’ll find its picture.
A one-stoplight village, Harlandsville doesn’t have a lot to offer, or so it seems. Old homes, an abandoned mill, a gas station, one Chinese takeout joint, and a former pub turned into a coffee shop. For the latter, one learns never to judge a book by its cover.
One step through the doors of Le Cafe, and you enter a world where the coffee is brewed one pot at a time through a strange machine, the pastries are homemade, and the music is a roadmap of Canada’s history.
Presided over by Luc, the son of one of Harlandsville’s most loved residents and his partner Emily, the cafe is home to natives and visitors alike. Where the coffee is strong, the spirit of friendship stronger, and occasional strange (and famous?) characters show up to hang out, and play music.
Small-town life, love, change, prejudice, pasts and futures are examined and experienced. The heartbeat of Harlandsville is right here. You never know who’ll show up, or what will happen next, Live from the Cafe…

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The story goes back to my hometown in Northwest Vermont; I lived near the Quebec border, and spent some time up there. I also recall so much of my childhood, but not everything. What I do remember is living in a one-stoplight town, where everyone knew everyone, but all things were not sweet and pristine.
I remember change, the resistance to it, prejudice, and of characters that make a small town what it is. I recall odd visitors, funny, strange and unique ones that had a reason for stopping by.
In addition, the Canadian connection came through sports, music, radio and TV. Two different worlds collided, and showed we weren’t so different.
My characters are people who have not fully formed. Why did some leave that little hamlet of Harlandsville, Quebec, but then came home? What do those who are still here want to do, stay or go? The transplants from the big city also have to adjust, and people fall in and out of love as in every other town or city in the world.
Something is going on in Harlandsville, and it’s happening in that strange little cafe, where the town’s heart beats strongest.
Here’s a bit for you to consider. Chapter 10, “What Did You Dream Today?”
The elderly gentleman sat at the bar, a demitasse cup before him as he paged through a Moleskine notebook. From the cor- ner of her eye, Emily watched this fellow and his actions.
He had come in later than most travelers, nearly 8:00 p.m. A typical Friday night in Harlandsville was represented in the café. The movie theater had shuttered two years before, and if it wasn’t on TV, people could find what they wanted on the Internet. Others could go out of town for their entertainment.
The late bus had long since come and gone. Back from practice, Mike was behind the bar with Emily. Luc was doing cleanup in the kitchen; Emily liked how the boss gladly did the dirty work.
The tables had a few interesting combinations at them: a couple of guys from the stick factory at one, an older woman seated on the couch reading off her tablet. Laurette was at a third, in close discussion with two Natives, an older man and woman. They did not live in Harlandsville, but were seen in town on occasion.
A stylish foursome, the Freed sisters and their parents had come back from some sort of outing, and were now at one of the tables with Akasha and Shannon. The former had the night off, but was here; Shannon was on her break, and they were invited to join the others.
Akasha’s parents were also in on the discussion. Much like Paul and Laurette, Richard and Angelique Cloutier were a mixed marriage. The former, a rugged, dark-haired fellow who’d once been in the Army, Richard was quiet and focused, but affable. Angelique, a small, stocky lady, always open, friendly, and at times demonstrative. Clearly, Akasha took after her mother.
Khatia approached with two empty cups, and Emily deftly moved down the bar. “Mike, would you?” she asked.
“Oh, sure.” Mike went to serve Khatia, and Emily took his place. She reached down to lower the Oscar Peterson live CD on the stereo and looked over her shoulder. Khatia was asking for a refill, but Emily detected that slightly embarrassed look on the girl’s face. Nervous, more like it.
She now turned her attention to the latest stranger. His age was not calculable, but by his walk and manner of speech, the fellow was of another generation, probably his seventies. Silver hair combed back revealed a high, tanned forehead. His mus- tache and thin goatee were the same color, and a silver stud resided in the left earlobe. A suit jacket, dark blue, rested on the stool beside him; the dress shirt was white, opened to the second button to reveal a silver cross and some type of medal on the chain around his neck. His clothing was high class, and of a custom cut.
“Another, sir?” Emily watched as the fellow carefully tucked his fountain pen within the pages of that notebook. Nearly two thirds of those were crinkled, aged by notes, passages, and marks of one color ink—black.
He smiled, two rows of exceptional teeth that were his own. “If you would,” he replied, a voice of some part of the world that wasn’t this one. “Your espresso is most flavorful; it takes me back to a place I left long ago. I was attracted to the scent of your establishment.”
“Really?” Emily fetched a clean cup and programmed an- other doppio via the machine. “We have heard from visitors that our café has gained a reputation. I wonder what you might have heard?”
The man chuckled. “I have heard many things,” he responded, “so many, in fact, it is hard to keep all of them organized. Especially as I am an old man.”
They shared the laugh. “You are hardly that,” Emily coun- tered. “One is as young as they feel; the age of a person shouldn’t matter.”
“I suppose.” Khatia had collected the refills and was headed back to the table. She again noted how the girls of the Hall and Union schools were close together, and also there was no concern over the parental units being with them. “It is nice to
see this,” the gentleman went on, “this is a diverse community. I am gladdened to view others, as I do in my travels.”
Emily served his cup on a saucer. The man delicately took the cup in two gnarled, but strong fingers, raised it to her, and sipped. “Excellent. Now, if I may be so bold as to ask the lady a question?”
“You may.”
“What did you dream today?”
The question hung there, and the music faded. For Emily,
the entire café went silent. She was aware of people, where they were and what they were doing. Yet it seemed the whole place had come to the bar, crowded around, and were in attention to this elderly, sage-like character.
“That was a difficult question,” the man went on with a smile, “was it not? I can well remember days, no, years, decades, in fact, when my world traveled slowly, as a mule drew a plow. I remember that, too; life sometimes stumbled along across hard ground. I wrote then, as I do now: with pen and paper. I have a collection of typewriters I have used and abused over the years as well,” he went on with that chuckle, “and I have viewed the computer age from its beginning.”
He took another careful sip of the espresso, savored it, and carefully returned the cup to its saucer with perfect care. “I do not decry the changes this world is making,” he continued, “for progress and change are things that occur, despite our efforts against them. One thing, however,” he added, with a playful wag of his finger towards Emily, “does not change. And that is our power to dream.”
Emily’s eyes looked about her. No one had moved, though she detected Luc was now standing beside her. The life of the café was going on, but all were looking their way. All had gath- ered that the dark-skinned gentleman had much to say, and that anything they spoke of no longer mattered.
“To dream,” the man went on with a serene yet passionate smile, “is to manifest those things that are important to human beings. Animals dream as well, all beings with intelligence do. I have been fortunate in my life to dream of things I might do, stories I would tell, and possibly even become famous. I don’t think the latter became so crucial in my life as I grew older; what mattered was that I took in my hands what was offered me. My imagination, my need to tell the stories of my homeland,
my family, the people I grew up with and have seen across all time. I stirred a cauldron of creatures and tales all this life, and I still do. With these, I dreamed of telling stories, and that others would read and view them. My hope thereafter was that others would find their own dreams and act upon them.”
“So you have done this?” Emily was leaned on the bar, drawn into this man, the way others were drawn to the café, and so drew the crowd to them. Only he didn’t have to get onstage or play an instrument. He spoke merely with the power of a cultured, command voice, yet a tender one.
The man chuckled once more. “I think so,” he replied, “but I’m not finished yet. No one ever is. I believe this place repre- sents a dream for you,” he indicated Luc as well as Emily. “You wish to do something you have come to love, am I correct? That will lead to greater realities. It does exactly the same for every person who passes through these doors. I feel very strongly, you have started something that may seem humble, but it is good.”
He finished his espresso, and slowly slid off the stool. “Forgive me for going on,” he said, “but I must continue. Thank you for allowing me here; this was a great evening for me.”
“I hope you might come back,” Emily replied.
“Perhaps I shall.” The gentleman slid on his jacket, closed his notebook with the pen inside it, and tucked it into the inner pocket. From a battered, leather wallet, he drew a high-num- bered note and laid it on the bar. “Thank you for a wonderful stop in time, my friends. I wish you all well.” He bowed slightly to Emily, noted with a smile that all had indeed been watching him in this place. Erect, and with dignity, he strode out.
Emily found herself rounding the bar and following him. Apart from the streetlights and the glow of neon from Huang’s and the Petro-Canada, there was only one other source. The round headlamps of an ancient Mercedes-Benz slowly passed through the Four Corners and headed west through the re- mainder of town to disappear into the gloom on the secondary road to Montreal.
Emily stood at the curb, alone. Of all the people who passed through the café, this one struck her most. She wondered if he’d really been here.
She looked back at the café, its dimly-lit marquee of old Christmas lights, and the warm glow of those inside. The music had returned, and she could hear the chatter of the customers, and Peterson’s piano improvisations.
Her legs failed her, and she sat down on the curb. Arms around her drawn-up knees, a hand through her sweaty hair, Emily sat there and thought about what the man said.


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