The bell above the door of the Antler Cafe clanged, and, when no one walked through, the manager’s eyes drew downwards.
“Hello Helicht,” he said to the customer, barely a foot tall.
Helicht gave a curt nod, and headed for his usual spot next to the window. There was a good view of the University’s largest auditorium there, its grand doors opening onto a promenade lined with trees. The manager came by, not bothering with a pen and paper.
“What can I get you?”
“A cup of tea, please, and a dirty plate.”
The manager returned to the counter. Helicht settled into his chair, and didn’t move until his tea and the plate came. Moments later, streams of students come out of the auditorium, and walked towards the row of businesses across the street. A few came trickling into the cafe. One passed by the window, and did a double take. He soon came rushing in.
“Oh my god.”
“Hi,” Helicht said calmly, taking a sip of tea.
“Oh my god!”
“How ya doin?”
Bradley stepped back, and looked around the cafe in surprise, as if everyone there should be as excited as he was. The manager kept his eyes on the ground, idly rubbing a clean glass. “God, I’m – I’m so sorry. It’s just that, well, it’s just you, you know?”
“Young man -”
“I mean, you’re Helicht!”
“Wow. Helicht. My god. Can I…can I shake your hand?”
Helicht calmly put his teacup down with a sigh. “Young man, it’s always nice to meet a fan, but in my experience, shaking hands with someone of your size ends badly for me. Also, you don’t have hands.”
Bradley held up his hooves, and bashfully thrust his head back, chuckling to himself. “Aw I’m such an idiot. I’m sorry, I’m just excited. I mean, it’s -”
“Yep. It’s me.”
Bradley stood there nodding, hooves on his hips, grinning to himself over Helicht’s table. Helicht nodded back, smiling kindly, waiting for the conversation to end and for Bradley to move on.
“It’s just -”
“Holy hell,” Helicht said.
“I’m a big fan, you know? I’ve loved your writing for years.”
“Years? How old are you?”
“I’ve loved your writing for months, and it’s just totally changed my life. The way you write about women -”
“ – and about self-reliance in a society of givers and takers-”
“ – and just the debauchery! Wow!”
“Hey! Just…listen, if you’re here, just sit, okay?” Helicht motioned to the chair across from him.
“Oh…no. No, I couldn’t.”
“I insist. Come join me.”
“Well, great! Yes, totally. Absolutely.” Bradley slid into the chair opposite, and reached into his backpack. “You won’t believe this -”
“I bet I will.”
“ – but I have a copy of your book with me. I’m taking a course on contemporary Townsfolk literature, and I chose it because the professor included you in the syllabus and, well, how do you say no to that? We just finished a lesson!” He pointed a hoof towards the auditorium and shook his head, smiling.
“Yes. Would you like me to…”
“Oh, would you?”
“No problem. Where’s the book?”
Bradley pulled out a thick, hardcover copy of A Man and the World. Helicht brought up his own small pen, and signed the cover in large, broad loops, well-practiced at signing objects larger than him.
“Listen,” Helicht said, as he put the cap back on the pen. “I was just finishing up.”
Bradley visibly slumped in his chair. “Oh. Well. You know, that’s okay.”
“Mm hmm. I have a few errands to run and…no, forget about it.”
“No, I couldn’t bother you.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I could use a hand while I go about town today. I’m not as young as I used to be, you know.”
Bradley perked up. “Yeah?”
“And could we talk about your books?”
“Absolutely.” Helicht patted his body, and frowned. “Oh goodness.”
“What is it?”
“It seems I’ve forgotten my wallet at home. Damn!”
“Oh let me.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t -” Helicht raised his hands in protest.
“Please! I’m happy to pay for your tea.”
“Well, you see…it’s just that I had a meal before as well.”
Bradley shook his head and grinned. “Not a problem. I’d be happy to pay.”
“Really? Oh, you’re too kind,” he smiled as Bradley put some money on the table. “Maybe a bit more for a tip? That’s it. Well thank you. This really is very unlike me to forget such a thing.”
“Any chance to spend more time with THE Helicht.”
“Right you are! Okay. Ready to go?”
Bradley nodded, and watched his favourite author scurry up onto his shoulder. As they left the cafe, the patrons could hear Helicht say, almost by rote: “Alright, I have three places to go to. I hope those arms are as strong as they…”
The manager came by the table to pick up the dishes and the money. Returning to the counter, he reduced Helicht’s tab once again.
by Mark McLean