Seagull (A Hate Story)

Cassandra Whittem

Deakin University 

For an ocean themed café, ‘Reflections (On The Beach)’ was remarkably removed from the ocean. It had acquired its name and décor about three managers ago, in some forlorn attempt to attract more tourists. In all honesty, it once did afford a small, charming view of the bay, up until a development of new residential flats sprang up in the lot across the street before you could say ‘petition.’

As it was, the only clue now to Reflections’ maritime proximity was the occasional blast from a distant coal ship’s foghorn, and the legions of seagulls that would swarm around the feet of each outdoor table screaming for scraps of pity and food.

Connor hated the seagulls. To be fair, Connor hated most things, but there was something about seagulls in particular that really got on his nerves. This one morning he contemplated what that was exactly, as he began to set up chairs and tables, preparing for the day’s onslaught of fat, loud, sunburned patrons fresh from the cruise ships and buses. Connor hated the patrons. He, by contrast, was skinny, pale and quiet. One might even go so far as to say unfriendly. By all accounts, he really wasn’t the sort of person who should be employed as a waiter in an ocean-themed café at all (he hated the ocean, too), but there he was and there he’d stay, until he had saved up enough money to go to university.

It wasn’t long before his first customers of the day arrived. He’d seen them around the café a couple times in the past week; a round, freckled woman and her two round, freckled sons, each intent on kicking the other off his chair.

‘What can I get you?’ Connor dead-panned, withdrawing his notebook from the pocket of his black apron.

She looked at him the way he imagined a lobster might look as it was being boiled alive in its own juices; all desperate and … pink. ‘A frappe for me, sweetie,’ she replied in a thick American accent, fanning herself furiously with a paper serviette. He noted it down; (1xfrappe. SKIM. Connor saves another fat tourist from a heart attack! Hurray!) ‘And two strawberry milkshakes for Michael and Todd.’

‘One frappe, two milkshakes,’ he repeated. ‘Is there anything else?’ She wrinkled her nose in distaste at one of the seagulls that flapped aggressively about her feet. (Feed me! FEED ME!)

‘Isn’t there anything you can do about the birds?’ she sighed in a long-suffering fashion. Connor bit back a sarcastic remark that had something to do with moving inside you stupid fat lobster woman. However, he was saved the trouble of answering her by one of her boiled-potato-side-dish sons.

‘DID YOU KNOW, DID YOU KNOW –’ he bellowed happily, ‘THAT IF YOU FEED PANADOL TO SEAGULLS,’ he paused, perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps to gasp for breath, ‘THEY’RE SPOSED TO EXPLODE?!

Connor smiled his first smile of the day. The mother, however, appeared to be horrified. ‘Toddy!’ she gasped. ‘Where did you hear that horrible thing?’

‘THAT OTHER WAITRESS TOLD ME — uhhhhhh — BEATRICE!!’

Just like that, the first smile of the day slid off of Connor’s face. Of course. Beatrice.

If Connor hated seagulls, the ocean and obnoxious pink Americans, then Connor loathed Beatrice.

She had paraded into his life around a year ago, securing a job at the café not long after himself. It hadn’t taken him long to decide he hated her, in fact, he’d known pretty much from the moment he first laid eyes on her. She had been serving THE GIRL. THE GIRL Connor had been working up the nerve to introduce himself to all week, and not only that, but they had been laughing with each other like old friends. Jealousy had flared up inside him like a fungal infection and from that moment on, Connor knew that this wasn’t a person he was dealing with. This was a beret-wearing, Oscar Wilde-quoting, people-pleasing, singing, dancing machine created for the sole purpose of making his life Hell-on-Earth.

(It really had been a self-fulfilling prophecy, for it wasn’t long before Beatrice began to notice Connor going out of his way to make her life miserable and eventually begin to reciprocate.) Before long, their relationship had blossomed into a beautiful, complex creature, thriving on resentment, spite and —

MOMMY WHY’S THE MAN STARING AT US LIKE THAT?’

Connor was jerked from his musings by an annoying, high pitched, car-horn voice. He glared at the little brat. The mother, with the age-old skill of tuning out her children, didn’t seem to notice.

‘Strange,’ she was saying. ‘She seemed such a nice, polite girl.’

‘I’m sure Beatrice was only telling him so he would know not to feed it to them,’ Connor said through gritted teeth.

She’s actually a sociopath who will probably kill you and your children in your sleep, he wanted to say. Mommy, however, was nodding. ‘Yes, that must be it,’ she agreed, completely failing to see the immense flaws in his half-hearted logic. ‘Such a shame she’s leaving. She was so lovely and charming — so good with the boys.’

‘Yeah, yeah. Beatrice is really — wait what? She looked slightly alarmed at the sharp question.

‘I said she was charming and —’

‘No, no,’ Connor cut in, shaking his head in frustration. ‘Beatrice is leaving?

‘In a couple of days she said,’ the woman replied with the smug satisfaction of a practised gossip monger. ‘To go to university.’

Connor let this process. ‘I’ll go get you your drinks,’ he mumbled, and made his escape.

Back in the kitchen, the milkshakes churned in their aluminium cups and so did Connor’s thoughts (sans cup). He brought up an image of the roster in his mind. If Beatrice was leaving in only a couple of days, then his last shift with her was … the closing shift … tonight … Connor stared into the milkshakes for a moment of stunned silence, then:

YES!!!

He let out a whoop and punched the air in triumph, to the slight discomfort of the pastry chef who happened to look on at that moment.

For the rest of the day, Connor served his customers with a smile (twenty one so far, and counting). He was abuzz with the excitement of victory. She was leaving. She would no longer be able to give him the wrong table numbers, or steal his prospective girlfriends, or even make fun of his haircuts, and when she was finally gone he would — he would …

…What would he do?

It struck Connor then, like a vengeful freight train as he was serving an old man his cappuccino, how many hours of his day he devoted to hating Beatrice.

‘…well, fuck me.’

I beg your pardon!?

It occurred to him that despite the nature of their relationship, Beatrice was probably the only other person in the whole café that he actually, properly knew. More than that, he found he actually found some sick sort of enjoyment from her hatred. He needed it, even. It may as well have been what kept him going in that hell-hole of a tourist destination.

God, Connor, you’re pathetic, he thought, the realisation about his lack of friends and a life putting him in a black mood once more. Beatrice would have no problems making friends once she’d skipped off to uni.  People just couldn’t get enough of her. She probably wouldn’t even notice the lack of his presence. The anger and jealousy he felt at that thought only made him the angrier with himself. Why don’t you just confess your love to her and get it over with?Even as he thought the scathing words he knew they were stupid.

The one thing on Earth that Connor couldn’t stand was if Beatrice was happy. In fact, the only time he had ever found her bearable at all was when she had been at her worst …

It had been a strange sight, that day, to see her storm into the kitchens eyes red and raw, shiny tear tracks running down her cheeks. She had looked so deliciously distraught and forlorn that when she had asked him to take a tray to table nine, he couldn’t resist giving her just a little bit of grief. That had been the first and only time in all their months of antagonism that Connor had seen her utterly snap.

‘Look, Connor,’ she’d spat. ‘You may think you’re funny and clever, but you’re the only one who does, okay?’

‘Whoa there, cowgirl,’ Connor had replied, grinning. ‘That was a little uncalled for.’

‘I don’t care.’

‘Pretty sure I didn’t ask you to hurt my feelings.’

‘Someone had to do it!’ she cried. ‘You think I asked for the job of hurting your feelings?! Who knows, maybe in another life we could have been lovers, our parents the heads of competing corporations intent on destroying each other. We would’ve eloped to Mexico and had hot, drunken sex on the beach to flamenco music and tequila. Sadly, however, it was not to be. So get the hell out of my face, cowboy, and take these to table number goddamn nine! Savvy!?’

Connor had hated himself for blushing.

‘Whatever.’

It was almost closing time now, and Connor was standing out the back, in the alley behind the café, throwing scraps of left over pastry to the seagulls, who fought for each one like gladiators. Watching them claw at each other, he finally realised why he hated them so much. They reminded him of himself.

He was like a seagull, diving after the Panadol that Beatrice threw him. So hungry he would take anything, even if it killed him. It would be better to blow up than to starve to death, anyway. It would be better to be hated than to be ignored…

He had to find her.

The café was closed by the time he finally stumbled into the main room where she stood, taking one last sad look around at the terrible seascapes and fish motifs. Her head whipped around to face him, eyes wide and wary as they always were when he was near. He liked that, he realised.

‘I hate you,’ he blurted. Sounding almost surprised. She went on the sarcastic defensive almost immediately.

‘Really? Gosh, I can’t tell you how much of surprise that is —’

‘No, I really hate you,’ he smiled in something almost like wonder. She looked confused, but didn’t miss a beat.

‘Glad we got that cleared up.’

He shook his head, collecting his thoughts. When he looked up, there was an indignant scowl on his face. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?’ he accused.

‘WHAT?’

‘Why did I have to find out from a fat, freckled Californian lobster woman?’ Beatrice’s eyes narrowed.

‘Katy’s Canadian actually, dipshit.’

‘Whatever. She’s still fat.’

‘It’s genetic!’ she protested, and he rolled his eyes.

‘The point remains that you’d tell an annoying, ugly, pink patron but you wouldn’t tell me.’

It was her turn now to be indignant. ‘Why the hell would I tell you!?’ her voice climbed an octave on the last word. ‘Of all the people in the fucking café, you think — you, who —’ she was having trouble expressing her sheer outrage, and it was collapsing in on herself. ‘URGH!’ she screamed in frustration.

Then she turned her anger in his direction once more. ‘You know what your problem is!?’

‘What’s my problem, Bea?’ he challenged. This was good. This was what he needed.

‘You think everything is about you!

They began to yell over one another; ‘YOU WHINY, PATHETIC, EMO —’

‘NARCISISTIC, BITCHY, PRIMA-DONNA —’

‘MEAN-SPIRITED, PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL, SELF-ABSORBED —’

‘YOUR HAT LOOKS STUPID!’

‘…’

I — didn’t mean it. Your hat is awesome …’ he amended, quickly and quietly, once Beatrice’s hand went involuntarily to her beret. He looked at his feet. There was more silence, then a strange noise made him look up once more. Beatrice was softly laughing; just standing there, hand still awkwardly on her beret, laughing at him.

And he laughed too.

‘So what are you going to go study?’ he asked into the silence that followed.

‘Art history,’ she replied, shrugging.

‘Really? I love art!’ Connor said.

‘Really?’ she asked, grinning.

‘No, not really,’ he replied, also grinning. ‘I think it’s stupid.’ It made her laugh. Connor realised he’d always known how to make her laugh. He wondered why he never had, before. At that moment, with several tables and an empty goldfish bowl separating them, they were somehow the closest they’d ever been.

Connor put his hands in his pockets. ‘You know, I think I may miss you, Beatrice,’ he said, shrugging. A small, curious smile rose to her lips.

‘How pathetic.’

‘You’re such a bitch,’ he laughed.

‘Bite me.’

‘Go die. Painfully.’

***

Cassandra Whittem is possibly the most cynical, sarcastic and least romantic person that she knows. Luckily, her friends mistake this quite serious character flaw for an endearing quirk. She grew up in the US of A where she learned that colour was spelt without a U, Indians had nothing to do with India and it really is a bad idea to lick street-lamps after snowfall. She now lives in Highton with her imaginary friend, Tyler.