The Museum of White Walls

This little story wouldn’t leave me alone until I had it in something approaching readable state. Bearing in mind what Neil Gaiman said about no tale ever being perfect, I’ve decided to set it free now despite an almost physical urge to fiddle with it more. With this tale, too, I’ve achieved a long-held ambition of writing a story consisting of only dialogue, and I’ve drawn inspiration from real-life incidents from the lives of friends, as well as giving a nod to the finest coffee-shop this side of the Pecos: Nigel’s “The Coffee Grind” in Bolton Market. I hope you enjoy it.


Coffee Grind

“Morning, Nigel.”

“Hello there, sunshine. Want the usual?”

“You know what, no. I fancy a change. Put me a blend together. Surprise me.”

“I shall both surprise and delight you. Want the beans ground for cafetiere?”

“Yes, please. And I’ll have a double-strength Americano while I’m waiting, please.”

“Americano, extra shot, on its way. That’ll wake you up. What’s that you’ve got there, your notebook?”

“Um, yes.”

“Excellent. Are you writing a new story?”

“A world of no. I just can’t think of anything worth writing.”

“But I see words there. You’ve written words.”

“I guess so.”

“Hang on – are you trying to break your writer’s block by scribbling random stuff? I read about that on Twitter, I think.”

“Yes, that’s it, exactly, well spotted!”

“So, you just write stuff you remember from the past? Will that work?”

“I have no idea, but at least it keeps words flowing through my brain, I guess, and out of my pencil.”

“Your Americano won’t be long. So, I see 1995 in big bold letters there. What happened in 1995?”

“Ych y fi. I’m not sure I want to tell you.”

“Oh go on. You can pay for your coffee by telling me what happened.”

“Oh, Nigel, you know that my weak spot is free… well, free anything. OK, you’re on. It was the twenty-fifth of January, 1995. I was in a nightclub with four friends. Now, I don’t know if the roofie was meant for me or one of the others, but I drank a drink and then I was completely oblivious to everything for about four hours. I dreamt that I was drinking coffee that tasted of cigarettes and came to with some awful bloke kissing me. I damn near bit off his tongue, pushed him off and threw up all over him. That dampened his enthusiasm.”

“God, girl, that must have been awful. I’m glad you woke up early enough to stop anything worse happening.”

“It was probably the horrible tasting dream-coffee that shocked me awake.”

“Hey, what if you’re dreaming this coffee shop now? What if you woke up now?”

“I’d hate to find that your coffee wasn’t real.”

“Why, thank you. Here’s your Americano, I’ll get started on your beans. OK, erm, halfway down the page there – 1984?”

“You have good eyesight! That was a well dodgy party.”

“Oh aye, go on – was it all naked Twister?”

“Worse! It was shocking to an innocent like me.”

“You’re an innocent?”

“I was back then! There was this nice man being nice at the party. No one was ever nice to me back then. Well, I only popped out to the kitchen to look at a Breville sandwich toaster, and when I got back he was giving some other bloke a blow job in the living room.”

“What? Damn, you’ve made me drop your coffee. I’ll start again. Columbian beans for aroma.”

“Then there were naked people with yoghurt in the bath.”

“Wait wait wait, never mind all that – ‘I only popped out to look at a Breville sandwich toaster’ – um what? Why? WHAT?”

“Well, they were all the rage in 1984. It was beautifully shiny, and got so very hot. Later on, I tried to fend off a tattoo-covered drummer called Spider by telling him that I was a nun. He had three bollocks and wanted to show everyone.”

“Blimey. You knew some weirdoes. I’ll bet you wished that you could have woken up from that.”

“I tried to see an opportunity to educate myself.”

“Um, did you also see the bollocks?”

“Yes I did!!”

“And you told me you were innocent!”

“I was! They all thought my innocence and shock was good entertainment value. I was only sixteen. My friend was the same age but had a string of livers.”


“Sorry, lovers. Slip of the tongue.”

“Hmm. I’ll pop a little Kenyan Peaberry in your blend, for sweetness. Now what’s that next date there? 1997?”

“Oh that was when I got kicked in the head by a gay pole dancer and knocked unconscious. It was my fault. I was sat on his podium guarding handbags. He looked about twelve. His knickers matched his bandana.”

“How long was it before you woke up?”

“Actually a few days. They had to sew my cheek back together.”

“Is that what that scar is? Can you remember?”

“Yes, that’s from the pole dancer.”

“If you say so. Finally, for the perfect blend, I’ll add trauma beans, for the shock of the now. That last date there – that’s this year, isn’t it? Tell me about this year.”

“What, where? You’re seeing things.”

“No, there. Look carefully. Can you see? Can you see the numbers forming on the white page?”

“Oh, yes. They’re kind of growing out of the paper. How strange.”

“And a drawing of a city street, that’s appearing slowly too.”


“It looks interesting. Why not step into the picture?”

“Yes, why not?”

“There’s a building there, isn’t there?

“The Museum of White Walls?”

“Interesting name – yes, that’ll be the one. Why not have a look inside?”

“OK, I’m inside. It’s very bright. White, white walls. It hurts my eyes.”

“There are five doorways there, look, each with a sign on the door. The signs read ‘Blunt’, ‘Sharp’, ‘Hot’, ‘Cold’ and ‘Loud’. Choose one and go through.”

“I’m going through the ‘Sharp’ door. There are more really white, too white, dazzling walls.”

“Anything else?”

“Shiny, sharp metal things. And there’s blood. Blood splashed across the white. Body parts in silver trays. Evil-looking machines. A thing like a toaster only it isn’t. There’s flesh hanging out of it. It’s like a torture chamber. Oh God, my eyes hurt.”

“When you wake up the pain will stop. You can wake up anytime you choose.”

“What is this place?”

“This is where you always go, but it is the place from which you need to escape. Agent Brant, listen to me. Listen to me and concentrate on my words. Some victims of intense, prolonged torture will, as a defence mechanism, enter into an imaginary world in which they fantasise about living their daily lives in real time – in your case a coffee shop. By doing this victims are able effectively to block out the realities of the torture they’re enduring. This defence mechanism is so strong that even after the victim is rescued it can take months of intense therapy to extract subjects from their delusion. Psychologists such as I will role-play everyday situations, gradually taking the subject into their past memories, and on to face what they have endured, hopefully to lead them away from it. There’s a way out, Jennifer, look, a door marked ‘Exit’. Take my hand. I’ll lead you through the exit and back to your normal life. Trust me – it’s time to wake up now. Please wake up.”

“I don’t fall for your tricks that easily, Nigel. Now, is my coffee ready? I should be going now.”

“If only you would trust me, you’d be free.”

“Stop sighing. Coffee?”

“Yes. Yes it’s ready. Here you are.”

“Thank you. Bye.”

“Yes, goodbye. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

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