Coffee percolated, muffins seemed overpriced, writers tapped away at laptops in public to make sure everyone knew they were writers (as opposed to hiding in a cave and writing pointless little stories for a blog nobody knows about, as proper writers should).
Jane took a sip of coffee. ‘So remember when I met Steve, and I was like, “He’s the one!” and “I’ve finally found the one!”’
Esmerelda made a sympathetic face. ‘Did it turn out that he isn’t the one? Is it because he eats too any pickled onions? Remember I said he eats too many pickled onions.’
‘It’s not that. He definitely is the one. He’s just not, well, my the one.’
‘Because of the pickled onions.’
‘It has nothing to do with pickled onions.’
‘Then I don’t understand.’
Jane took a bite of overpriced muffin. ‘You know how in, like, Harry Potter, and the Matrix, and the Bible, and basically anything where the writer is too lazy to think of a genuine motivation for the protagonist, they just fall back on prophecy as motivation, so the main character is just sort of destined to go through the plot of the book because a secondary character said they would?’
Esmerelda groaned. ‘God that’s such a cop out. “The thing I said would happen happened, therefore fulfilling conclusion.”’
‘Right? Well, Steve’s that kind of the one. As in, The One, with capital letters.’
‘You do have a type,’ said Esmerelda. ‘What ever happened to that guy with the magic sword?’
‘He died. They always have to know they’re going to die. It helps create the illusion that they’re making choices, even though they always choose to do what the prophecy says they’ll do, and they usually come back to life anyway.’
‘I just had a thought,’ said Esmerelda.
‘Well, it’s all well and good, us sitting here in a story where nothing happens, that no one will read, criticising almost all of the most talented, successful and popular writers of all time. But we’re also failing the Bechdel test in the process. You can’t get more uninspired and formulaic than that.’
‘Well, yes, but the whole conceit was the dual meanings of the term ‘the one.’ How else could we have pulled that off?’
‘You could have been a lesbian.’
‘Is that better, though? I mean, it might not carry the full misogynistic load, but it still reduces us to secondary characters with no agency, who only exist in the shadow of someone more important.’
‘What if we’d been men, talking about a woman?’
‘That might have seemed better at first glance, but surely every revolution ever has taught us that flipping power dynamics only leads to a different kind of inequality.’
‘Perhaps the problem is that we’re just not in a very good story.’
They sat in silent consideration until a witch leaned in from another table.
‘Excuse me, young ladies, but I’ve just finished my tea, and the leaves say that evil is coming, and only the two of you can defeat it. Unfortunately they also implied that you will die in the process, but ambiguously enough that you can probably wriggle out of it so that at least one mildly unexpected thing happens.’
And then that happened, because the witch said it would happen.
‘To be honest, I preferred the coffee shop,’ said Esmerelda, afterwards. ‘The boringness made me feel smarter than people who need plot.’