What They Say

It’s a thick fog morning and only the dockworkers are coming in so far, this early in the day. Still, it’s enough to keep busy and I’m working through my cups, reading Adrienne’s thick Sharpie scrawl, juggling the syrups in one hand, the shots in the other. Sometimes she writes little jokes on the cup, inside stuff, that our customers wouldn’t pick up on. She draws a football for the nonfat latte (NFL) and a few minutes later writes “CAPP,” the quotes being a mockery of somebody’s 20 ounce cappucinno (a drink that doesn’t exist, but, “Okay. Here’s your c..a..p..p..u…c..i…n..n…o!”).

I’m starting to recognize the old men by their moles, the shape of their glasses, or the thing they say. There’s always a thing they say. One guy, he usually exclaims at the prices. “$2.75?? For a cup of coffee?!” He will ask, shaking his head, all the same digging out the change and putting it, coin by coin, in Adrienne’s hand.

Another guy comes in, saying we should shoot our wishes up into space, for the new year. He has gold lame paper, “Biodegradable,” he says, but I know paper, and there’s no way that shit will fall apart in space.

“Where have you been walking lately?” Marty asks. “Oh, you know, around Columbia Park,” I say, “Peninsula Park, the Bluffs.” I don’t tell him I don’t walk anymore; that walking makes me more anxious, because who would believe that? Meditating makes me panic, CDs of soft relaxing sounds of rain that people give me to fall asleep only keep me up, listening. Listening for the loop I know is there, trying to find that seam where the producer tied the whole thing together. I have tried silence I have tried to listen to my own blood in my head, but it has a pitch, too, and I wonder if silence even exists at all?

Sometimes there are so many bodies in here that the air gets that stale quality you find on an airplane. The art on the walls is warping. I start to feel that there’s been a mistake. How did I end up here? The mothers seem like children and the children like small people pretending to be dumb and noisy.

“How’s school?” Bob asks, “How’s your writing?” I have begun to collect writing instruments: typewriters, paperclips, pencils and note cards. I walk into the office and stare at my typewriter, and it stares back. At night, in my head, it sits in a far corner of my brain making a sound like a shadow. “It’s fine,” I say, “it’s good.”

There is a customer who is silent. He can be, because we know his order. We say hello and he shrugs back. We call out his drink an he shrugs, comes to get it. Only when he is opening the door to leave does he say the thing he says, “See you in the future.” One day Adrienne says it back, her cheeks flushed with anticipation. “See you in the futureeeeee!” She calls out, so everyone can hear. He never says it again.

“Come to my show,” Randy says, “Come see my band play.” He wears shorts in the winter, he is not yet old; I think he lives above this coffee shop. He likes his shots to sit on the top of cold milk, so I dod it. I imagine the crush of bodes, the sour smell of polyester blouses, always the cold pine of the benches out back the bar, the stars punched like holes in the sky, the hum of something close by, or maybe far but getting closer, like a siren or a lost cat or just your same old ordinary blood, rushing around in your skull.

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