An Early Morning at Caffeine Purgatory (Short-story)

Every day, I commit myself to writing just one page. Here is my page+ for today. Enjoy!

the following is a narrative of fiction.

Today the sky is dismal and grey. It is not too cold for mid-January, at least. The trees are barren and roads are still and quiet. It all makes me want to collapse into my bed and sleep. I awoke at four this morning. I yawned, stretched, groaned, and rubbed by puffy eyes until they were raw. Then I clothed myself, tripping once onto the floor as I tried to put pants on. Kimberly laid in the warm bed and groaned at all the noise I was making.

I splashed cold water over my face, tamed my crazed, spikey hair down into something more conservative. Then I walked into the kitchen and grabbed an energy drink from the refrigerator. I pounded that sucker and poured myself a cup of coffee. Christ, am I tired. Please. You work at a coffee shop. What do you have to complain about? It isn’t hard work. It’s just tedious, sometimes.

Kimberly and Annie are staying home sick today. I kiss them goodbye, leave a little post-it note on the fridge for them when they awake at a more sane hour.

I pull into the parking lot of Caffeine Purgatory, making my way through the back entrance, into the darkly lit kitchen. I shove my coat into a steel locker, grab a headset off the shelf, and place it upon my head. The headset is what you use to communicate with customers in the drive-thru. I hate wearing these damn things. Every time an intelligent thought drifts into my mind, my ears are bombarded by loud beeping and customers shouting their orders. It reminds me of the head contraptions citizens of the future are forced to wear in the Kurt Vonnegut story, Harrison Bergeron.

I open the store with my co-worker, Kellie, whom is fresh out of high school. It’s a slow morning, which I like. Not too many people shouting at me at 5AM over the headset. I even have time to read a book for a while. Soon the daylight begins peak over the horizon. All the retired men, our loyal, early morning regulars, begin trickling in. They’re ordering black coffees and breakfast wraps. Kellie gets the coffees for them and I make the wraps.

I don’t mind making wraps. They’re easy. Slap a pre-made egg souffle into a pan, cut up whatever meat and vegetables they want in there – and the old men always want a hell of a lot of stuff in their wraps. All of the stuff, and for as cheap a price as possible. I had one of them haggle me over tomatoes once.

“Not enough tomatoes in my wrap!” he says.

“Alright, you ancient bastard,” I smile.

I add some more diced tomatoes, fold the tortilla back up nice and neat, heat it up one more time, then serve it to him.

“Thank you,” he says, sternly.

“You’re welcome, you decrepit old senile,” I say.

He nods once and goes about his breakfast, laughing at some dirty jokes with his buddies.

Ten o’ clock rolls around and I am relieved because I only have an hour left of my shift. Then I can go home and write. Not too shabby. A man orders a sugar-free hazelnut latte made with skim milk. I take his cash in the drive-thru. I say, “Thank you, Sir,” and he says nothing, only gazes at me tight-lipped and stern, with piercing blue eyes. I hand him his change. He sets the change on the metal counter between the tiny windows. I walk over to the bar to make his drink.

I pull the espresso shots, then go hunting for the sugar-free hazelnut bottle. I find the Hazelnut, but none that’s sugar-free. I’m looking high and low and can’t find it. I get the feeling the man is studying me through the window. Ah, hell, I say. He’s going to have to settle for the regular stuff. I add the Hazelnut, the espresso, then I steam the milk, pour it into his cup, and cap it. I hand him his beverage and he squints his steel blue eyes.

“This sugar-free? I’m diabetic.”

I look back hesitantly over my shoulder, over at the dozens of syrup bottles, as if seeking a verbal encouragement. I realize they’re only inanimate objects, and therefore, no help.

“Ah, well, no, Sir. We’re all out of sugar-free Hazelnut. That’s just regular Hazelnut in there.”

A great frown of dismay befalls his face. He hands me the drink back and stares straight ahead at the road.

“Fine then,” he says, vacantly. “Keep the money. I’m going.”

It is as if the man has lost all hope.

“I can make you a new one with a different sugar-free flavoring,” I offer.

He stares at me with the expression of a father disowning his only son.

“Got sugar-free Vanilla?” he asks.

“Sure,” I say. “Or we can do sugar-free almond.”

“Almond then.”

“Okay. I apologize, Sir.”

I go back and make him another drink. I pull the shots, steam the milk, add the flavoring, cap it, and hand it over.

“Just a little education for you guys,” he says, putting his car into gear. “Being diabetic, if I had taken that drink, I would have had some serious health problems.”

He peals out of the drive-thru.

An intense sense of guilt pervades. What if I had handed the man the drink and let him go? Would he have died? Would he have gotten half-way through, spit up foam, and croaked? It all seemed so absurd, but a possibility, no less…

I thought of me looking back over my shoulder at the syrup bottles. I shook my head.

Am I truly less than a good man? In that moment, yes, I was. I thought I had grown past this. I thought I had matured beyond such cowardliness.

I decide to take it easy on myself. After all, yes, of course I am a man. And men, good men and bad men alike, will make mistakes. There is no way around that. The tortured world shows it plain as day, every day. The cruelty of man prevails, but redemption becomes possible after conscience intervenes and we at least try to make things better the next time around.

***

I counted up my tips and I went home and snuggled up to Kimberly, sick with the flu. Annie remained on the downstairs bed, with her toy horses and her own TV. Kimberly and I laid on the couch, watching an Indiana Jones movie. Occasionally I would pet her head and massage her shoulders. Soon I fell into a deep sleep beside her. I dreamed of purple doors with Aztec faces on them. I dreamed of great, mighty fires raging in whirlwinds inside my skull. I opened one of the purple doors and slipped off into the immaculate blackness behind it. The door closed. My fate, sealed. I awoke coughing with a sore throat and my nose running. Damn.

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