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This collection was written in a crowded cafe, with a million voices having a chance to contribute to the final product. Please listen as you read. Enjoy the experience.

Tap.

By the time the afternoon of my first shift came, I was tired, emotionally, physically, mostly emotionally. And by the time he came in, my temper was short.

Can I help you sir?” I said with a hint of annoyance.

The old man stared back at me and smacked the counter twice. Tap. Tap.

Sir, are you having a heart attack?”

He smiled and shook his head. He smacked the counter two more times. Tap. Tap.

 

When he smiled at me, the wrinkles around his mouth pushed sacks of skin up to his bottom eyelashes and his white teeth were crooked. He was apparently happy to see me.

Suddenly a short plump woman wearing a vibrant purple jacket made her way around the man and put her hand on his forearm.

“Oh dear, you must be new. Two taps is the way he orders for us. Nicholas, here, cannot speak; surgery on this throat dear. I tell ya, if you are a smoker, so help me God I am going to climb over this counter and stop you myself. You aren’t a smoker, are you dear?”

“No.”

“Oh, well that put my worry to rest. But what’s the matter dear? You look flushed. Are they working you too hard?” She leaned a little more over the counter and yelled into the back line. “Adam, I tell you all the time to stop working these young ones so hard. They get scared of working.” She rolled her eyes and reached over the counter. Her hand was weighted down with different sizes of rings and bangles. “Hold tight, baby doll. You look like a fighter.”

She smiled as she changed her gaze to interlock with the man. “I am sure, the reason we have been married so long is because we don’t talk to each other.” She laughed at her own joke. “How much do I owe you honey?”

 

Meet Nick and Karrie. She talked. He smiled and nodded.

They were the host and hostess to the morning crowd, spending their time going from table to table. Karrie mingled and gossiped. Nick followed her, sometimes holding her hand as she told stories of their children and grandchildren, promising to bring more pictures next time. Over time, I learned they had been married 68 years and had three kids and seven grand kids. “A life well lived,” is how Karrie described their adventures.

Although I loved interacting with Karrie, I identified with Nick’s slow and careful behaviors. The way he looked at Karrie, smiled as she filled the café with her laugh, the way he folded all his money into a golden money clip he kept in his right pocket, these were the details that sparked a question in me of where this man had been and what exactly would he have left to say.

One particular Sunday, it was raining. The café was empty as I occupied my time sweeping under tables. I heard the bell of the door ring behind me and when I looked over my shoulder, I saw Nick standing in the door frame. I rushed over to the counter.

His walk was slow. When he finally approached the register, I banged the counter twice as if to ask the question and smiled at him. He didn’t smile back and hit the counter once. Tap.

 

He avoided my gaze as he reached for the golden money clip.

 

Tap.

 

“No, Nick you need two—”

 

TAP.

 

The order had changed over night.

An Actor’s Paycheck

I want to be an actress.”

The girl says as she puts the cappuccino foam to her lips.

I am wiping the counter, trying to get a day’s worth of coffee stains out before my boss can notice.

What does he not understand about chasing my dreams?

I look up, she looks down.

She is a stick adorned with gawky glasses and mousey hair.

So what if I can’t pay rent, I am not going to be a sell out.

Was she telling me? Or telling herself?

I think I am going to dumb him. I can’t be with a man who only supports me financially.”

Her eyes leap with joy with this revelation. She threw 30 cents in my tip jar, turned on her Salvation Army boots and stomped her way through the doorway.

What she doesn’t realize is that she will be back in 2 weeks to apply for a job as a barista.

A Foreign Concept

“What does the bird stand for?” The exchange student asked as he quizzically stared at the computer monitor.

“Oh, well that is the symbol of Twitter. If you have an account, you can post your thoughts. And then those thoughts can be seen by the your “followers”. Each thought is called a tweet…like a bird, get it?” The translator held her arms close to her chest and flapped her hands as if to mimic a baby bird. “Tweet, tweet.” A seemingly injured baby bird.

The confusion did not stray from his expression. He paused in politeness. “I am not sure. Why would you like everyone to see your thoughts?”

The smile flickered off the young girl’s face as she searched for an effective way in which to describe a form of social media that claimed narcissism to be a form of communication. Her eyes swept over the room and then landed on her student. “Would you like for me to try to explain football again?”

America.

Menu Art

This is a guest posting from my colleague and friend, Jason Crawford. Jason is a senior in the CRTW program at Eastern Michigan University. 

Colors of Green chase Yellow, Orange and Red.

Their eternal game of tag never ceases,

Running through their fields of lengthy grass,

The bright sun beating down over their juicy tangerines andcrisp apples.

Our sharp silhouettes edges connect their slippery smooth curves.

Endless lines that set in the horizon, off behind monstrous mountains.

Soft stone faces close their lemon shaped eyes.

See no evil yet African lips can tell all seen within the frames of plantation’s green fields

Her golden leaf hangs from her invisible ear as if to be free falling.

Flat and unpacked lay her arm, still lifeless forms of Afro-centric energy

It’s long bony fingers reach out to warm me.

She is connected unlike I,

Who knows very little of this world.

My round sharp body mimics my mothers,

We have become one,

Separated at birth.

The endless movement of our lives continue of the blank canvas,

Crafting the sculpture of David and the Centaur,

We live.

Yet here we are,

freeze framed in art.

The Chairs by the Fireplace

Let’s start over,” he whispered as his thumb traced her dry knuckles. Her lips pursed in a question and her eyes were red from crying.

I am not sure I want to. Not with you.” She exhaled as if she just released a part of herself she didn’t realize was fighting against her.

When your boss sends you to clean the lobby, one can always expect to find more than full trashcans and empty cream carafes. I have witnessed a lot of crucial moments in relationships: first dates, fights, and potential reconciliations. The body language was always the same with these couples that were struggling to hold on to one another amidst their tornado of issues. Regardless of gender, age, or skin color, a person in love has the same facial expression when their guts fall on the floor as their ex-boyfriend or girlfriend walks out the café entrance.

Rachel didn’t want to start over, Rick did.

I do not know what happened between the two of them. But as she questioned aloud whether or not his feelings were true, I felt the tugging desire to tell her that in fact he did. I could tell by the look that I had seen so many times before in these chairs by the fireplace.

It was one time baby. Please, don’t do this. I can make it better, just please give me a chance.” His bit his bottom lip as he fought the surging need convulsing in his throat to release an emotion that men in our society are taught to repress.

Rachel let go of his hand in a quick flick of her wrist, as if to literally throw him away. She stood up abruptly and grabbed her coat. Rick maintained a firm gaze with her chair, seemingly mystified at its emptiness.

I am not sure if they ever reconnected; or if he got his act together as he promised even in her absence. The only thing I am sure of is Rick stayed in the store for another four hours till we closed, staring at the chair and willing himself not to cry.

To Whom This May Concern

To the woman who shoved me as she reached for the carafe of creamer with her transparent blue hand, who called me rude for standing in the way, who ruined her dark roast by adding half-and-half, who muttered with sticky venom how insolent a worker I was, who slammed her cup in an effort to replace the mess I had just wiped up, and whisked herself into a frenzy all the way to the front door until she crossed that barricade that she built herself, I mean it when I say:

 

Fuck you.

The Homeless in the Lobby

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“Can I get a sample of coffee?”

The homeless sleep in the lobby

Their appearance is always sloppy

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“Can you spare a dollar or two?”

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“No, but I have a moment for you.”

 

He was a musician of sorts

The homeless man in the lobby

His guitar had two broken strings

The homeless man in the lobby

His sweater was ripped and torn

The homeless man in the lobby

“Sometimes, I wonder why I was even born.”

Said the homeless man in the lobby

 

He played a tune

The homeless man in the lobby

About losing his honey

The homeless man in the lobby

He wept as he played

The homeless man in the lobby

I was the only one who stayed

And listened to the homeless man in the lobby

“Can I have a sample of coffee?”

Asked the shivering homeless man in the lobby

 

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“Can I get a sample of coffee?”

The homeless sleep in the lobby

Their appearance is always sloppy

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“Can you spare a dollar or two?”

The homeless sleep in the lobby

“No, but I have a moment for you.”

The Note in the Trash

Hey.

I just wanted to say I love you.

And I miss you.

And life is really hard.

I’m always cold and nobody offers me their jacket.

And I know I’m blowing this up,

But aren’t I worth a fucking jacket?

I guess it just makes me think of you and of something more

I’m watching all these people wearing jackets and I hate

I HATE

How they flick them off and on without any firm grasp of how much of a

Gift it is to be warm.

Sorry that I am bugging you again.

I love you Mom.