“I’d Like Some More Coffee, Please.”
Life’s got this funny way of changing right when you think it won’t. It’ll never change until things are at their absolute calmest, when everything flows perfectly. A river running through the woods is suddenly blocked by a fallen tree and has to work either through, or around it. Your milk steamer breaks when you only have one customer in a day, causing a huge inconvenience. You find out a family member is sick just after you yourself recover from illness.
The milk steamer is fine, by the way. I definitely didn’t break it last night. Really.
But despite what life may do to you, life will always continue. Life will carry on either with you or with you playing catch up. It doesn’t stop to wait, and it doesn’t slow down either.
And when things change, they change fast.
It was just barely 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday, and the last of the High School students just left. I began wiping down some of the tables they’d used and put the chairs back in their proper places. I’d soon turn my attention to the menu boards, which needed to be taken down and changed to reflect our new seasonal options.
The door came flying in, and a little girl with a raincoat and backpack twice the size of her came tumbling after. “I need a mocha with cream please!” She cried out, breathing heavily.
In disbelief I looked down at my watch, finding it to be 3:07. This kid didn’t walk here from school, she ran. And she took shortcuts.
Somebody sign her up for the track team, her time was impressive.
I sat her down and tried to set to work, but she couldn’t seem to keep calm. The girl seemed her complete opposite today, fidgeting and nervously pacing. I was doing all I could to make this drink as fast as I could.
I got her some water while the drink was finishing up, which she thanked me profusely for. As I was spiraling the whipped cream across the top of the drink and putting a lid on the cup, I figured I’d ask.
“What’s got you in such a hurry today?” I don’t think I’ve seen somebody freeze quite so fast before. Her face went blank for a moment, and I don’t think she’d really grasped how stressed she was until then.
“It’s momma, she’s not okay.” She blurted softly a moment later. “I need to see her.”
There’s times in our lives when we do something we know we shouldn’t, but at the same time it’d be wrong not to do. This was one of those times.
I tore my apron off and threw it into the back room, yelling to a coworker, “I’ve got an emergency and need to leave. I may be back later, I don’t know. I owe you!” I grabbed the keys to my car and motioned for the girl to follow me.
I took her around back to where’d I had parked my car. It wasn’t much, nothing flashy whatsoever, but it worked for me. It got me from point A to point B and that’s all I could ask for.
Driving down the road, I turned at the same stop sign she always crossed the road. She’d been mostly silent until now, when she said “follow this road straight and take a left up there.”
If I wasn’t mistaken, a left would lead me to be hospital.
The girl sat, mocha with cream in hand, in silence for the rest of the way there.
— — —
I parked in a visitor stall the closest to the entrance I could. With the car locking behind us, we were running inside.
I knew at this point that nothing I’d been doing so far had been as it may have seemed. Everything had a purpose leading here. There was a rhythm for a reason.
The girl lead me through the halls, taking turn after turn until finally arriving at an elevator. We stepped inside, and she reached up and pushed the 11th floor button.
Watching the floor counter, it seemed to grow slower and slower with each rising number, until each number seemed to tick after an eternity.
The door opened and the girl was off once more. Turn after turn and we finally arrived at a door. She didn’t wait to open it, but she told me to be quiet.
A man and a doctor were waiting inside, standing near a bed. Fearing for the worst, I assumed the woman laying in bed was a family member. I’d probably be right in assuming that this was momma, as well.
The girl walked over and set the mocha down on the table next to the bed, and for the first time in my life I didn’t want to laugh at the proper use of a “coffee table.” This wasn’t the time.
I couldn’t really hear anything, other than “difficulty breathing” and “point of no return” from the two men talking. The girl sat by her mothers side patiently as well, holding her hand. The doctor motioned for her to step outside for a moment, and I figured I’d follow her.
We took a seat in some chairs right outside the door, sitting in silence. I wasn’t sure how to react. I didn’t really know what was going on either.
I’d just assumed that I’d wake up today and be making coffees for people, trying to fix a milk steamer in my spare time, and whipping up a mocha around 3:30. I didn’t think my natural rhythm would be blown so out of sync, but things happen.
I’d finally realized at this point that all those coffees weren’t for the girl. Every single day, those coffees were being carried here, to that room, to the woman inside.
After a minute, the girl spoke up. “Um… Momma always said she never felt alive until she had her coffee each day. I never really knew what she meant, though…”
I sat in absolute shock at this. What do you say to that? How are you su
“I thought that maybe since she wasn’t getting coffee each day like she used to since she got sick, that maybe she needed some. So I started going to your shop. I walked past it every day and always saw you smiling inside as you worked, so I thought you’d make good coffee.”
Well no wonder I never noticed her. I don’t notice the people outside. But more than that, I couldn’t believe what this girl had been doing.
“I’d started eating some of my friends’ lunches. They’d always share with me and I would hide my money so they wouldn’t think much of it. With my lunch money I’d be able to buy momma a coffee each day and with the change I could buy another coffee for her on Saturdays. That would mean I couldn’t give you a tip sometimes though, I hope you don’t mind…”
If I wasn’t completely speechless before, then I was now. First, I find out this girl’s been getting her mom coffee every day. Second, that she’d actually been saving her lunch money and eating from her friends. Thirdly, she worked out a system so that she’d even have money on weekends. She really did put a lot of thought into what she was doing.
I still wasn’t sure what to say, but I think she knew this. “I know you probably don’t know what’s going on, but it’s okay. I don’t really know either.” She paused for a minute, looking down at her lap, before speaking again. “I was just trying to make things better for momma.”
The two of us sat in silence for a while after that.
— — —
I’m not really sure how long we sat there waiting. I don’t even know what we were waiting for either. I just knew at this point I couldn’t leave.
The door opened up, and the two men stepped outside. They smiled to the girl, somewhat of an empty smile. Then they looked to me and asked me to come with them.
We just walked down the hall, but that didn’t scare me any less. One of the men, the doctor, spoke up first.
“Now I’m just going to assume you’re the one who’s been making those coffees every day, and honestly I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve been doing.” He began. “That girl’s mother has terminal lung cancer, we’re afraid. She picked it up from secondhand smoking as she was growing up and unfortunately was never able to get away from it.”
The other man spoke now. “That girl has been practically living here with her mother, walking here instead of home. I’m not sure when the last time she’s been home was. She’s been helping to take care of her mother as though she were a nurse, and we respect that. However, I’m afraid her mother doesn’t have much time left. She’s having trouble breathing now, and it’s possible she may not live through the night.”
It’s almost as though these people don’t want me to talk, they want me to stay speechless.
“We figure, as you’ve been the one helping this girl, that you’ve come to have some form of attachment to her. Her father passed when she was at a young age from illness as well, and due to family trends we believe it may be safer to send her somewhere else to live, and you’re the only one outside this hospital with any sort of connection to her.”
If they’re suggesting I become an adoptive parent to this girl, I don’t know what to say. Not like I knew what to say to begin with.
I sat and thought for a moment, about how I’d be able to pay for the two of us on just my coffee shop earnings and Class fees. Sure enough I’d almost have my 4-year degree and I’d be out of college, perhaps finding a better job. I could make it work somehow.
“I think I can do that.” I said. We continued to talk about how things would work out, and eventually came to a conclusion.
— — —
Today was pretty boring. There weren’t as many people coming through like usual, and there weren’t many students coming after school either. Perhaps it was the weather, growing warmer and people found themselves wanting to do more than get a cup of coffee. Just that time of year, I suppose.
I went about the shop dusting some of the higher to reach places, taking this time of quiet to tackle some of the harder-to-reach jobs. Standing on tables, moving chairs, slowly but surely the place was getting cleaner.
I looked down at my watch, and sighed. I put the chairs and tables back into order and wiped my footprints off some of the surfaces just as the door opened.
“Hey! How was school?” I asked before turning my head. I heard the soft thump of a backpack at a table nearest to the counter, followed by footsteps towards the register.
“School was good. Just another day.” She sighed, smiling at me. “Could I have a coffee, please?”
I smiled back. “Sure,” I said, putting $4.15 into the cash machine for her.
Hey! Thanks for sticking here till the end. I know the story had a bit of an abrupt ending, and I realize. Everything I did in this story I did on purpose.
The idea that not a single character has a name, nowhere has direction, and nothing is described save for the coffee was intentional. The plot of the story worked with this to make the story somewhat relatable. The main character can be anyone, the girl could be however you interpret her, her mother is the same way. Nothing has direction or description or a name because everything is to be imagined by the reader, building their own world as the story progresses inside this coffee shop.
As for the plot itself, I took a bit of inspiration from some of my own life events. I found out my grandpa had cancer when everything in my life seemed to finally feel like there was a rhythm once again, and after that everything just seemed to hang there in limbo. As far as the story goes, the same thing happens. The main character falls into a natural rhythm, finding some bumps in the road, and eventually everything spikes seemingly out of nowhere, then hanging in limbo. Our main character then begins to think how things will work afterwards, but we don’t get to see what really happens between that point and the end.
The idea here is that life finds a way to continue and fall back into its normal rhythm, as we find the main character cleaning the coffee shop on a quiet day, and the girl comes in after school and asks for a coffee.
Coffee is also a large point in the story, as it has the most detail. In the beginning, describing the different orders of coffee the character gets is supposed to represent the idea that there’s many different people, but we’re all the same in a sense. We have our differences, but collectively we’re human.
In that sense, the coffee represents life. Coffee is made every day in that coffee shop, with one specific drink made every day for one person. It could be implied that after the hospital scene, that drink isn’t made anymore, or at least it isn’t made quite so often. You could see this as the mother’s life progressing as time passes. It could be interpreted that the mother enters the hospital around the time the girl appears asking for coffee, which explains why the first drink got changed to include sweeter. It was making life better. As time continues, the drink becomes normal, eventually hitting that rough spot when somebody else was asked to make the drink, and returning to normal afterwards when the main character returns to work.
The last drink being rushed before going to the hospital is also some of the fastest foreshadowing, and also somewhat of a cliff hanger, as we never hear what happens of that last drink.
Finally, at the very end, the little girl asks for a coffee just as she had in the beginning, which can be thought of as her looking back and remembering her mother.
Very much so is this story open to interpretation and imagination. In fact, it was born from the common joke that some people “can’t live without coffee.” I took that idea, and I went with it based on that.
I wont lie, I do think it was a challenge to write an entire story without providing any locational or character details, and it was a real challenge not giving a single character a name. Trying to imply direction and location without describing anything was tricky either. I know for a fact that the main character had to be the hardest part of this, as I never said whether they were male or female. I never explicitly said how old they were, or what kind of place they lived in. The only thing we know is that they work in this coffee shop, making that mocha every day at 3:30. I know everybody will have their own interpretation of this character, perhaps it’s themselves, perhaps it’s some figment of their imagination. It can be anyone.
I didn’t intend for this to be a long winded metaphor for how smoking is bad for not only you but the people around you but it also happened to be that way. Finding out the mother is dying of lung cancer from second hand smoking causes a stunned reaction in our main character, and they don’t quite know how to react. It’s so strange, almost like murder. They didn’t ask to be that way, dying in a hospital.
Smoking affects way more than what you think. Not only does it affect those caught by your secondhand smoke, but it further affects those affected by that as well. If you or someone you know smokes, please don’t do nothing. For their sake, for your sake, for somebody’s sake, please say something. Step up, make an effort to stop it.
And finally, once more, thank you for reading.