Hitnsplit, or so it would seem.

Activated by a hidden pressure switch, the large glass twins hesitate. Initially, that is. Burdened by weight, weary with age, they voice their reluctance by humming in low frequencies — preceded by a dark metallic clink — then slide apart (much obliged, fellas), bidding him welcome.

Welcome to the 24-hour supermarket.

Now across the threshold, he quickens the pace, motivated by the cooler air and, more — no, most — importantly, the mission. He has come for coffee. He’s come for bean. Fragrant nectar of Sumatran gods: this boy is looking to score his drug of choice.

Very few late-night shoppers here. A distant boombox serenades big men riding bigger forklifts (and how romantic: the incessant pounding of drums, the distorted rumble of bass, quite reminiscent of that piazza in Siena). Steel-caged operatives, along with their earthbound comrades, toil amidst the depleted mass of groceries. Big-time decibels, yet no one seems to mind. Music serves to medicate the monotonous routine.

This place seems huge when so few are around. He glances up at the illuminated cube towering above the only available checkout lane — number 2, express lane, ten items or less.

Securing his caffeinic prey proves an easy if not familiar task: he knows just where to find it. Walk down the aisle. Pass the ‘juice’ of apple, orange, kiwi, cranberry, pomegranate, grape — the infinite combinations of fruit, chemical and corn syrup — and you would mark them. Breakfast Blend, the ever popular French Roast, Cinnamon & Spice, Hazelnut, Mokha meets Macadamia, Kona-Arabica, the decafs, the recafs, the prodigious espressi. He will, of course, opt for whole bean — conjuring the image of the recently delivered grinder he’s eager to break in. There: tonight’s chosen blend, bagged in gold foil, and expeditiously plucked from its cluttered nest.

He covers the short distance to Checkout Lane 2 and takes up position behind a stout and slightly balding man who has begun transferring items from an overflowing yet sturdy shopping basket to the charcoal-tinted conveyer belt which is already barely accommodating the three cases of Coke loaded just prior by a twenty-something lad wearing this vibrant Bjork T-shirt which has been paired with some neon green headphones that hang loosely and blast the latest Coldplay towards the pink-eyed teenybopper currently engaged in a fascinating conversation with the Buttercup Powerpuff tucked under the arm of the sleep-deprived mum standing next to the wired medical intern who is constantly tapping a silver-banded watch which appears to be broken.

“Tsup?” (Evenin’, fellas)

Nothing. Not a word. Not a look. It’s late. Not to worry, as he remains in good spirits knowing he shall be home again, home again, lickety-split.

Great: not even five minutes later — with his precious coffee beans — and he is trapped. There, at the front of the line, the burly man is standing motionless and shooting an inquisitive stare at a hapless soul who is not standing motionless. In fact, this particular young woman is quite animated, nervously and repeatedly tapping cash register control buttons — click…click (frown) click (sigh) clickclick [tick…tap tap…tick] click (fidget) clickclickclick — and becoming quite the flustered one.

Something is totally wrong with this register!

Behind our hero, in a burgeoning line (multiplying like flies), curious shoppers huddle. He can make out the faint buzz, some of which betrays disdain for the “loopy blonde chick”. His neck muscles have commenced the all-too-familiar knotting ritual (this is like being in the E-ZPass lane at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge and realizing too late that your E-ZPass is at home — is sitting cozily on the hall console); and as fingers squeeze java, eyes nervously dart.

To his left, Snugglers Ball (an all day, everyday event) in full swing, with Duracells in remote-control-user-friendly four-packs fighting turf wars with their Energizer cousins, eyeglass repair kits, pocket astrologers, and DVDs of the not-so-new vintage. All share a perch above tabloid headlines boldly proclaiming SPLITSVILLE! Gaze to the right and behold a daunting fortress fashioned from candy and gum and breath mints.

Willy Wonka (as the cheerful morph into the sarcastic) would be speechless.

Moofies are in the machine. And panic is beginning to leak from the girl at the register. As the wooden aroma of coffee permeates the surrounding air, he places his attention on her.

The name tag reads HEIDI. Taller than he, slender, well-toned. Strong hands melt into long sculpturesque fingers sans nail polish. Honey-wheat lengths fall to just below her breasts, the soft greeting the firm in swirls of natural wave. The lips are full, even when drawn into that pout, and their color is identical to that of the half-dozen roses stalled in traffic and waiting, like all the rest, for the still and silent conveyance to be moving once again. Not red, not pink: a shade residing between them, one that might have been found in that huge Crayola box he had as a child. The nose economical in design, flawlessly chiseled, and blended smoothly, effortlessly, into the peaches ‘n cream — a fitting prelude to the almond eyes, with deep sea foam irises sheltered beneath healthy brows devoid of mascara. Alluring eyes, wide and searching, and pleading for help.

Fear not, Cashier Girl, for your champion has heard thy mournful cry, and will valiantly rescue thee from the depths of this hell.

Her savior approaches — absent the white horse but no less heroic: gliding over as if on roller skates; armored in shining polyester, white on white, a wee bit smudged; brandishing a fierce pen accompanied by an equally formidable clipboard; highly decorated, as evidenced by the word *MANAGER* embossed in white letters against blue background on cracked plastic, hanging somewhat askew, unclasped; behold her brave knight — and, peering at the register through thick lenses (spotted, in bent wire frames), reaches into a sweat-stained shirt pocket, produces a key (inserted now and spun ninety degrees clockwise), and mutters something about “soft boot”.

Stupefiant, no? Well, certainly cause for renewed optimism, wouldn’t you say? Still, our Mr. Coffee hardly notices. Mr. Coffee, falling fast and whirling topsy-turvy, is looking — is staring — at the girl.

He imagines Heidi on her back: shoulder blade to black rubber, skirt pulled up above hips, legs parted and elevated. And he imagines himself — in the narrow lane, his back to mint and gum — bending forward at the waist to meet her. Now. Feminine muscles tighten their grip while fingers of soft meerschaum slowly contract. She gently rocks, her torso rising, forming a delicate arc, welcoming the hands, those of his own, that reach under in support. Wheat sways in the cool Iowa breeze, while bluish green liquid, dark and effervescent, lingers among almond shells. Sand on velvet, drowning in vanilla and peach, with rosebuds panting ancient incantations in his ear, M&Ms and gummy worms in rhythmic tribal dance, paper and plastic flying everywhere…

It’s over. Tension has yielded to relief at Checkout Lane 2: click bleep (grin) click boopboop! (giggle) tap tap (tic tac) ping ka-ching. And when it’s his turn to face Heidi, all he can coax from himself is a muted, “Debit…Exact?” He slides card, he punches PIN. And, for an instant, feels her flesh touch his, as she smiles and hands him a receipt. “Thanks,” she says. “Have a good night.” He looks up at her. “You, too,” attempting a smile of his own. He should say something more…

Too late: Heidi has turned her eyes away; she’s on to the next customer. She will not be looking when he collects his package, turns, and retreats — passing the deserted stations, the half-empty counters, and continuing beyond the twin glass doors — into the night.

Starting the car, pulling onto the road, he entertains the thought of returning someday, of returning to Heidi, the girl at the register, the girl who, he fears, won’t even remember him. She’ll be in the second lane, scanning lonely marchers on the black rubber promenade. There, in Lane 2, he will talk to her.

Yeah, maybe. For in this moment — heading home, freshly lit cigarette, mission completed — he is content. He has nectar. He has bean. And coffee always tasted great after sex.

And then there are the Moofies, who are nothing, and come at night. — Scrolls of Mar Ti Namis, XV.ix

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