Midmorning Coffee With Rain on 3rd Street

It was at the coffee shop—the one over on 3rd Street. My shoulder leaned against the window to my right; my fingers woven in and around the ceramic loop; my knuckles pressed up against the steady warmth of the cup. Music playing just loud enough for me to know I recognized it and just quiet enough for me not to remember from where. My fingers grew tense as I strained to catch a word or phrase in the lyrics. I didn’t and the song ended and I let go of the cup and I leaned back and the leading tone still hanged in the air.

The electric lights shown down not quite white and not quite yellow. The door swung open with a soggy gust of wind and a girl. She couldn’t have been older than seventeen.  Grabbing a muffin, she moved to the counter and placed her order. The barista kept his head down as he reached over to hand the girl her change. He always kept his head down, which made his bifocal glasses slump down to the end of his nose. His hands looked soft, and his skin was a burnt umber. Turning away from the register with no less grace than a figure skater, he danced behind the counter, pulling levers and twisting knobs and blending and twirling. In that moment it felt I had never seen anything more beautiful. He drew a rippling leaf with the milk and handed it to the girl on a small dish. She thanked him and sat herself at the table in front of me, with her back turned away.

She didn’t drink her coffee, but she pushed it forward a few inches, then pulled it back one. Her hair looked stringy and unwashed, lapping in soft curls below her shoulders. It looked like she was waiting, and it’s true—she was. Her phone rang, and she answered it immediately; she was already holding it.

She said “hey, Mom.” She stuck her finger into the near-boiling coffee in front of her.

She said “are you doing alright?”

She said “I’m sorry.”

She said “yes.”

She said “no.”

She said “no.”

She said “we don’t have enough money.”

She said “I know.”

She said “no, you can’t come home yet.”

She said “I know.”

She said “I’m sorry.”

She said “I love you.”

She said “bye.”

She pulled her finger out of the coffee. It glowed bright red with steam billowing off of it. She held it in front of her face and stared at it for a moment, blistered and scarred from all the days before that she had done the same. She stuck it in her mouth and sucked off the last drops of coffee, before she stood and quickly left, leaving her muffin and the rest of the coffee untouched. I waved toward her absentmindedly as she pushed her way through the door. She was looking away and didn’t see me or anyone else.

The barista was preparing another order and performing his routine. It was just as beautiful.

The steam from my own cup rose and made foggy stains on the glass. The door swung open with a brush of bogged leaves and a woman. She couldn’t have been older. As she stepped herself inside, she sprung open her umbrella, spraying rain all over the shop and its faces and held it above her head. The barista took her order, now with a big drop of water rolling down the front of his glasses. The woman checked her wrist, which was wrapped in a watch. Her skin wrinkled around the strap. She must not have taken it off in years. The leather was faded and frayed and weathered. It was her mother’s watch. It had lived with them through a century. Its face saw the Great Depression and two world wars and a dozen and a half presidencies and the birth of a little girl and then another in turn who would soon throw the watch against the wall out of rage at the belief that some stupid watch could compensate for her grandmother and it would shatter like rain. She looked a bit like death, with her umbrella raised above her head like a scythe. She took her coffee, closed her umbrella, and went.

I followed her through the window as she walked away, down the street. She was made blurry in the glass. The people shuffled around expressionless. Their feet were fountains dragging lines on cement. I pressed my finger against the steamed glass and traced a smiling face.

Then, through its eyes I saw him. He was across the street, head up, walking intentioned. He was under no hood or sail. He looked happy—and not just a “yes, I’m good” kind of happy; he looked genuinely happy. Startled for a moment, he fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out his phone. He spoke for a moment then shoved it back. He looked straight at me. There was no mistaking it—he looked straight at me. He didn’t see me, though. He never sees me. There is no coffee shop on 3rd Street.

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