Sunday, April 3, 2011

Coffee Run Down (Short Story)

Copco 2510-9963 Acadia Reusable To-Go Mug, 16-Ounce Capacity
      I nodded off mid-sandwich during lunch. An unchewed bite sat in my mouth collecting spit. On the brink of dreams, my boss accosted me. The situation was far from urgent, a query letter needed to be proofread. I resumed chewing.
     “Please get it done right away,” he said. “It needs to be sent out by two.”
     I stopped chewing and started grinding my teeth.
     “No problem Don.”
     Scorn seeped through my false tone. I became cranky after a short-changed lunch break.
     Back at my cubicle - workstation zero - I rubbed two knuckles into my eyeballs. Intricate patterns and shapes formed in my brain. These phosphenes danced around in strobe then scurried off into oblivion. I longed for Lady Sleep. She had been an elusive bitch lately. Five nights running, she played keep-away with my dreams.
     She’ll get what’s coming to her tonight! I thought with a yawn, even if I have to beat the rest out of her! 
     Next door, in workstation one, Cindy answered a ringing telephone. She applied her usual flirtation techniques in order to gain an upper hand in the conversation. Without question, the caller was male.
     Cindy’s voice began to excite me as I made an attempt to proofread Don’s query letter. Thoughts swarmed through my mind, sexually explicit in nature. I shifted in my chair to hide excitement and elbowed my erection into submission. Moments later, Cindy ended her conversation with an emphatic smack down of her telephone receiver.
     I lost my train of thought.
     The query letter began to dull my senses. A headache struck without warning and my eyes crossed. I was run down. I rested my head on the desk and drifted off into space.
     I thought about getting work done. I thought about my bed and pillows back home. I thought about Cindy’s mouth. I thought about asking her to rub pepper in my asshole in order to jolt me awake. 

     Would a peppery asshole jolt someone awake? Sure! Could I smuggle a peppershaker into the men’s bathroom, undetected? Does the office kitchen even have a peppershaker? What other ways do tired coworkers cause much-needed jolts to their systems? 
     I awoke in a daze. Aleks, a male coworker one pay-grade above my own, snapped his fat fingers in my ear. He laughed with gusto, relishing the opportunity to rouse me from a slumber. I growled. Aleks continued snapping while suggesting a coffee run. It was an excellent suggestion. He elected me to go, another excellent suggestion. I leapt up from workstation zero and blinked my eyes in rapid succession.
     “Them Donuts makes a great cup of coffee,” I said.
     Aleks asked around the office to see if anyone else wanted in. Cindy shook her head no, as did others. In the end, it was just the two of us. I psyched myself up for the journey with a flurry of quick hops.
     “My treat, fuck-face.”
     “No, you paid last time.”
     Aleks fished through his wallet and handed over a five-dollar bill. I was spent, too tired to argue, so I palmed it. With another man’s money in my hand, I made my way to the exit.
     Outside, I inhaled deeply. I tricked myself into believing a scent from the salty sea wafted through the air. The scent was really a byproduct of my delirium, or the garbage dumpster. It was a dirty trick. Lady Sleep was playing the prankster again, releasing a waking-dream. 
     She will pay tonight! I swear it! 
     Them Donuts sat square in the middle of Calaca Plaza, a moderate sized shopping center across the street from my office building. I considered a jog. Dogging traffic would become my exercise for the day. Instead, I shuffled across the street like a sluggish oaf.
     Calaca plaza offered the quick and easy shopping experience. A Floppy’s Tacos drive-thru was located just left of Them Donuts, located to the right was Paulie’s Pizzeria. Paulie’s offered a decent Tortellini Alfredo and an outstanding meatball hero, but the owners were young Jewish Australians pretending to be Italian Catholics from Brooklyn; they were almost as delusional as my sleepless self. Other stores in the plaza included a disgusting Smithy’s Chicken Shack and a Head’s Up Smoke Shop, where I bought pineapple-flavored rolling papers from time to time. This time though, it was all about the coffee run.
     I noticed a green minivan idling out in front of Them Donuts. It took up four spaces, parked perpendicular to the proper way of parking. A bare-chested Mexican man circled the van. Tattoos decorated his body. A hefty Mexican woman followed his circular path, pleading for attention. I slowed my pace to assess the situation.
     “Carlos! Please! Give me back my glasses! I can’t see without them!” the woman cried. She followed with a few words of Spanish, which I did not understand.
     Carlos was holding a pair of eyeglasses in his right hand, playing keep-away, taunting the woman. The woman was not amused. She made lame attempts to steal the glasses back. Carlos ducked and dodged. He gazed at her with wild-eyes.
     “Please Carlos! Why are you doing this to me?”
     Carlos didn’t say a word. He showed his teeth in a snarl. The woman bawled in desperation. I passed by with my head down and entered Them Donuts.
     Four elderly gentlemen occupied the seating area inside the shop. They glanced at me casually. These gentlemen, who were usually immersed in multiple games of chess, were now distracted by another game – the game of keep-away outside. With the shop clerk nowhere to be found, I joined the four gentlemen as a spectator. We all leaned forward, attempting to eavesdrop through the window.
     Carlos, now stationary, was in the midst of a hushed soliloquy. The woman struggled to hold back sobs, breathing erratically, wiping her nose clean. She fidgeted while listening. It was obvious her one last shred of patience was about to be depleted, but she allowed Carlos his moment of speech.
     Carlos punctuated his final point with arms akimbo, head tilted to the heavens. He stayed in this pose for a moment, eyes shut, breathing deep. The woman began a retort. Carlos opened his eyes and nodded. He seemed to agree with whatever point she was making.
     On the sneak, the woman reached out in an attempt to steal the eyeglasses. Carlos performed an evasive action, then a spin move, and the woman failed to gain control. Furious, Carlos punched the minivan’s side panel and decided to resume the game of keep-away.
     The four gentlemen conferred with one another.
     “He’s drunk,” one gentleman said. “She’s doing the right thing by distracting him. She’s trying to keep him from driving that van.”
     Two gentlemen shook their heads up and down, grunting in agreement.
     The fourth gentleman disagreed.
     “I think he’s torturing her. It’s obvious she’s been unfaithful. She looks like the dishonest type.”
     Carlos and the woman continued their chase around the parking lot. They passed in front of Paulie’s Pizzeria. One of the young owners exited the pizza shop and threatened violence with a wooden baseball bat.
     “Eh! Not by my pizzeria!” the owner said in a mock Italian accent. “Take it a-somewheres else!”
     Carlos changed his course, heading toward Floppy’s Tacos.
     Inside Them Donuts, a television propped near the ceiling spewed information. The information was a breaking news story. A violent skirmish between Israel and Lebanon had escalated. Explosions and chaos filled the screen. People were hurt and dying. 
     The report distracted the four gentlemen’s attention away from Carlos and the woman.
     “It’s the goddamn end of the world!” one gentleman said. “I give us three weeks before we’re involved.”
     Everyone grumbled.
     “There’s no way we’ll enter unprovoked,” a second gentleman said. “Unless Iran and Syria step in, we’ll sit back and let them slug it out.”
     “I agree. Right now it’s a fair fight,” a third gentleman added.
     The fourth gentleman, without voicing an opinion, returned his attention outside.
     Carlos and the woman were speaking again, engaged in what seemed to be a healthy dialogue. Still though, Carlos remained tense and prepared for another sneak attack.
     Inside, behind the counter, the shop clerk emerged from a back room marked ‘employees only’, drying his hands with a towel. I approached.
     “How you doing?”
     “What’s up dog?”
     “Not much man.”
     We pounded our fists together in an urban greeting.
     “Damn tired today. You see the show going on outside?”
     “Yeah. They’ve been at it for a while now. What you need? A Boston Cream donut with sprinkles?”
     “Not today buddy. Today I need two extra large cups of coffee and one extra large cup of ice.”
     “You got it.”
     “Leave room for some French vanilla creamer too.”
     The clerk smacked his palm down against the counter and went to work. He brewed a new pot of sludge. I turned around to check on the game.
     Carlos entered the minivan and pushed the woman away with a stiff arm. He slammed the driver’s side door shut. The woman clawed at the window like a rodent digging for food.
     “Oh man,” one gentleman said. “He’s going to drive!”
     Everyone grumbled.
     “I hope he gets into a car accident,” a second gentleman said.
     “I hope he just kills himself though,” added a third.
     The fourth gentleman turned his attention to the television near the ceiling. A Lebanese diplomat declared war on Israel in front of the United Nations. Security-General Kofi Annan presided.
     Outside, Carlos sped off in the minivan. The woman failed to win her glasses back. She howled in agony. Her utter hopelessness seeped through the window glass and almost perked me up. I couldn’t help it. The situation was stimulating.
     Carlos turned the minivan into the Floppy’s Tacos drive-thru, heading in the wrong direction. He circled round the fast food chain four times. A bottle of beer replaced the glasses in his hand.
     “This is crazy. Somebody should stop him,” I said, contributing nothing to the situation.
     A brand new Lexus entered the Floppy’s Tacos drive-thru and met Carlos’s minivan head on. Carlos played a new game – a game of chicken. The Lexus swerved to avoid collision and lost; the driver was pollo. Carlos, victorious, gulped his beer in celebration. He turned his steering wheel to the right for another wrong-way pass around Floppy’s Tacos.
     I yawned. 
     Damn you Lady Sleep! Here I am watching pure excitement and debauchery, yet my mind is totally preoccupied with drowsiness. You’ll pay tonight for sure! 
     “Damn. That fool’s wasted!” the clerk said, placing my order down on the counter.
     I paid using Aleks’s five-dollar bill. The shop clerk produced two dollars change from the cash register then ventured over to the shop’s window for a better view of mayhem.
     I turned my back on the window. It was time for a ritual. I poured one coffee, my coffee, into a large cup of ice. The two substances mingled in a clash of opposing temperatures. They battled inside a Styrofoam cup, seeking to become the other’s usurper. Ice won out after an impressive debut by coffee. Next, I added French vanilla creamer to the mix. This neutralized both sides. Stirring the light-brown mixture with a wooden stick, all the cup’s contents soon became one. 
     On television, the Lebanese-Israeli conflict escalated. Many outside nations lent their opinions on the matter, failing to take concrete sides. With a fade out, large white text ushered in a commercial break. The letters were bold. The text read: WORLD WAR III? 
     Meanwhile, outside, a Calaca Plaza security guard attempted to flag down Carlos’s minivan. The guard had no such luck. Carlos challenged him to a game of chicken. The guard dove into a row of nearby bushes to avoid vehicular manslaughter. He was out of his element. He quit the game a rookie.
     Carlos’s woman waited patiently outside of Them Donuts for another turn at bat. Finally, she was up. Carlos sped past pointing at her with his index finger and his pinky, forming cursed bullhorns. The woman braced herself. Carlos let out a war cry and threw the eyeglasses, left-handed. They smacked against the donut shop’s window. Everyone inside, including myself, jumped on impact. The eyeglasses shattered. The woman collapsed in defeat. Carlos took a victory swig of beer and fled Calaca Plaza.
     The game was over. The four gentlemen returned to chess. I fastened my coffees into a cardboard cup holder and pounded fists with the shop clerk in an urban farewell.
     “Back to hell,” I quipped and exited the shop.
     Outside, I passed close to the woman as she collected the pieces of her broken glasses in solitude. It took every ounce of effort I could muster to avoid looking into her tear-soaked eyes.

     Crossing the street to return to my office building, I whistled a happy tune, anticipating my much-needed jolt of coffee.
     Ten feet away from my office building’s entrance, I spotted Carlos’s minivan. It was abandoned and idling a yellow loading zone. Terror struck. Carlos was nearby. I could feel it. A thought crossed my mind: Lady Sleep! Attacking with another waking-dream? Bad girl! 
     But, when I saw my fellow employees gathered by the break room window, I knew this was no dream. It was a harsh reality.
     A well-manicured holly bush rustled to my right as Carlos emerged. He lunged for my coffee cup holder and won it with ease. He held it over his head, taunting me with maniacal laughter. I looked to my fellow employees for support. None of them moved. Aleks turned away.
     “Carlos,” I pleaded. “I’m really tired and need that coffee to wake up! Please give it back! I’m desperate!”
     Carlos stared at me, wild-eyed. He didn’t say a word.
     “Why are you doing this to me?”
     Carlos showed his teeth in a snarl. My run down state, combined with the tattooed man’s menacing presence, caused me to weep. Instead of exerting myself, I shuffled away in defeat. The menace disappeared. Carlos was concerned.
     “Don’t go. We haven’t even negotiated yet,” he whispered. “You still have a chance to win.”
     I entered my office in silence, a loser, and joined my fellow employees at the break room window.
     Outside, Carlos deflated like a punctured basketball. He gawked at the ground, contemplating my early forfeit. He launched the cup holder at my office building with zero enthusiasm.
     The coffees, the ice, the French vanilla creamer, the Styrofoam cups, and the cardboard cup holder exploded against the break room window. The impact startled everyone, except me. We watched Carlos enter his minivan.
     The angry wail of police sirens gained strength in the distance. Carlos recognized the sound. His chest inflated and his menace returned. Grinding his teeth, Carlos opened a new beer bottle and sucked down a hefty gulp. He pressed down on his minivan’s horn, shifted into gear and sped off. The man was ready to meet the law head on.
     Inside, after a long moment of silence, Coworkers turned to look upon me, all except Aleks.
     I thought about the poor woman who had been victimized in the parking lot of Them Donuts. I thought about her broken eyeglasses and how I could have helped in some minor way. But I also realized our situations were completely different: her loss of object was singular; my loss of object was shared.
     “Why didn’t anyone help?” I asked.
     Coworkers turned away.
     “It was your coffee too,” I said to the back of Aleks’s head.
     Aleks turned to me and looked deep into my eyes.
    “It may have been my coffee, but it wasn’t my fight. Keep the change man. I owe you, next time.”
     Aleks walked away. Coworkers dispersed.
     Returning to workstation zero, I rubbed two knuckles into my eyeballs. Intricate shapes and patterns took the form of Carlos in my brain.
     Cindy, next door in workstation one, made a phone call to what I gathered was a female friend. She spun an exaggerated tale of exploding coffees, tattooed men, and minivans. She included me in the yarn as well, but excluded my real name. Instead, Cindy called me frail.
     I finished proofreading Don’s query letter by two o’clock and he let me go early with a pat on the back.
     “Chalk it up to exhaustion, buddy,” the boss said of my short day.
     I nodded and gathered my belongings in a hurry.
     While driving home the usual route, I fantasized about the due rest to come.

     Sleep will be so nice. Today was such a horror. Sleep will be precisely what will get me through tomorrow. 
     Nothing new transpired at bedtime. Lady Sleep played keep-away with my dreams.

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