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2012-05-21 | |
I need coffee. I have been driving since six in the morning, and I’m ready for a break. A break that includes coffee. I want a latte.
I pull off the highway into an idyllic-looking town. There must be a coffee shop here. I don’t want gas station coffee, no corner store java for me. I’m in one of my moods.
I cruise down the main street at half the 30-kilometre speed limit. I am about to give up when I spot something. Something that looks very much like a coffee shop. I sigh, not sure if it is satisfaction or relief.
There is every sign that it is a normal coffee shop. Posters of Red Latte’s and organic, fair-trade coffee beans cover the windows. I feel comfortable, like I have met an old friend, but when I step inside, I enter another world.
There are beads hanging in the doorway. I did not see them from outside. I frown. My frown deepens the instant I lift my eyes and take my first breath inside the coffee shop. A cloud of smoke hovers near the ceiling. The powerful odour of cannabis fills the air. The man at the till has greasy, grey hair half way down his back and a bushy beard that might never have seen a comb. He greets me with blurry, bloodshot eyes.
"Hey lass, what can I get ya?”
I want to turn and run, but my need is stronger than my confusion and anxiety. I clear my throat. “From the sign and the posters outside I assume you have coffee.”
“Yep, shore do. Ya wanna cuppa?”
“Yes please, is it possible to get a latte?”
“No problemo, comin’ right up.”
The place shifts. I don’t know what else to call it. I rub my eyes and found myself in a clean, bright, coffee shop with a stainless coffee machine and granite countertops. The same man of seconds ago stands behind the immaculate counter with the same long grey hair and bushy beard, but he is clean and groomed, his hair combed and tied back in a ponytail, the wild beard brushed and trimmed.
“Lovely weather for this time of year is it not,” he comments as he steams the milk for my latte.
“Yes,” I agree taken aback, confused, and more than a little concerned for my sanity. I pivot on the ball of my left foot and turn to take in the coffee shop. It is the seedy, sixties joint I first found myself in, except that as I watch, it changes into the modern shop and before I complete the revolution, the whole place is new.
I gasp and shake my head.
My grey-haired sever gives me a mischievous smile.
He places my latte on the granite top.
“That comes to three eighty-five please miss.”
I have change. Enough. I count it out on the counter and push it over to him.
“Just passing through?” He asks as he pulls the change over to the other side of the counter, holding his left hand against the edge to catch it. A nickel escapes and I hear it fall to the floor and roll away. He looks down then slaps his toe and captures it, glee on his face.
“Gottcha.” He beams, staring at the floor, then leans over to retrieve his nickel.
I want to leave... flee might be a better word, but the door goes away. You do not read that wrong. It is there, and then it isn’t. There is neither sound nor tremors at the disappearance. I stumble to a halt and come close to slopping some of my coffee. The server glares at me.
I must sit. I am exhausted and my surroundings do nothing to comfort or relax me, the opposite in fact.
There is a lone, wooden, straight-backed chair, at a tiny, polished-oak table next to the window. A good choice I decide, as I can look outside. Outside holds the possibility of normality. I want a bit of normal right now. I place my latte on the porcelain coaster I find on my chosen table and go to sit down. I feel like I am in free fall for a moment and let out a yelp in surprise. I land in a deep, overstuffed lounge chair.
My surprise is absolute. My eyes flick around the coffee shop. I need to get out of this place if I have to smash a window to escape. I struggle to get up from the chair but find myself stuck to it... by some means. The one certainty is that it is impossible to separate my buttocks from the leather cushion.
“What’s your hurry miss?”
I look over and the grey-haired man is in a tuxedo.
“I can’t get out of the chair,” I complain.
“Why would you want to?”
“I... I... have to go.”
“Oh no, you must finish your coffee.” He speaks with the tone my mother used when I was a child and told me I had to eat all my vegetables.
I struggle to disengage my buttocks from the chair.
The man shakes his head and narrows his eyes at me. “I guess you didn’t understand,” he repeats, “you must finish your latte.”
“I... I’ll take it with me.”
He shakes his head. “No.” He turns to a new customer.
“But... but,” I stutter.
He glances over the shoulder of his latest... victim... and shakes his head. I twitch my eyes around, my stomach is in knots, I am panicking. There is a man two tables away, he looks at me with curious eyes.
“Could you please help me up?” I beg.
“Now I can’t do that can I.” He replies with a sad shake of his head. “Drink your coffee, everything will be fine.”
My hands shake as I pick up the mug. I slop some of the latte. My captor groans.
“At least she is trying,” the man two tables away speaks up.
The grey-haired man comes over. He is now in jeans and a t-shirt, with a green apron. He carries a white cloth and takes the mug from my trembling hands, wipes the bottom of it and the table, then places it back onto the coaster with... affection.
“You should be more careful miss.”
“Drink,” he demands, standing over me.
I pick up the mug again and do my best not to spill anymore. I manage a sip, my first sip.
“So, what do you think?” He asks... interrogates.
“Ah... it’s good.”
“Just good?” His voice rises.
I’m afraid. I take another sip, holding the mug between shaky hands. “This... this is a very good latte, uhm... the best I’ve ever had I would say.”
He nods, a grim smile on his face. “I’m sure it is.”
As he returns to his counter, there is another shift, he shimmers into a dressing gown, then again, and he is in slacks and a coffee-coloured dress shirt with a black tie.
I put the coffee down with exaggerated care, place my elbows on the table, and put my head in trembling hands and squeeze. Will he let me go when I finish my drink? My body convulses. Why is this happening, who are these people?
A new customer walks in. I sip my drink. I must finish it. I watch over my mug to see what happens. Is everyone stuck here until they finish their coffee I wonder? The new customer orders a regular coffee in a paper cup, takes it to the side counter, pours in a dollop of cream, stirs it with a wooden stick, which he tosses into the garbage and leaves. My mouth drops open. Why can that man go and not me?
A young couple walks in. There is another soft flash, we are back in the sixties, and the server has greasy uncombed hair. They stumble to a halt.
“Hey,” the young man says, “I thought this was a coffee shop.”
“Whatever your wantin’ we got it.”
The woman with him speaks up. “I don’t like it here Johnny, let’s go back to the gas station and buy a coffee there instead.” She tries to turn and go. “Johnny,” she cries, “I can’t lift my feet, help me!”
Johnny can’t move either it turns out. “What’s happening here,” he demands?
The patron two tables from me speaks up. “Probably best if you buy your coffee here.”
They step forward but when they try to turn to leave, they cannot. They panic. It does no good. They can move, but only toward the counter. The place shimmers again and we are in the shiny coffee shop. The couple’s eyes widen.
I cover my ears with open palms. She’s loud.
I surprise myself and say, “please just order your coffee.”
Johnny takes the girl’s arm and they struggle to the counter, she leans on him, weeping now quiet tears.
“Two regular coffees to go please,” says Johnny.
“Three seventy-five,” grey-hair says, placing two ceramic mugs on the counter.
“I said... to... to go,” The young man stutters.
“Not today,” grey-hair replies as he passes them their change.
They sit at the table between the patron two tables away and I. My latte is cool enough to drink without burning my lips and I decide to gulp it down, but after a mouthful, no more will come out of the mug. I stare at it wild-eyed.
“Coffee should be savoured,” says Mr. grey-hair over the soft sobbing of the young woman at the next table.
I try another sip and get another mouthful. At that moment I realize that this is in fact, the best latte I have ever had.
I look over at the server as he and the coffee shop shimmer once again. It looks like a bar out of an old western movie. Grey-hair is now in a western shirt with a battered, leather cowboy hat. He gives me a knowing smile.
“This is the best latte I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of them.”
He nods at me. “I know it’s good that you know too.”
I finish my latte, and find that I can get up. The couple is holding each other and she sobs into his shoulder.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get out of here,” he whispers as I pass by.
“Not before you drink your coffee,” I tell them.
Grey-hair nods and gives me a tight smile.
I push open the door and step outside.
Now at my car, parked on the curb outside the odd coffee shop, I stop to look. I see the posters in the windows, the everydayness of this extraordinary café. I will come back to this place, to the best latte I’ve ever tasted. I crank up the car and head for the highway.
I will come back soon.
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