This is part of the character development process for my novel, “Sarah”.
I used to think the only thing worse than serving coffee to people who think adding words like ‘grande’ and ‘macchiato’ to their vocabulary makes them bilingual was not having any money. Then I would have been broke AND surrounded by wastes-of-space that deprive the rest of us of oxygen. By everyone else I mean me and my friend Joan. And possibly her brother, Travis. But even that seemed questionable. I didn’t think he should be allowed oxygen just because he was nice, but I should have held him to the same standards as everyone else. Low. Really, really low. He’d argue with his band members over the musical significance of Grunge—the band, not the genre—instead of actually making music. Grunge didn’t play grunge, only some weird polka-emo hybrid music with a guy that sounded like he’d never get to experience puberty. I’m sure Grunge went to hell along with everyone else.
I worked as a baristia at a place called Coffee and TeaBucks, and we served—you guessed it—coffee and tea. Our logo was a large male deer chewing on coffee bean leaves with ornamental teabags dangling from his antlers. That was where my college education brought me: taking orders from housewives and college students blissfully ignorant to the job market horrors that await them. So, as I watched them babble over Economics 101 papers and coo over pictures of puppies, I imagined our beloved mascot frolicking around the city with the same patrons hanging by the neck on nooses from his antler.
There was this one customer, an older woman in her early fifties who always smelled of menthol cigarettes and some fruity brand of perfume, who was particularly difficult. You would think as a regular customer she would have her “usual,” some easy drink that all the baristias would have memorized at some point. No. She viewed coffee buying as an adventure: Medium mocha-caramel frappuccino with three pumps of a vanilla, caramel coated evenly around the inside of the cup, with whipped cream on top, a little extra caramel drizzled on the whipped cream with a garnish of chocolate sprinkles because there was no such thing as caramel sprinkles, or an extra tall vanilla-bean blend with strawberries, no whipped cream and two straws, one cut shorter than the other one. (Who the second shorter straw was far, we never knew.) She would watch who ever was making her drink with serial killer-like eyes, and if her drink wasn’t to her obsessive-compulsive specifications, she would make the barista throw the entire cup and make it again.
The last day we saw her alive, she took the first drink I made for her. The first one. She didn’t perform her usual quality control check of the caramel symmetry or the meticulous bean-counting task of making sure there were enough chocolate sprinkles stuck in the whipped cream. She simply grabbed her beverage and fled out the door. Work came to a halt for a few minutes after that. No angry shouts? No obsessive-compulsive freak-outs? Chantry, one of the more religious employees, broke down into tears and cried, “Thank you God for this miracle!” Coincidentally, that was also the last day the store would remain in business. Crazy Lady came back and ate Chantry’s face off.
That’s when the quarantine started in my city.