For seven of the last twelve years, I have participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you are new to the blog or the writing world, NaNoWriMo is simple: write a novel between November 1 and 30 with a minimum length of 50,000 words including all-new content. The idea is to write a rough draft that can be polished later for personal enjoyment or publication.
I am happy to report that this year, I have stayed on track for the first week and written over 13,000 words! As promised, I am going to do something I have NEVER done and am nervous to do even now: share some of my creative writing with the world. Nothing like facing your fears head on, am I right?
One of the things that has stuck with me in many years of wordsmithing is to write what you know. When the goal is words on paper or in a digital document, pulling from your own knowledge base is far easier than making something up from scratch. So, I decided to plop my protagonist in a situation that I have experienced firsthand: being an underpaid and overworked employee of a major coffee corporation that has a mythical creature for its logo. (Not naming it here because I don’t need corporate lawyers coming after little ol’ me.) I was inspired by a tumblr post that I saw months ago that I have since lost in which someone suggested having a customer service person deal with the most hellacious demons and be completely unphased by their awful behavior because that is what working with the public does to you. My protagonist, Zora, is that person.
Without any further ado, enjoy this foray into baby writing that was hastily typed out in the wee hours of November 1, 2020!
I hate mornings. I absolutely fucking hate them. I always get up before the sun rises for work, so morning is really more of an extension of nighttime for me. It’s awful and I hate it, but the threat of homelessness and financial ruin is real. So, I force myself up and out the door in the dark five to six days a week to open the doors to the coffee shop.
My dream was never to be a corporate slave. I guess the term “slave” isn’t really appropriate; I do get paid, after all, and I get to eventually go home. I also have the option to leave whenever I’d like, or at least that’s what they tell me. I would like to have left by now and be getting on with the rest of my life. Sometimes, I worry that the rest of my life could be at the bottom of this milk pitcher, and the shrill screaming of the steam wand is just my soul being squeezed out of my body. This was supposed to be a temporary gig. I didn’t want to be here this long. I don’t want to be here now. I’ve been telling myself this for two years and how many more years of the monotony will continue before I throw up my hands and shriek, “ENOUGH!” before throwing my apron on the floor and storming out in cathartic rage?
It is far too early in the day to be contemplating a quitting fantasy. I need to get the machines up to soothe the trickle of customers who wander in here at stupid hours looking like they have never seen the inside of a building before. The trickle will give way to a violent sea of consumers who must have their coffee their way right this second, and if I were smart enough to know that, I would be smart enough to have a better job like they do. It’s funny how little they appreciate me even though I am the one giving them the beverage that they covet and photograph for their online friends. Why did this become a thing, anyway? Why do we share photos of food? It’s impolite to share photos of the end result which would be a bowel movement even though we all know that’s what the pretty latte eventually becomes.
Anyway, I take a second to assess the situation. My closer, Dottie, took good care of me and left the store in pristine condition, so I don’t have to curse under my breath all morning about what didn’t get done. Dottie is my newest trainee, a recent high school graduate who is taking a gap year to work. She is eager to please and ready to learn, and I took advantage of the opportunity to mold her into my ideal coworker. It’s been so much easier than some of the experienced transfers who have ended up here and want to do things THEIR way. This is my store and we will do it my way unless I can be convinced of a better way. Brewing coffee and running a store isn’t difficult, so it is rare that something earth-shattering happens that makes me change how I do things. Dottie is different, though. Dottie caught on to my no-bullshit mantra early and for that, I am grateful. I see that she left clean pitchers in the order I prefer on the shelf, and I appreciate the small gesture. There isn’t much that will make me smile at 4:30 in the morning, but I can feel the corners of my mouth threatening to curve upward. I won’t waste energy on such frivolous things as smiles until after opening, though.
As I go through my routine, I hear a knock at the door. It’s Paolo, my fellow opener. My eyes narrow at him as I try to communicate telepathically to him that he’s running late again. It feels like I have to tell him this every time we open together which is most mornings. Ugh. I set down an empty tea pitcher, walk to the door and unlock it.
“Mornin’,” he grumbles.
“Hey,” I answer. “You know you were supposed to be here earlier. I’m not even supposed to be in the building alone.”
“Yeah, sorry, slept late,” he mumbles. This is always his excuse. It feels like we are just in another monotonous routine: brewing tea, starting up the coffee machines, Paolo giving reasons why he can’t make it to work on time like the rest of us. The tedium is weighing on my patience.
“Maybe you should set your alarm earlier,” I suggest. “Or go to bed earlier. Or maybe take a non-opening shift.”
He gives me a smirk. “Zora, I open with you because I’m the only one who isn’t terrified of you.” We walk behind the line together and he makes a beeline for the coffee that I started brewing as soon as I locked the door. “Plus, you probably like having some time without anyone bothering you.”
“Don’t turn it around on me,” I mutter. “We have stuff to do. Can you get the rest of the bar up, please?” I push my way through the door into the back of the store, the fluorescent lights making my eyes wince with their harsh brightness. I had never been in a mental hospital, but maybe this is what people meant by asylum lighting. Definitely not my first choice for a work environment.
I sit down at the computer and pull up the sales reports and forecasts. The charts blend together in a haze of data. I will need a shot of espresso at a minimum before I can get this into my brain. Has Paolo finished yet? I decide I’ll give him some time and gather together baked goods and milk to take out front. As much as I despise this ungodly hour of the day, I really like the peace before all the wretches pile in with their endless demands. The scone in my hand will never yell at me because we’re out of dark roast. I load up the pastry cart with supplies and wheel it back through the door to the lobby.
Paolo is behind the bar. I can hear the espresso machine going through its cycles and I see the teas are steeping. “How long until the espresso is up? I need a shot,” I ask him, jolting him from apparent sleep while standing.
“Mmmm, give it a minute,” he mumbles. I pick up gallons of milk off the cart and place them on the bar for him to refrigerate. I catch a glimpse of his phone on the counter, the screen lighting up with incoming messages.
“Who on earth likes you enough to be texting you at this time of day?” I tease. “I don’t even think my grandmother is awake right now.”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he growls, snatching the phone up and shoving it into his pocket. At this point, I am genuinely intrigued. I walk over to open the pastry case and lift the glass lid. Dottie really got in here with the vacuum the night before and managed to get as many little crumbs out of here as humanly possible. She really was a great person to have. I just hoped she would be appreciated by the others and not run off in search of greener pastures like so many of them had before. I shook myself out of my Dottie reverie so I could go back to taunting Paolo about his message buddy.
“Ooo, is it your new girlfriend?” I coo. “Boyfriend?” He looks at me and raises a bushy eyebrow. “Significant other? Fuck buddy? I don’t judge! Love is love, if you’re into that,” I chatter, placing delicately wrapped cookies, muffins and danishes on clean plates next to handy descriptive tags. Sure, it looked like every other pastry case in the company, but I liked putting everything into its proper place. When so much could go wonky in a day, this was one of the few things that I could set up and count on to not be destroyed by customers or their unruly children.
“I mean, I had a date last night, but that’s not who this is,” Paolo confesses. “My brother is still up. He’s been cramming for an exam today and wanted to know what he should get to stay up. A red eye, I guess?”
I laugh. “A shot of espresso in a bland cup of coffee isn’t going to do the trick. Tell him to get a quad espresso over ice with a little bit of syrup to take the edge off. Or, you know, he could go to sleep.”
“Nah, he’s like me. Once we’re out, we’re out.” His thumbs fly across the touchscreen, sending something in response to his sibling. “Like, I needed the rest or else I probably would have just pulled an all nighter. I’m running off of a two hour nap myself.”
I shut the pastry case and roll the emptied cart behind the line. “Oh, good, so you’ll be passing out halfway through the shift. Should I pull up the worker’s comp info for you now just in case?” I joke. I have an idea as to why he needed the rest, but I am fine with not knowing the nitty gritty details. Besides having no interest, it just isn’t professional.
“Nah, I’m gonna make one of those quads like you said,” he responds, picking up a cup and flipping open the lid to the ice bin. “Oh, shit. Need ice.”
“Yep. You know we keep it empty overnight. Wake up, Pal,” I say. He strides past me to the back and I hear him filling the ice buckets. I decide to make myself a latte while he works.
As I steam the milk, I hear knocking at the front door again. I look up to see a pale older woman there, her face pinched into a scowl. Although I am on the clock, I have twenty-four more blissful minutes before I have to let non-employees in the door. I dump my espresso shots into a cup, swirl the milk in the pitcher, and pour it in, watching the microfoam rise to the rim. It’s not the most rewarding job, sure, but I do like seeing the fruits of my own labor. The customer starts yanking on the locked door handle and yelling, “HELLOOOOOOOOOOO, I CAN SEE YOU!” I top my cup with a lid and come around the outside of the bar and stand at the door. She is seething with impatience.
“Not open yet,” I say, pointing to the handy hours of operation sign.
“WHAT!?” she shrieks. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!”
“NOT. O. PEN.” I project, forming the words slowly with my mouth while pointing again at the sign. The chairs in the cafe are still inverted on the tabletops as Paolo and I have agreed not to put them down until we have finished all other tasks. Usually, it gives a hint that we are not open. This woman, however, was not to be swayed.
“I NEED TO COME IN!” she shouts.
“NOT OPEN,” I repeat, jabbing my finger at the glass until my nail connects with the window and makes a BONK sound. She lets out a primitive scream. It is far too early in the day to deal with this nonsense, so I turn around and walk away. She would have to wait just like everyone else. In the meantime, I had a cup of coffee waiting for me.
The swinging door in the back opens with the force of Paolo as he hauls two full buckets of ice to the bar. The banshee is still making a racket outside, and he asks about her. “What’s up with her?”
“Just another impatient customer who wants special treatment.” I have been following him to retrieve my latte. As soon as he fills the ice wells, he gets to work on making his own pre-opening beverage. “I need to finish up in the back; can you start on the chairs and I’ll help you when I can?” I ask. He nods in agreement and I return to the back. As I look at the reports and review the closing log from the night before, I can feel that this day is going to be a rough one.