Another commuter train blew its horn as it left the station in this small town about an hour outside of the city. It was eight in the morning, but one could already see the sweltering heat rise from the horizon in any direction. I parked my car on Bryce Avenue, then crossed Main Street and rounded the corner to the coffee shop in which I stopped a few times a week.
Ryan, the bearded man at the counter, greeted me as usual, and asked if I wanted my usual, a large cup of medium roast coffee and a bacon, egg and cheese muffin. And as usual, I said yes, paid him in cash and dropped a one dollar bill and some loose change in the tip jar. He said thank you, as he handed me the coffee and that he’d bring the muffin to me as soon as he prepared it.
The shop was a little more crowded on this morning. All the small tables were occupied and there was some sort of civic meeting going on at the big table, so I walked outside and took a place at one of the sidewalk tables. I raised the umbrella to shield me from the hot summer sunshine, sat down, and opened my laptop.
A man a little younger than me was at a table two down from me, and I noticed he was playing music from his phone, with no headphones. It was dance music. He asked me if it bothered me. You’re playing Daft Punk at eight in the morning on a sidewalk in a small town, but “no, man, it’s cool,” I said. Honestly, I didn’t mind.
Two men, one black, one white, were using landscaping tools to trim hedges and the small amount of grass around a bank across the street. Someone yelled something unintelligible from a moving vehicle, and the black man shouted back. Both myself and the Daft Punk guy turned to see, then turned back, made brief eye contact with one another, and then turned back to our respective tables. I couldn’t tell if it was malicious or friendly, mostly due to the buzzing of the trimmers. I don’t know what Daft Punk guy thought.
I took a sip of coffee and began to write, this time, a fictional account based on a few people I encountered and got to know when I was in South America a few months back. I wasn’t sure where it was going, but I wanted to write a short story, and actually put it out there for human consumption, something I’d never succeeded at doing before.
I often wondered if the staff or patrons at the coffee shop knew what I was working on the mornings I came in there with my laptop. If I had to guess, from the impression of someone else looking at me, I’d probably say computer programmer. What else would a thirty-something dressed in shorts and a t-shirt be doing at a coffee shop in a small town when everyone else was heading to work?
I had been unemployed since the end of January, when I walked away from an actual computer programming job. I was burnt out on the profession. I had never enjoyed it. I had always been a mediocre programmer anyway. The great ones could develop their own products and strike it rich, the good ones worked for the great ones, and the rest of us who could do a passing job of it? We worked for stagnant companies, or worse, for the government.
Since leaving, I’d been working hard to rid myself of the cynicism that I had developed over the last ten years. It proved to be a difficult task. When you work in a job you hate for companies and agencies that don’t appreciate you or your profession, for people who never know exactly what they want and are constantly changing requirements, you build up a lot, and it takes a lot of effort to tear it down piece by piece.
I became rude, pessimistic, arrogant. This extended into my personal life, and friends found me to be a miserable prick sometimes, especially when I’d been drinking. So I distanced myself from my friends at first, then realized that was a mistake, so I mostly quit drinking. Nowadays, I drink a lot of coffee, and a lot of water. I’ll still have a beer or a glass of wine on occasion, but I no longer get drunk, and let my mind wander into the dark places I’ve fought so hard to push out.
In any case, here I was, at a table on a sidewalk outside of a coffee shop in a small town, pounding away at my keyboard on a story, which now had legs. A breeze swept down the street, and felt good on my forehead, which, despite the shade, still had a few beads of sweat. My coffee was still warm, and about halfway finished.
Ryan came out to get my food basket, and asked if I needed anything else. I told him no thank you, and he turned back around and went inside. I felt a brief draft of the cool air from the inside of the coffee shop as the door swung open and then closed.
I’ve been attempting to write, both essays and fiction, for several years now. I’ve never completed anything. I tend to start, and hope I can find direction as I go, and this has always failed me, yet I’ve never bothered to try writing any other way. I am thinking now that I should go take a creative writing class at the local community college.
Suddenly, as the man with the music gets up to leave and tells me to “have a good one,” I have a revelation. Maybe this story doesn’t need a climax. Perhaps it would be fine if it just ended, on a high note. Let the buildup itself be the story, the descriptors, the thoughts, the brief conversations. Nothing significant needs to happen, if those are engaging enough.
For example, my morning here at the coffee shop. Is anything climactic going to happen? I sure hope not, because in real life, when you’re sitting peacefully at a coffee shop and something climactic happens, it’s probably going to be bad.
A man wearing a stuffy looking shirt and tie sits down at the table behind me. My first thoughts are about how hot he must be, considering I am sweating through my thin t-shirt at this point. The temperature must be 85, and with humidity, probably feels like 100. Out of the corner of my eye, I see the man take a sip out of a straw in his cup of iced coffee, and then answer his phone.
He’s a lawyer of some sort. He’s talking to a worried client, and trying to reassure him that things are under control. He mentions a separate murder case he’s working on, apologizing that it is taking up more time than anticipated, but that he’s on schedule to defend whatever unknown charge the caller is facing.
I turn down to my laptop and type a few more lines. Our hero is walking through the streets of a small town in Argentina, full of lament and pride. And then I decide to end his journey. He’s home, and there’s nothing else that needs to be said.