Literary as hell.

Category: Writing (Page 1 of 50)

It Was Like That by Wood Reede

It was like the time we were in that coffee shop, the one on the corner of 7th Street. 

It was late December, or maybe January. 

We walked up Avenue A, bundled against the winter. I held your arm, my boots slipping on black sidewalk ice, the cold coming up through the soles of my shoes and my three layers of wool socks, prickling and then numbing my feet until I whispered—f  u  c  k  !—in your ear. Drawing out each letter to emphasize my discomfort, and at the same time the pleasure of this moment. Your ear was red and ice-cold, and my lips probably hovered a little too long, but I was debating whether or not to warm your ear with my mouth. I didn’t, but I wanted to so badly. 

It was after we shed scarves and coats and sweaters, and after we slid into the booth with the green vinyl seats and the speckled Formica tabletop, and after you ordered paprikash and I ordered a salad with the dressing on the side. We talked in spurts and smiled at our jokes, and then we were quiet—the kind of quiet you share when you really know a person, the kind of quiet that is rare and precious and painfully perfect. 

 

You were relaxed and smooth with no ripples or swells, and I was a stone that skips across the surface and then falls to the silty bottom.

It was then. 

You looked at me and asked what I was thinking, and I didn’t tell you because I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it was so big. I couldn’t because the words would not come. I couldn’t because I knew if I did, I would explode into a million sugar crystals, all sharp and jagged and sweet and small. 

The waitress arrived with plates balanced on her arm and a ballpoint pen behind her ear. Your dinner was piping and hot with wisps of steam that fairly shouted: I am love, I am comfort, I am! My dinner was crisp and cold with all the flavor on the side and did not shout anything except caution and distance. 

I watched the moment slip away, the moment I was about to tell you what I was thinking, the moment I was about to transform. I watched as you ate, and I realized that I could never tell you, because I was afraid of what it meant. 

Instead, I picked up my fork, speared a piece of lettuce and ate it without the dressing.

It was like that. 

 

THE END

Shepherds Quake by Francis Felix Rosa

Claude had not slept well in the muck and soot, dreaming feverishly of home and his village being swallowed in imaginary flames. He did not wake from the sound of artillery fire, though of course it was there, always, like a ticking clock. Instead, he woke to men debating. 

“This whole business is like mixing oil with water,” Jacques said. “Now I have to walk around at night to the smell of Tommies, like wet dog.” 

Another infantryman brushed off the French sergeant’s comments, pulling his goatskin coat closer to his body as if that might do something to ease the cold. “Surely us Brits aren’t all that bad. The latrines are what really do us in; all that flooding makes a mess of things.”

“I was talking about the dead ones,” Jacques said, almost smiling. “You all know how to take a bullet in the head if nothing else.” 

The Brit frowned, a heavy disgust spreading across his face. they both moved on down the trench and Claude felt sick at the thought and the smell. 

There was no sun at dawn, just gray powder that sped forward in the wind. It was the debris of whole nations, Europe itself, floating through air as civilization collapsed into pinched moments of gunfire. It rained a deep cold, crusted into slush, then stopped, freezing hell over again. Claude attempted to ring out his clothes, but they were soaked and stiff; the clay and blood stains would not come out. Fresh mud seeped into his boots. Claude did not bother to move, letting the chill sweep over him until he shivered. 

Everyone shivered in those days, pressed between the pastures of Flanders, and the icy bristle of the sea. The men, hardly boys, shifted about in slow clumps of frost and weaponry. They were worms gnawing holes in the soil, searching, blindly grasping about in darkness for a place to hide from the tremendous weight of war.

Claude exited the dugout as officers called for inspection. They had new paths to shovel before it got too light. The troop’s breath were plumes vanishing in the air around them as they ladled out dirt. Claude slipped into the work, tunneling on muscle memory alone, gripped with the unshakable thought that they might be digging their own shallow graves.

At break, men complained about flooding, how the mud and holiday parcels were slowing carts down, and now rations were already dwindling this week. But mostly they complained about each other. The story went that toward the start of the war, French and British regiments had been fighting the Germans close by. There was a dip in the land. Like marbles rolling down opposite ends, they clanged into one another and by sheer force of momentum had merged into a single unit. The battalion was a total oddity, a beast patched together from separate parts and now left stuck and misshapen in the haze of war. Claude didn’t mind the company; the French always played good poker.  

 The complaints went on while Claude picked at a canned collection of old vegetables in a rancid broth, stuffing the end of a carrot and a rotted cube of turnip into his lapel for later. The grease of the tin-meal congealed into fat on his fingertips. He pulled his fingers together, rolled the fat into a waxy ball, and stuck it with the vegetables.

Soldiers were clustered together in a narrow space along the trench. They chewed the food like cattle, heads bent down against the wind. Claude tapped the shoulder of a tall French lieutenant with cigarettes to trade for the bulk of his turnip. The Frenchman was gaunt, a skeleton under faded colors of a blue and red uniform.

He spoke musically in his French babble. Claude pieced words together. The Frenchman divided the turnip into slivers and handed Claude a cigarette. Claude lit it silently, squatting behind a wall of sandbags, holding it away from the sky, cupping fumes with his palm so it did not all trail out at once. The bitter-warm taste, like toasted birch, was still new to him. The way it massaged the brain was desperately familiar. His father was there with his tobacco breath, pacing back and forth in Claude’s bedroom, railing against the Boers and lost battles amongst green hills from his own youth, then the image was gone. Several men gravitated toward the smell, huddling near Claude, wordless.

A fellow Brit, barely recognizable, with sunken eyes and curled hair approached Claude, taking in the nicotine.

“Sometimes,” the infantryman said, “I think the explosions have made silence uncomfortable to me. If you ever put me in a silent field, I will kill everything that moves.” The infantryman turned back toward the front. A shower of heat and radiant beams replaced the dim sun and rumbled. “If you put me in a noisy field, I will kill everything that moves…but only because I am ordered to.”

He winked at Claude.

Claude puffed his cigarette, eyed the strange infantryman, and shrugged. The others stared at them both. A fat Englishman, a Frenchman built like steel, and two more bony Parisians who gazed with a hollow presence at the world around them.

“Artillery,” the infantryman continued, “it is a symphony.”  He demonstrated, thumbing through air. Hands moved in smooth invisible waves.

This should have been amusing, but it was not. Claude shuffled away an inch. The strange soldier pulled a carrot stick from his pocket and stepped up a ladder out onto the parapet, hands whipping around faster in the wind. He acted like he was composing in front of a grand orchestra of kindled sod and iced earth, swinging his arms as shells dropped up ahead.

The men, gathered in their nicotine-orange glow, ran toward him. The large Frenchman was there first tackling the infantryman into the puddle at their feet.

 “Keep your hands down, by God!” the fat Brit yelled.

A quick tap of bullets flew overhead, everyone crouched down expecting death. Claude followed their example. The infantryman lay still. His uniform was soaked, a drab thread of khakis and badges that meant nothing now. He stared unblinking at Claude and would not stop. Claude backed away further and put his cigarette out against the trench wall; they all did. The winds changed, and the smoke was pushing too far upward. Taps of bullets traced back toward them, then faded away again. One of the gaunt Parisians took the carrot from the ground. He did not wipe off the grime but just stuck it in his cheek and gnawed.

“What’s wrong with him?” Claude asked.

A brash soldier appeared strapped with extra bayonets, the French sergeant who Claude recognized with a lurking disdain as Jacques.

“He has gone mad,” Jacques said. He spoke in loud accented English. “It happens to everyone eventually.”  

Jacques walked over the soldier’s body and toward the Frenchman with cigarettes. The other soldiers dragged the madman to the side where he sat up and fluttered his hands in tiny circles, still composing his melody. Claude’s breath increased. Plumes grew hotter on his tongue. He couldn’t help himself and followed Jacques.

“You say eventually?” Claude sputtered this out and almost walked into Jacques as the sergeant stopped and turned back. “But this has to end soon. I’ve been hearing words of possible peace.”

Jacques looked Claude up and down, like admiring a porcelain doll.

“There is no end to war.” 

Jacques grinned; his teeth had a sharpness to them. “Victories, defeats, armistice, these are just words. They mean nothing. But guerre, guerre means something. It means a going on. That is what is expected of you and me. You go on, and when you don’t go on there will be no words because you’ll be dead.”

“So what of peace?”

It was Christmas Eve, Claude had silly thoughts coursing through him. He wanted to be preparing a round slick pheasant with his grandfather, heating vegetables until onions caramelized in the iron pan, whipping the plum pudding together with candied raisins and sugared milk. He wanted to be in church pulling his sister’s hair to the sound of a cedar-box organ until his mother smacked him. He wanted to feel the seaside bustle when they rode into Portsmouth, where he would press his face against a shop window full of tin soldiers and a Meccano construction kit.

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2023 Halloween contest winner: “Assassin 4” by Joseph Kiaza

The letter arrived on Tuesday in a plain white envelope with no return address. Inside was a mossy green card with a smiling, toothy jack-o-lantern on the front and a speech bubble that read, “Boo!” Will frowned and flipped it open.

The message was written in black pen and long, looping letters.

 

Dearest William,

I am going to kill you on October 28th. The method I will employ is electrocution, though this may be subject to change, depending on unforeseen factors (i.e. weather). There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop me, so I encourage you to enjoy your life to the fullest in the weeks you have left. Machu Picchu is lovely this time of year.

Best,

Assassin 4

 

Without thinking, Will slid the card back into the envelope and put it underneath the other mail he’d picked up, as if by undoing the operation of having seen it he could make the letter not exist. He quickly realized this was stupid and took the card back out, staring at it while rubbing his neck. After a minute he walked over to the table, grabbed his cellphone, and dialed a number.

His mom picked up on the last ring. “Can it wait?” she asked.

“Er.”

“Are you about to die?”

“Well…” That would depend on how you defined about to. “I guess technically no.”

“Then it can wait,” she said, and hung up.

Will placed the phone back onto the table. He still gripped the card in one hand, holding it away from him as though it were foul-smelling. Wandering over to his desk chair, he booted up his computer and began searching the Internet.

As it turned out there was a wealth of information on cards like this. It was a rare but not unknown phenomenon: people would start getting letters in the mail at any point from a year to a couple weeks before their inscribed expiration date, and without fail, they would indeed be killed, or die in some terrible accident—be it semi-truck collision or shark attack, house fire or hunting mishap.

In no recorded case did the target ever survive. Nothing was known about the assassins except their unblemished professional record; if you received one of these letters, you would die on the date they said you would. No exceptions. None.

Will wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this.

He had always possessed the vague notion that he would die someday, but he tried not to think about that too much. He didn’t really believe in an afterlife, not because he’d given it much consideration, more just a feeling that it seemed rather implausible. When his time came, he figured that would be that. The World, for all intents and purposes, would end.

He’d had a dream once that was sort of about dying: in it he’d gone to sleep and woken up at the very end of the universe, but he was the only one there; everyone else in the entire world had lived their lives and died and turned to dust, and humanity itself had ceased to exist a hundred billion years ago, leaving him alone at the very end of things—he had missed it all.

That was what dying was like, he imagined: the separation of oneself from time, so that the moment your brain stopped processing all of time skipped forward some impossibly large amount. Viewing it that way it was clear that, if you knew you were going to die, there really was no point in worrying about anything.

He played solitaire on his computer for a while, and then eventually got up and pinned the card to his refrigerator with one of his fridge magnets, a smaller magnet in the shape of a leopard seal. Then he washed his hands and went to go make himself an egg salad sandwich.

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2023 Halloween Contest Finalist: Baba Yaga Revived by Diane Funston

Glass cobalt evil eyes from Turkey

hang in windows in every room. 

A hammered tin Hamsa

hangs outside each entrance. 

 

These baubles I placed for protection 

from all harm, 

the seen and unseen. 

 

After centuries of abuse,

words and other wounds

I forgave Baba Yaga,

whom I believed 

would no longer eat children.

 

Her advanced age, gnarled weak bones

grew frail in unforgiving winters,

she grew lonely with failing powers. 

 

I moved her out of her high-rise hut

into our warm home 

far away from black ice. 

 

I tended my garden 

as she grew accustomed 

to nourishing meals and healing sun. 

 

I began to wonder 

if there was maybe a little love

or was I merely a place to eat and rest…

 

Her voice regained 

familiar strength and timbre

I heard her chanting spells behind her door. 

 

Her responses to my questions 

growled back

Her elderly hands grew talons

ready to pierce and slice 

even the most innocent requests.

 

In between battles about last century’s war

I prayed daily to my god of poetry.

 

I found myself denying recent scratches 

rinsing drops of blood down the drain. 

I shielded torn flesh from my loved ones

I was cursed with guilt 

for welcoming her in.

 

When the plague locked us all inside for months,

it was easy to cover my scars and wounds. 

 

“Come here”Baba Yaga hissed one day,

after she again drew blood with her tongue,

her claws reaching for me,

 

“Mother knows you need redoing.”

 


Diane Funston lives in Marysville, California. Diane has been published in journals including California Quarterly, Lake Affect, Tule Review, San Diego Poetry Annual, Whirlwind, Summation, among others. She served two years as Poet-in-Residence for Yuba-Sutter Arts and Culture Her chapbook, “Over the Falls” was published by Foothills Publishing in 2022.

Poetry by Gabriella Garofalo

Let’s call it a day, shall we, as we’ve been traipsing
From waves to clouds, from clouds to waves,
Among weeds, and a fire fearing the waves,
That heartless white all over-
But they’ll soon come back to clean

Her thirst, her hunger, not now,
As they’re not listening, too busy wondering
Whose son he is the mongrel-
So, don’t ask for angels, for comets, from births,
Or days from demise, my soul’s in rehab,
Soon to be dismissed, and no goddess shall reply
While running in red hot shoes-
And when you’ll fall down, my blessed fury,
My soul gasping among vertical words,
I’d have to tie you up, my soul so young and green,
Who confuses stars for shadows, when out of fear
Her light is throwing herself to trees and seasons,
When neither maps nor sextants light up ambos,
Alarms, dross, while you keep stroking rooms,
Streets, secluded spots-
So, moon, leave it alone, if they say blue takes care
Of everything, even keeps you safe
If by any chance you are cold-
No need to ask, ‘cause the blue of the sky
Looks so disheveled, and the trees of disappearance
Can’t give you their best fruits-
She’s here, the last light coming back in small bites
Ready to fight thorn bushes if you reject fear
Or ask too much-
That’s why you pay so dearly for the sound of cicadas,
An angry summer, my October sowing ghastly seeds,
When your hands awaken your breath,
And desertion turns up, but can’t grasp light-
Father, my father, use a different clay,
You see, other fathers break forth,
Shouting you betrayed our search of clouds,
Sheets in the wind, tense times-
Now listen, why did you ask for animals
To sit next to small creatures,
Why did you give them absolute freedom,
Ever the innocent visionary artist,
And look now, we both bound to stay
Outside the garden, I fed up and sick
With all the blue shapes you handed to water,
Skies, detachment, respite, you in such a fright
That they’ll report you for being a jackal,
Both our blue minds loaded with evil,
And a bloody world.

 

______________

Born in Italy some decades ago, Gabriella Garofalo fell in love with the English language at six, started writing poems (in Italian) at six and is the author of these books “Lo sguardo di Orfeo”; “L’inverno di vetro”; “Di altre stelle polari”; “Casa di erba”; “Blue Branches”; “A Blue Soul”. You can find her here.

Poems by Diane Webster

BATHROOM SPACES

He props the bathroom door open

maybe to allow odious odors

freedom to assault more noses than his,

maybe a latent move for voyeurism

as he stands in a stall hidden

only by waffled plastic

knowing it’s him by his shoes,

maybe afraid of closed-in spaces,

dreaming of peeing in snow

or a desert highway where

evaporation is almost quicker than he,

maybe the wind banged open

the outhouse door when he visited

grandpa, and he stained his best shoes

in a startled turn around move

exposed for a moment,

exposed for longer as he scuffed dirt

onto a wet shoe on long path back.

 

GOING

As a child, I got up from the couch

and said, “I have to go to the lavatory,”

until my aunt said, “You don’t have

to announce it.  Just go.”

 

What a concept?  That I could get up,

walk down the hall and go

without letting anyone know

where I was going.

 

How brave I became in going,

but everyone knew,

and it made me feel

like going even more.

Will You Love Me If I Give You a Dollar? By Leigh Katharine Camp

When I was in the fourth grade, I decided I was in love with Cory Schneider.* He was a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy in my class, skinny with a smattering of freckles on his nose. 

And because it was circa 1998 and what I’d learned from 90s sitcom televisions about love up to that point was that you sent secret admirer letters to those you crushed on, I did just that.

I wrote three in total — with each one I became more daring than the last. And, let me tell you, that was the most thrilling two-week period of my entire life up until that moment.

I remember writing the first one. It was short, sweet, to the point. Said something like, “Dear Cory, I think you’re cute. Love, Your Secret Admirer.” 

Then I snuck down to my mom’s room, pulled out a bottle of Chanel No. 5 — her signature scent, which I had to use in a pinch, having not yet acquired a signature scent of my own — and sprayed probably $5 worth of perfume on that piece of paper. I sprayed until the ink blurred a little, but it was still legible.

Then I put it into an envelope, and not having any lipstick to seal it with a kiss, as one must, and not being brave enough to steal any of that from my mother, I grabbed a magic marker, applied what was probably toxic dye to my lips, and then gave the seal a good ol’ SMACK. 

I walked a few blocks down the street to Josh Haydell’s house. He was a friend of Cory’s, so I dropped the letter in the mailbox for him to deliver on my behalf. I think the envelope just said, “To Cory Schneider ” and I assumed Josh would know what to do with it. 

I’d known where Cory lived, too, and could have walked to deliver it to his mailbox, but that seemed risky. Also, he lived a lot farther away, and I guess there were limits to the lengths I was willing to go to for my love. 

That next morning, I didn’t have to wait long. Because it was the 90s and children were still familiar with how standard letter delivery worked, Josh had indeed known exactly what to do with his missive. 

Upon entering my classroom, the room was already abuzz with what had happened: Someone had sent Cory — squeee! — a secret admirer letter.

Giving it to Josh turned out to be an even better plan than I’d originally thought, because it meant that Cory couldn’t pretend to never have gotten it. The deed was immediately very public. 

And the news rippled like wildfire. I even heard teachers talking about it. “What’s all this about a letter,” one teacher asked my teacher. “Oh, just some girl crushing on Cory,” the other one said. 

That was ME! I was some girl!

I waited a few days. The buzz died down. So, obviously, I had to send a second letter. 

I executed and delivered this message in much the same way: wrote it, perfumed it, SMACKED it shut with magic-marker lips, and dropped it safely off at Cory’s for delivery. 

But this backfired on me in the worst way.  

My faithful, unwitting delivery man, Josh Gilstrap, started getting bullied pretty quickly the next day as a result. 

The guys were saying it was weird that he kept getting these letters — was HE the secret admirer?

In the 90s, being gay wasn’t something you talked about freely. It was a shittier time. I felt terrible the other boys were teasing Josh, and knew I had to fix this.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I wrote ANOTHER letter.

In this one, I explained that Josh was most DEFINITELY not the secret admirer, that it was someone else, and that someone really liked Cory. I also put a dollar bill in the envelope this time, because what says love if not cold, hard cash?

Then I mustered up all the courage my little fourth-grade heart could manifest, and I dropped the letter into his backpack when he wasn’t looking so Josh wouldn’t be held culpable for my actions any longer.

That plan may have actually worked, too. And I could have maybe gone on the rest of the year dropping anonymous notes to this poor kid, embarrassing him to no end in my own need to feel important as the new kid at the school after moving to Shreveport, Louisiana, from Austin, Texas, in the wake of my parents’ divorce. 

It was still fresh, the divorce — and I was desperate to ignore the hurt of it, I suppose. So I wrote these silly letters. But if I didn’t want to have to look at it too closely in the midst of this little mess I was busy making, dear reader, then neither should you. So let’s move on.

Where were we? Oh, yeah. I would have gotten away with it, too — except … this last time I sent the letter, I made a devastating boo-boo.

I’d met a new friend at school that week. Nicole Hernandez. She was funny and outgoing and smart and I wanted us to be besties. I wanted it so badly, I was going to will it into being. 

Earlier that week, in an effort toward this goal, I’d asked for her phone number. She’d given it to me on a slip of paper which I then put into my pocket.

As part of my letter production, I always wrote my letter upstairs, put the note into my pocket, brought it downstairs, doused it in perfume, then brought it back upstairs, put the contents of my pocket in the envelope, and SMACKED the envelope shut with pursed magic marker lips.

Efficient? No. But hey, I was eleven. 

This time, though, my methods totally failed me in the worst way imaginable, because … NICOLE HERNANDEZ’s NUMBER ENDED UP IN THAT DAMN ENVELOPE.

And, also, because Nicole — who was, of course, going to be my best friend — was the only person at school who knew I was the identity of the secret admirer! SQUEEE, indeed!

I’d told her in a moment of weakness. And I had probably also hoped the secret would act as collateral in establishing the foundation of a true friendship I desperately craved.

Things happened very quickly after that.

In homeroom, everyone was saying that Nicole liked Cory. How embarrassing.

Then, in the hallway, Nicole cornered me and told me either I could come clean myself and we could be friends, or she’d do it for me and would never speak to me again. 

I explained that it was an accident! And begged her not to make me tell Cory that I was the one who liked him and not her.

She held her ground. (As she damn well should have.) And so it was decided that I would tell Cory in our next class together, art class.

Nicole was in that class, too, so she made sure I did it, practically shoving me over to Cory’s table where he was working on something. I interrupted his concentration to mumble quickly, “I wrote the notes.” He didn’t hear me. “What?”

I took a breath and said more clearly, “It was me. I’m the secret admirer. I wrote the notes.”

Nicole was standing next to me triumphantly. I wanted to die. I wasn’t mad at her, but my God, did she have to smirk like that? This was, after all, the worst moment of my life! I didn’t know what would happen.

Corey simply asked, “Why?”

And this was the moment in the movies where I would have told him it was because I loved him more than anything else in the world and could we please ride off into the sunset together. And then we would. But I was eleven, so I just said, “I don’t know.” And walked away. And left it at that.

Cory was a kind boy and never mentioned it again. Which, honestly, is even more than kind if you think about the politics of the fifth grade. He could have crucified me. He just let it drop.

We remained friends throughout middle and high school, up until we were old enough to laugh about it, I thought. 

But when I brought it up in a moment hoping to clear the air, and just cackle about it together, my timing must have been too soon. Instead of the healthy belly laugh I was yearning for, he just gave me this sweet smile and said, “Yeah, Leigh. That was weird,” and then moved on, resuming our “let’s never talk about this,” contract before I’d gotten whatever satisfaction I’d wanted out of that interaction.

Nice guy. But not enough passion in him for me.

I wonder what he did with that dollar. 

*Names changed to protect the innocent … and the guilty. 

 

__________________

Leigh Katharine Camp is a writer based in Austin, Texas. She’s spent a lifetime learning that you can’t buy love — especially if you only have a dollar. With the high rate of inflation these days, forget about it. You at least need, like, $10. Leigh’s writing has appeared in The Hairpin and elsewhere. Read more of her work on her website, TrySomethingScary.com.

Boat in a Bottle by Courtney LeBlanc

Who was the first to decide to capture 

a boat in a bottle, to build and string 

together a mast, the sails, to keep 

the bow from breaking against the glass? 

Who tried to contain an ocean in a jar 

that once housed beer or mead or wine? 

Once, I collected sea glass, filled a bowl 

with the muted green and white and blue, 

searched for the coveted red pieces. 

Once, I lived on an island and gave 

a man my salt water heart. He tangled 

his hands in my seaweed hair, pressed 

his ocean mouth against mine. I crashed 

into his shores again and again, beat 

myself blue against his rocks. When 

I left, he smashed the bottle, set 

the small boat adrift. On the deck 

of the ship, a sliver of red, the glass 

of my heart, set to sea.

 

_______________

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the full-length collections Exquisite Bloody, Beating Heart (Riot in Your Throat) and Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press). She is a winner of the Jack McCarthy book prize and her next collection of poetry will be published by Write Bloody in spring 2023. She is also the founder and editor-in-chief of Riot in Your Throat, an independent poetry press. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: www.wordperv.com. Follow her on Twitter: @wordperv, and IG: @wordperv79.

Flat White by Gavin Turner

Mike watched the electronic boards flicker round to the inevitable delayed notifications. Not only was he now going to miss the first hour of the conference, but he also knew he would be forced to hang around in a ridiculous coffee shop for an hour whilst the rail network corrected itself and provided the transport he had paid for. There was a collective sag of shoulders on the platform. Mike sauntered out of the station amongst the other dejected commuters in search of the nearest place to get a drink.

Standing alone, tight up against the embankment wall of the train station, he spotted a glinting metal building, with a dark cobalt roof. Through the long glass window he saw what appeared to be a stainless steel counter. Just outside, a black sandwich board wobbled slightly in the morning breeze. In simplistic writing the word ‘Coffee’ had been emblazoned in blue chalk. This was enough to entice him in.

The Peoples ‘ethically sourced coffee’ he read in monochrome arch above the doorway. He saw most of the commuters wandering away in other directions, which suited him just fine. Why would he want to spend the next hour awkwardly exchanging glances with people who believed they had a common late commuter cause or worse still, tried to engage him in pointless, mind-numbing conversation.

‘Peoples coffee’ was remarkably quiet for an early morning. In fact, there appeared to be only one other customer. As the door closed with a click, the noise seemed to prompt the bearded chap at one of the tables to spring into action. It turned out the presumed customer was actually the staff, even better.

‘Morning’ the bearded chap chirped, and welcome to Peoples coffee. What can I get for you? he said moving round to the other side of the counter. The newly identified barista looked to be a hipster type, with a smart black and silver apron. He had a sallow complexion and piercing eyes. His sad clothes on the other hand looked like they may well have been rescued from a skip.

Mike reviewed the chalkboard behind the barista. It was difficult to focus on. The writing seemed too small to read and was jumping around all over the place. He knew at some point soon he was going to have to give in to age and get glasses, vanity would push him to hold off for now though. Forcing his hand he knew he would just have to ask for something and hope it was on the menu. Surely coffee was coffee though? Giving customers every possible combination or version of the same drink always seemed a bit pompous and unnecessary. You make a coffee, maybe you put in too much milk, that’s a latte. On the way back to the cupboard you spill some cocoa on top, now it’s a cappuccino. These so-called coffee experts needed to get over themselves.

‘Would you like some assistance choosing your drink Sir’ said the barista. I can offer several excellent recommendations.

‘Just something simple will be fine’ Mike mumbled. He was already flustered by the thought of the myriad of questions about to come his way. He glanced around the café. There were several chairs and tables, none of which seemed to match. This was in stark contrast to the gleaming metal counters and floors. Must be a new hipster style thing, still odd though.

‘Of course, Sir, we have some amazing choices today that I can grind for you fresh. May I recommend the Tongan, smoky and sweet? Or perhaps our Javan lava blend, it’s infused through the volcanic rocks and topped with a bitter chocolate note. Very satisfying’ he grinned. The baristas teeth looked sharp and grey; the incisors, in particular appeared almost triangular.

‘Does it taste like coffee? Mike offered sarcastically. If it tastes like coffee, I will just have that. I don’t really care.

The barista looked confused and a little hurt. ‘They are all different sir, coffee, in the right hands is like a good wine or whisky, they all have different notes depending on the blend, a different feel on the tongue’

‘The first one will be fine’ Mike sighed. This guy was going to end up wearing this coffee if he carried on.

‘Sure, no problem. The barista turned and selected a mason jar of beans from a range behind him. He popped open the lid with long delicate fingers and swirled the jar round in front of him, inhaling deeply from the rattling contents as if reviewing a good merlot. His chest audibly crackled slightly as he breathed out. Probably the unethically sourced rollups Mike thought.

The barista smiled again at Mike. ‘I just love this one though, so smoky, leathery, salty’. He closed his eyes for a second.

Mike just stared at him. He found this approach was best in dealing with people when the words that were forming in his brain were so unpleasant.

‘And what about the milk sir?’

Here we go again.

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