This week's theme: Fallen Angels
Coffee Heaven, read Michelle.
She had passed the coffee shop before, but had never thought twice about going in. She usually got her coffee at “Schümaker’s.” It was only a block from her son, Kevin’s school so it was her first stop. It was warm, not too crowded, and they gave Natalie hot milk for free. Three-year-old Natalie loved getting foamy, steamed milk in an espresso cup as Michelle drank “Mommy juice.” They’d while away a good half-hour most days so by the time they’d reached Coffee Heaven they’d already had their fix.
Today was different. Michelle had just come back from the doctor’s and was feeling sullen. There was still another hour until Kevin had to be picked up, so she wandered with Natalie through Old Towne again. Upon seeing "Coffee Heaven" she’d decided she needed a buffer and marched deliberately up the cramped, slanted sidewalk to the door.
It didn’t look like a coffee shop at first glance. It was once a house like many of the shops in Old Towne, but re-zoning had turned it into a charming store with wooden siding and gingerbread gables. As Michelle opened the door to the tinkle of bells, Natalie charged ahead, her boots smacking wetly on the floor.
“Mommy! Get warm milk now?” she asked loudly.
“Shhh!” said Michelle anxiously. There was something about the silence inside that made Natalie’s shouting cringe-worthy. Unlike most coffee shops this one didn’t have Joni Mitchell’s guitar or Dean Martin’s slurred vocals playing on a sound system. There was only a stillness that was oddly comforting. She breathed in the earthy aroma of ground coffee beans, taking other notes: wood polish, cardboard and floral perfume. The perfume wearer was nowhere in sight; neither was Natalie. Wringing her hands, Michelle sought her errant toddler.
She found her by a box of colourful rubber bracelets.
“Mommy! What’s that?” Natalie demanded, reaching out a grubby paw.
“That’s a NO TOUCH,” said Michelle quickly.
“NO!” shouted Natalie.
“Quiet!” pleaded Michelle.
“NO!” shouted Natalie even louder.
“Oh let her touch them, dearie. She can’t do them any harm,” came a voice behind her.
Looking around Michelle took in the speaker. She was a pleasant looking old woman with iron-grey curls, velvet-soft skin, and twinkling eyes.
“I always think that children are told not to touch things too much,” she said.
Michelle looked in wonder at this adorable granny and Natalie used the opportunity to plop herself on a plush sofa, where she promptly removed her boots and socks.
“Natty! Don’t take those off in here!” Michelle moaned.
“I have toesies!” cried Natalie happily.
“Oh, she’s fine,” said the older woman with a chuckle. “She’s just making herself comfortable. You can relax, dearie,” she added and Michelle let her shoulders drop.
“Sorry, it’s just that…a lot of shops along here don’t like kids.”
“Well we love them.”
“That’s so nice to hear. Now that I’m here, I think I’ll get a cup of coffee.”
“Certainly,” said the woman as she bustled around to the other side of the counter.
Michelle sighed with rare contentment and let her gaze wander to the beautiful teapots (she couldn’t help but notice that they were all very well priced) and the mugs with genuinely funny slogans. The woman hummed “Shall We Dance,” as she fussed with the cups.
“What will you have, dearie?”
“House coffee,” said Michelle after checking her wallet. “This is such a neat place!” she said eyeing a jar of candy sticks.
“Are these really only a penny?” she asked, staring at the sticker.
“Of course. I believe everyone should be able to walk into a store with a penny and be able to walk out with something.”
“Amazing,” said Michelle, pulling out a stick for Natalie. She was behaving herself very well on the sofa.
“I can’t believe we’ve never come in here before,” she said at last. “I must have passed this place a dozen times. I think I’ve found my new coffee shop.”
There was a clink of china from behind the counter and an awkward pause.
“Well that’s a shame, because we won’t be here next week,” said the woman sadly.
“What?” asked Michelle. “Why not?”
“Because we’re bankrupt. We’re closing our doors after 30 years.”
“Are you relocating?” asked Michelle.
The woman turned to meet her gaze and shook her head sadly.
“Oh,” said Michelle. “That’s a shame. They’ll probably put another stupid nail salon here too.” In Old Towne, nail salons were the fungus that sprouted up after blighted business.
“Yes,” said the woman, handing Michelle her coffee. “Enjoy, dearie.”
Michelle took a sip of the dark liquid and nearly gagged. It was the most foul, acrid, sludge she’d ever tasted, like black mud that had been burnt in a greasy pan. She hid her disgust while choking it down politely. She rushed over to Natalie and crammed the kid’s socks and boots back on; the penny-candy stopped all protests nicely.
Michelle mumbled something about running late, adding: “The coffee was really great, can I get it to-go?”
She was handed the paper-cup with a wink and a grin. Michelle tried to return it warmly as she shoved her daughter out into the grey, November afternoon.
“No wonder they’re going out of business,” she muttered to herself as she tossed the cup in the nearest trashcan. “Such a pity,” she added with feeling.
“Janet, I found those old boxes,” came a voice from the storeroom.
The old woman turned to her business partner, another old woman in a gingham dress, whose arms were full of cardboard.
“Was that a customer, Janet?” she asked.
Janet nodded. “Yes, Marge. She ordered coffee.”
Marge eyed the carafe. “But we haven’t made a fresh pot since we opened. Don’t tell me you gave her the dregs that were sitting there all day!” she cried.
“She said she’d passed this place a dozen times and never went in before,” said Janet icily.
“Oh. Well, served her right then.”
“Yes. Rotten bitch.”
Dedicated to two sweet Grande Dames who make damn good coffee.