Her ﬁngernails were coffee stained and stuck with grounds, she plunged her arms in elbow deep and wiped the dishes. Tossing each one ﬂat and light, so it did a slow ﬂoat dance to the bottom of the full rinse sink: Plate. Chipped bowl. Mug. Plate. Fork. Mug. To the sanitizer sink, then the drying rack. Finely ground espresso blushed her right cheek. Her short brown hair had the no-effort slipped-out-of-bed, artist-look about it. In fact, she hadn’t put any effort into it, and she had just slipped out of bed that morning. Well, closer to afternoon. A strand fell from behind her ear and touched her nose. She squished and moved it Bewitched-like and tried to swipe the strand away with her arm, but failed and had to use a wet ﬁnger to put it in place. The front door opened and she turned, hands immersed in the sanitizer sink just grasping the last two mugs. Damn Larry. Every fucking night he came in here. Ordered the same damn thing.
She didn’t notice him in the beginning. Passed over him like all the other regulars, but one day a young girl with a crooked face and a bike locked to the handicapped parking sign on the pavement came in. The girl asked if Larry had been in. She didn’t know who the girl was talking about, but supposed that’s how she learned his name. The crooked girl described him. Tall. Thin. Biked everywhere. Maybe even gave her his drink, but Ryan still didn’t know who she meant. Crooked Face seemed – sort of desperate. Nervous. Like she might have missed him. Like it wasn’t quite a planned, but planned meeting. Or, maybe she was stalking him a little. You know, as girls do sometimes. Ryan knew she’d been there. Anyway, Crooked Girl took her coffee and sat down at a table against the wall and watched the door. A few minutes later an older guy walked in, and Ryan knew then: Larry.
Maybe they had given each other a look of recognition, a smile, a nod. Maybe it was intuition, but she knew who Crooked Girl meant and knew what he ordered, too: Double, twelve ounce Americano with whipping cream.
Of course, Larry.
After that she saw them around a few times, biking or in the Coffeeshop. It seemed an odd sort of love affair. Crooked Girl hardly looked eighteen and him, he had the skin and mouth of a sixty year old. Deep bulldoglike wrinkles. Weathered, rough skin. Too much alcohol and too much tobacco, but given up from what it seemed, because the rest of him was runner slim and no gray hair to count. Receding hairline, though, that he tried to hide by keeping his hair an inch too long and styled over the twin peeks. And he did ride his bike. Everywhere. Never saw him in a bar. Not until later, and even then without a drink in his hand.
She never could tell if they had a sort of pedophilia thing going on, you know, an Electra Complex sort of thing, or if they happened to be friends.
When he started talkin’ to Ryan over the counter, it took her some getting used to. Some warming up. Even let him give her a nervous ride home one very cold night, and just when she decided he was harmless, he started to annoy the fuck out of her.
Tonight – she hated him.
The coffee shop had been empty for nearly half an hour. Slow, even for a Saturday night ; bar night. (But every night was bar night around here.) She walked to the counter stil holding a paper towel. Glanced at the clock on her way: quarter to.
She took a deep breath.
Well, hello, Ryan, he said.
Hey, Larry. What can I get ya tonight? Ryan said. She didn’t force a smile. She didn’t brighten her eyes. She didn’t pull her shoulders back as she might have tried to do for anyone else.
Oh, he said, the regular, I s’pose. Larry spoke with a slow Upper Midwestern drawl that hung on to each word; that made her want to rip his tongue from his mouth Right, she said and moved behind the espresso machine. She pulled a double shot of grounds into the portaﬁlter, tamped it and slid it into the machine. Just so. Even tired at the end of the day she wouldn’t sacriﬁce a bad cup of coffee. She poured the shots into a paper cup and ﬁlled it with hot water. She set the cup and a carton of whipping cream in front of him.
Thanks m’dear, he said.
Her lips pursed; her face hardened. She rang the Double Americano into the till and took Larry’s credit card. He placed a lid onto his cup and Ryan pulled the receipt off the machine. She set it in front of him. He signed it and slid it back.
How ya doin’ tonight? Larry asked and turned to the condiment counter.
Fine. Closin’ up, Ryan said and took a step back.
It is gettin’ about that time isn’t it? He turned half around to face her but took one step toward the door.
Yes. It is. She took a rag from the counter and walked away from him.
This was the game they played. He tried to make her chat, edging away self consciously and she, very simply, walked away. Every night the same thing.
Six months ago his coming in didn’t bother her. She didn’t mind chatting with him. Maybe she was less bitter then. Maybe she liked her job more, although she’d claim she liked it now. But the more Larry came in the less she wanted him there and the angrier his inconsiderate lolling in at ten to close and his misogynistic 1950’s endearments—Dear. Honey. Even, Toots, once—made her. Certain he had noticed her growing bitchiness, as she made very little effort to conceal it, he seemed to talk to her more and come in even later to teach her a lesson. Or just to piss her off.
He didn’t sit down with the paper, not tonight. The door shushed closed behind him.
Ryan rushed through counting the till and cleaning the espresso machine. She ﬁnished at quarter after eleven, grabbed her jean coat from the desk chair, slid her scarf around her neck and took her keys off the counter. Shutting the lights down, she walked through the shop. The scrape of a chair on the uneven tiles echoed through the room as she pushed it in and the dessert cooler’s motor kicked on as she opened the door.
Out on the December chill empty sidewalk, the lock clicked and Ryan looked in through the glass, still holding the key in the lock. The table lamps, always left on, lit each black and white student photo against the wall. This was the way she liked the store. Dark. Quiet. Closed.
Libby Walkup comes from Fargo, like the movie, but not. She’s earned degrees. She writes prose in the style of a postcard, a flash or a meaty moment unless it’s an email to her ginger friend. She has been published in Red Weather, and has a piece forthcoming in Miracle Monocle. She is the editor-in-chief of Ginger Piglet. She takes Hipstamatic pictures with her iPhone.