John decided to walk. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but the constant wind made sure the legs of his jeans were getting soaked below his rain coat. Walking along the side of the buildings helped but the stair sets into neighborhood homes forced him back into the rain’s reach.
The rain was fitting. John was feeling melancholy. There are 7 billion people on this planet and not one of them had the least hint of desire to spend their time with him.
An overweight man wearing an Adidas windbreaker track suit made his way across the street and limped in front of him. John walked into the street to pass him. On the other side of the street, a middle-aged woman who had neglected to contain her ample, sagging breasts in a brazier ambled along, nipples poking through her damp, baggy blouse. “These people are truly sad,” John thought to himself.
Coffee Reincarnate was quiet. Most of the seats were filled with people staring at their laptops, some furiously typing out an assigned paper, others cruising their social media feeds. The scene was not unlike what you’d find in casinos only these were hip twenty-somethings instead of senior citizens.
The barista’s ears had gauges the size of a golf ball and her chest piece (something dark and from the middle ages) was poking above the neckline of her black top. She raised her pierced eyebrow at him and as she did, the piercing swung from the momentum.
“Nice greeting.” John opened.
The barista shifted her weight to her other leg and raised one of her hands to her hip. She looked to the side and blew a wisp of purple hair with a sigh. “Can I help you?” she said. He thought he saw her mouth “asshole” under her breath.
“Thanks for the reminder,” he said.
“What?” she looked at him and squinted, her eyebrow piercing swinging again.
“Does that eyebrow piercing block your vision?” he asked.
“Are you gonna order or what?” the barista snapped back.
“Strictly business with you, eh?” John snapped his fingers. “Don’t you ever engage in a bit of friendly banter with your customers?”
She turned around without a word and walked to the back. A full minute later, an acne scarred, scruffy haired twenty year old boy walked up to the counter.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito. And you know what? Add some guacamole to that burrito.”
“Your name, sir?”
“John as in John D. Rockefeller.”
The kid let out a nervous chuckle out of politeness.
John turned to look at some pamphlets that were strewn about on the counter. Yoga with Renee, Guitar lessons with Larry, along with other advertisements for starving artist types. Were these people making a living doing this shit? Must be all the upper middle income people in the neighborhood that needed to spend their money doing something creative.
He glanced around the room for the spot he’d spend what he hoped would be his final moments. With his luck, those pills wouldn’t work or there would be an after life. Then he’d spent his last few bucks on junk or worse, he’d have the same problems, only with an eternity to deal with them.
There was a table for two by the window facing the street waiting for him. He took off his rain coat and draped it on the back of one of the chairs and dumped his messenger bag on the seat. On the windowsill were a few books: “Secrets to Success: How to Break Through Your Creative Blocks”, “Mayan History and Culture”, “Rachel William’s Guide to French Cooking”. People read anything these days. Or maybe they don’t and that’s why they’re sitting here abandoned on this shelf.
“Burrito for John!”
When the coffee was good, John drank it black. This wasn’t good coffee, but black reminded him of the abyss of nothingness he was looking forward to. John asked for their hottest hot sauce. If he was going to burn in hell, he wanted to start getting used to the heat. He asked for a knife and fork. He wanted to go with clean hands.
As he sipped his coffee he started to feel the drugs playing with his brain. He paused and looked at his witnesses. They didn’t know they were witnesses. They didn’t ask to be a part of this but then again, he didn’t ask to be born and yet, here he was. He couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt for putting these people through this. He stood up, pushed his chair back with his knees. The room was filled with silence after the abrupt screeching of the legs of the chair against the tiled floor. “Everybody leave!” a brief pause. Everyone stared at him and a few people in the back stood up from their revelry and to see what all the commotion was about. “NOW!”
A petite brunette introduced herself. “Hi… I’m Sara. Mind if I share this table with you?” John shook his head, looked down at his soaking wet legs, then back up at Sara.
“Uh… Sure.” He rearranged his burrito and coffee onto the closer half of the table.
“Guess we’re not the only two that needed a little ambient company today, huh?” Sara asked.
John gave a polite chuckle in response. “This poor girl,” John thought to himself.
Sara’s dress came down to the middle of her thick, pale thighs. Her dress was white with a scattered, blurred, blue floral print. He caught himself staring at her legs as she hid them beneath the table. He sat back down and pretended to look past where her legs had been.
He cupped his mug of black liquid with both hands and slowly raised it to his lips. As he lowered it, he peaked over at Sara who was arranging her notebook on the table, apparently oblivious to his company. His gaze traced down her neckline and turned into a long, held stare, directly at the bottom of her neckline.
“Getting a nice look?” he thought he heard her say. He looked up at her face, but she was still looking through her notebook. John returned his eyes to his cup of coffee, then down at his soaked legs.
“Your burrito looks delicious.” Sara offered.
“Uh… Sure,” was his ingenious response.
“It’s fine. I’ll leave you alone.”
“Oh, no. It’s just that I’m a little out of it. The rain, ya know?”
Sara nodded and gave him a patronizing smile, unconvinced.
John’s insides started to heat with anger. He wasn’t going to let some stranger make him feel like shit because he wasn’t feeling chatty.
“What are you a writer or something?” John’s tone was derisive and mocking.
Sara’s smile changed from patronizing to warmth. “I write, but I don’t know that that makes me a writer.”
Just as quickly as it heated, John’s anger cooled. He cupped the mug with both hands again, but let it rest on the table in front of him. His shoulders lowered and a smile cracked across his face.
“What…” he paused to clear the lump forming in his throat.”What kind of stuff do you write?” He cleared his throat again. Raising his fist to his mouth, he looked down and mumbled, “Sorry. Getting over a cough.”
“I… write.” Sara tilted her head to her right and shrugged her shoulders bringing her chin in towards her clavicle. John’s eyes met hers just as she looked down. He noticed her high cheekbones and shallow cheeks. She had a tiny dimple exactly in the middle of each cheek. He traced the lines of her face back to her ears. They were pierced but today she wore no earrings. The top of her ear was covered by her hair which was tied back in a loose bun. Her jaw line was clear as her skin.
“Keep it in your pants, man.” He was 6’ 2” with a high and tight hair cut. He put his hand on Sara’s shoulder and leaned over the table towards him. His pectorals were bursting through his shirt and seemed to tear open his blazer.
John stood up in a hurry to face him, the legs of the chair screeching against the tile floor as he shoved it back with his knees, his stance wide and sure but his opponent was nowhere to be seen. John looked around, then down at his jeans. They were still wet from the knees down.
“You’re leaving?” Sara’s face contorted in disbelief.
“Uh… Sure… I mean, no. I’m just going to the bathroom. Be right back.”
After walking a few steps, he had already forgotten where he was headed. He paused for a moment. A 5 year old boy with a bowl cut, baby blue polo and khakis asked him if he was lost. He looked down at the boy. The boy looked eerily familiar.
“Do you know where I was going, young man?” John squatted down and asked the boy.
“Maybe…” The boy paused, put his chin down and put his finger to his nose. “You were going to the bathroom?”
“Are you a wizard?” John asked.
“Of course, I am!” the boy laughed as if it was obvious.
“Well then where’s your beard? I don’t think you can be a wizard without a beard.”
The boy laughed again and skipped away.
John stopped just short of the entrance of the bathrooms. “Don’t look into the mirrors. I cannot look into the mirrors.” He kept saying it over and over again waiting outside the bathroom.
“Are you in line?”
“No, go ahead.”
John returned to his mantra about the mirrors. After a very long time, he reached for the handle of the bathroom.
This was it. Now or never. Do or die.
John burst into the bathroom and hurried past the mirrors to the urinal. He looked down to make sure everything was arranged and got as close as he could to the porcelain to avoid being seen. He looked around nervously. No one else was in the bathroom. He was alone, again. Realizing this, he quickly zipped up. He kept his gaze down, avoiding the mirror, as he walked toward the sink. The soap dispenser was busted. Why? Why was the soap dispenser busted, at a time like this? Didn’t they realize he needed that soap? His eyes darted around the room, looking for another soap dispenser but as he did, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror. Immediately, he ducked down below the sinks.
“This is a bad place.” John thought to himself as he crawled toward the exit, looking down at the floor so as to avoid any more glimpses in the mirrors. He bumped his head into the door, then sat up with his back against it and took a deep breath. A deep sense of accomplishment filled his soul. He stood up, held his head high and puffed out his chest, grinning ear to ear.
John made his way back to his table with a confident swagger. He pulled his chair back with grace and sat down.
“Sara, right now, I am on top of the world.”
“Well, look at you! I’m happy to hear that.”
“If this was a bar, I’d buy us both a drink.”
“That’s very nice of you.”
“So, tell me about yourself. What makes you excited? What gets you out of bed every morning? Or should I say, who?” John demanded.
“I’m a writer. I write.” Sara smiled.
“That’s right. You said that. Show me some of your writing. What are you writing right now.”
He reached over the table and just before taking her notebook, he asked carelessly, “Do you mind?”
She shook her head as he looked down to study her notebook. There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
“This is good. No really, this is good stuff here.”
“That’s very nice of you.” She was starting to blush.
“Your attention to detail… your descriptions are very full. These characters are clear in my head and I’ve only read a few lines. This is really good, Sara!”
“Oh, stop. Now you’re flattering me.”
“Hardly. It’s my job to critique writing and in my professional opinion, you, Sara, are an excellent writer.”
Sara’s face was burning. She snatched her notebook back and said, “Give that back.” She clutched it to her chest and looked back at John. He leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands behind his head, stretched out and smiled.
“Listen Sara, I probably have about 15 minutes left to live. I wanna take you in the bathroom, bend you over a toilet and fuck your beautiful brains out. I want to come with my last breath.”
Sara was still looking back at him.
John collapsed his arms into his lap and looked down at his jeans. They were still damp.
“So, uh, have you been published?” John asked.
“Here and there.”
“Then I’m not the only one who thinks you’re good. Look, I’m an editor. I read shit everyday. I mean real shit. My nephew is 5 and can write better than some of the shit that I’m forced to read. Maybe I’m being a little pushy here but you, Sara, you have a gift. You really do and you need to get it out there. How much time do you spend writing everyday? Is this your full time gig?”
“I write when I can. I have bills, you know?”
“See? There’s the problem. Bills. If we could just convince the landlord she doesn’t need the rent, the world would be a better place. You could write full time and the whole world would be better because of it.”
“What’s your name again? I don’t think you told me your name.”
“John, as in John D Rockefeller.”
“What are you, 22? Fantasies of having more money than god, grabbing people’s private notebooks, filling their heads with idealistic fantasies, asking to fuck in the bathroom? Grow up, child.”
John’s face dropped. He looked down at his jeans. He looked up at his burrito. He’d only taken a bite from it. Some of the guacamole was oozing out of it. He poked at it with his fork.
“I’m sorry Sara, maybe I’m being too forward. I really do think you’re a great writer, but it wasn’t right for me to just grab your notebook like that.” He kept looking and poking at the burrito.
“No! No, no, no. John? Really, it’s ok. John? Look at me. You really made me feel good. And god, I wish! I wish I could write full time. That would be dreamy. We need more people like you, John. That was a bold move and you encouraged me to be bold, too. You got me thinking. I mean, really, what’s the worst that could happen?”
“Is that a serious question?” John was still poking at his burrito. He couldn’t bring himself to look up at her.
“Well, yes. I guess. Like, what is the worst that could happen?” Sara offered.
“Let’s say you quit your job to pursue writing full time. The first day with no job you’d probably write for 8 hours straight. The first week you’d go to bed every night feeling very satisfied. The second week a friend would ring you for some moral support. She just broke up with her boyfriend. You’re a good friend so you take the time to be her emotional dumping ground. You’d faithfully give her all the support you could muster. But her mood would rub off on you, just a little bit. You’d try to get back to your writing but other things would pop up. Personal things would pop up. You need some ‘me time’.”
“Yeah, well… that’s life. I mean, I’d still be writing…” Sara tried to jump in when he paused for a breath. John finally looks up from his burrito, perturbed because he hadn’t finished. He started talking over her.
“Let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and say you have some savings. They’d keep you comfortable for awhile but eventually, your finances would take up more and more of your mental energy. The bills keep coming and your savings are buckling under the weight. After a couple months, your landlord starts coming to your house and harassing you for the rent. Your gas would get shut off, your electricity would get shut off. You’d slink away to coffee shops, plug in your laptop and keep writing. Then one day, you’d go home and the locks would be changed. Whatever possessions you haven’t yet sold on the internet would be lost forever. You’d have no recourse to get them back. You’d try your keys again. You’d start banging on the door. Your neighbors would look on in disgust. You’d bang some more and eventually collapse, kneeling down in front of the door that is keeping you away from your clothes, your shoes, your bed, your books, your notebooks, all the memories locked away in your desk drawers. You’d begin to cry, weep, sob. Crouched on the steps leading to your home, it would start to rain. You’d reach for your phone to call the first person that came to mind, your ex-boyfriend. Only he wouldn’t pick up. You’d cry some more and in desperation, call your mother. Only instead of your mother picking up, you’d get an automated message telling you that your phone doesn’t work anymore. You haven’t paid the bill in two months and they’re denying you service.”
“Jesus Christ, John! You can stop now. I get it. What the hell is wrong with you?” Sara was keeping her voice just below what was acceptable for the coffee shop. She started gathering her things to leave.
“I’m about to die.” John answered casually.
Sara stood up. “You’re sick. You know that, John? Real sick. I can’t believe you’d joke about something like that.”
“That would be kind of a sick joke, right?”
“How could I prove to you that I’m not?”
“Honestly, at this point you can go fuck yourself.” She shoved the chair back under the table then gave him the finger just in case he still didn’t get it.
Just as she turned away, foam started bubbling out of his mouth. His body started convulsing in the chair. He steadied his hand enough to pick up his fork and poked his burrito. A second later, his head collapsed onto it and squeezed out a little more guacamole.