There were at least fifty coffee shops inside the city, and Max knew every one. If he heard about a new café, read the advert in the paper, he couldn’t rest until he’d tried it. He’d grab his Suze’s hand and they’d be off, a fedora and a pillbox hat, old folks on adventures.
He’d taken her to artsy joints with painted stools, where the waitresses had more metal in their faces than a scrap yard. There were yuppity salons with complicated menus, and bolt-hole dives, sludge in cups marked up with lipstick. Once, he’d brought her to a shop where every brew was made from beans extracted out of poop — elephant droppings, cat turd, or the crap of rare, endangered birds. Together, they had tried it all.
Now the sound of “widower” sat heavy on his tongue, and coffee wouldn’t wash it. He still went to all the shops — she might be keeping tabs on him — but everything was grey in taste and scent and texture. Max was never thirsty.
And then the Daily Grind appeared, a block from Max’s building. The trouble was, he’d never seen it, though the shop looked well-established. Hell, it looked as old as sin. And the strangest part of all? As soon as Max walked in, they hired him, right there on the spot. Before he knew it, he was in an apron, carrying a tray and taking orders with a fuchsia pen.
The clientele looked stunned. Each patron mumbled that the shop had just appeared. Out of the blue. They craned their necks to see the murals on the walls, the fairytales and myths — a wolf, a firebird, a castle, phoenix, unicorns and mice. The ceiling chimed with small glass balls, and the floor was made of marbles, pressed together into patterns.
The kitchen pumped out cakes and pastries, café mocha, cappuccinos and good old-fashioned brew, all with the flavor of happiness distilled, tailor-made for every heartache, nostalgia or inertia. Max delivered each libation and confection and then watched the slumping faces lift, transform, alight.
By the time the shop closed down at midnight, he felt as if he’d worked for years, shuffling through someone else’s dream come true. He collapsed into a chair decked out in feathers, and put his head into his heads. No Suze. Not now. Not ever.
When Max looked up, he had a cupcake and a mug, set out on a doily. The cupcake had a lot of sprinkles. The coffee was bright blue. Max shrugged. He took a bite, a sip. He scratched his head. The corners of his mouth twitched up. The cook gave him a wink. “Coming back tomorrow?” Max nodded, feeling lighter by the minute. When he put on the old fedora and headed for the door, he could swear he felt the pressure of Suze’s fingers on his forearm. Coffee really was a marvel. Outside the Daily Grind, the city caught his chuckle, like a swirl of cinnamon on foam.
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