“What Can I Get You?”

Results of a 20 minute flash fiction exercise, by Kimberly Jamison

“What Can I Get You?”

I handed over the croissant and asked for £2.25. This was the time of day I liked, mid-morning. Just before lunch so it was still quiet but not completely empty. I scanned the tables to see if any needed cleaning. They didn’t and I silently hoped that the few people sitting here now would leave before the lunch rush so I could have time to wash down their tables.

The lady dug around in her purse for a few minutes before giving me a £50 note. This happened too often. I gave her change with the corporate smile I had been trained to give. She smiled back, crinkling the foundation around her eyes. She had used too much and her eyeliner and lipstick had both started bleeding into it.

The lady I had just served had gone to sit in the far corner. She was mid-forties and I reckon she was very pretty when she was younger and didn’t have heavy bags under her eyes. She pushed up the sleeves on her heavy fur coat. I think I was fake fur but it could have been real. It was very silky and soft and was a smooth caramel colour. The movement of her sleeves revealed her arms which were startlingly scrawny. Her wrist bones looked all out of proportion, bulging just before her pale hands. She started picking at the croissant, flaking it in her fingers. She slowly managed to pull apart the croissant into tiny flakes and had piled them up on the plate. She sipped her tap water slowly with her eyes closed. She opened her eyes and dug out a book from her bag. It looked far too heavy for her hands. The title was “Pride and Prejudice.”

I turned to watch the two boys in the other far corner. They had also chosen to sit furthest away from the counter and other people. They wore grey hoodies, one light grey and one dark grey. Their hoods were pulled up but the boy on the left was leaning back on his chair and his hood slowly etched its way down his head to reveal a shock of red hair. The other was bent over on his phone and glared whenever anyone walked past their table. They looked like they were fifteen or sixteen but they could have easily been younger. They had both ordered the chocolate pecan cake, my personal favourite and ready salted crisps.

What had captured his attention on his phone? He kept looking around him. Some people would call it shifty but I knew they weren’t up to anything. They were regulars here, this time of day every Monday. What lesson are they missing right now? I bet myself it something boring. I wished that they would still go to school though. I looked down at my apron, the apron I seem to have swapped good grades for. Many of my colleagues were students, getting degrees. I just smiled when they talked of their future plans.

Another boy outside walked past the coffee shop window. He banged on the glass, making the boys jump. He proceeded to laugh and smirked menacingly at them. He looked at me at the counter and then walked away. The one with the red hair flipped him off but the one with the phone just slumped lower in his seat. I smiled sadly at them only to receive a glare.

The only other person left at a table by now was the woman sitting right by the door. I’d seen her in here before, with her boyfriend. They always surprised me as a couple because she was so small. He was at least a foot taller than her. Today, she was perched on her seat sideways, as if she was about to get up at any minute. She was wearing a tracksuit, pale blue and sparkly. She had her hair scraped back into a high pony tail. It was died bright blonde, like Marilyn Monroe’s colour, but her natural roots were starting to show. She held her right hand up to her face, playing with a tendril of hair that had come loose. I think she was just playing with it so she could use her hand to hide the bruise on her face. Looking closely, she had a necklace of bruises around her shoulders and collar bones. They were weird shapes and reminded me talismans.

A man walked in, making the bell above the door dance. The tracksuit woman gripped the table, startled. He strolled up to the counter with large strides. He was wearing a smart suit, obviously tailored, probably designer. He frowned slightly, just enough to emphasise that he was obviously in a rush but not enough to appear rude. He tapped his black leather shoes impatiently.

I took a last look around the shop, at the people occupying their tables, and turned back to the man with my practiced smile.

“Hello, what can I get you?”

By Kimberly Jamison

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