Coffeeshop Stories

Eva sipped her coffee. It was just cooling to lukewarm. The curls of steam had fallen like limp ribbons and the bitterness was tepid on her tongue. She was still holding the pen in her right hand, clicking the retractable tip in and out, in and out. The two women at the table behind her were animated. Their voices rushed along, clattering together.

“I know, but then at the end –”

“When he did, and then it could all have been, I don’t know –”

“Like a dream or something, the whole thing made up –”

“Brilliant, right?”

They paused, presumably to sip their drinks. Eva leaned over her notepad and scribbled a few words. Talking, conversations, television, vampires? She scratched at the letters idly, and then noticed her pen wasn’t writing. She’d clicked it without noticing, and she jabbed the button again. Then she looked at the pad, focusing on it. Time to really write something, get a head start on this story, maybe sketch in an outline. Anything, really. The women began to talk again.

“So have you heard from Charlotte?”

“Yeah, actually, she just called me a couple days ago. You know she broke up with, um, what’s his name?”

“No way, really? I thought they were going to stay together forever. She was so crazy about him.”

“Oh well, I guess. She’ll do better next time.”

“That doesn’t help now, though. She must be crushed. Poor thing.”

Eva clicked her pen again and wrote, Breakups. Gossip. Friendship. Two friends discuss the life of a third. Are they concerned? Just gossiping? Do we learn more about the friends or about the subject of their conversation?

That seemed like a good start. It was an interesting idea. She took another sip of her cooling coffee and made a face. She didn’t love it to begin with, but when the heat masked the taste she didn’t mind so much. When it was barely warm she couldn’t fool herself that she was drinking coffee for anything but the caffeine. She stood and walked a few steps to toss her cup into the trash. When she sat back down, she picked up her pen and click-click-clicked. She had to really concentrate.

“Anyway, we should hang out and watch something. Have you been watching anything good lately?”

“A few things. I have ideas. What are you in the mood for?”

“Huh. Well, nothing too sad. Nothing dark, not today. Not romance either. Something funny, or maybe an action sort of thing. How’s that sound?”

“Let me think about it.”

They kept talking, but Eva stopped listening for  a moment. She wrote more words. Movies. Escapism. Grief. Pretending.

She would go soon. She wasn’t getting any work done here, not really. Click-click-click. The page looked so empty with just her lists and half-broken sentences down one side of it. Absently, Eva doodled a flower in the corner. That cheered the paper up a little bit. Maybe she could get a little farther with the story once she got home and thought about it some.

The women at the table behind her were talking still. One said, in a lowered voice, “God, that clicking is really annoying. Is that her pen? Maybe we should go.”

“No,” said the other. “I think she’s leaving. Look, she’s getting her stuff. She was here with a notepad. I wonder what she’s writing about?”

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Desperate Times

The clatter of computer keyboards filled the air, the tap-tap-tap bouncing about and mingling to buzz in an exceptionally irritating sort of way. Isabel stood in the office, the tables splayed out around her and the journalists all bent over their computer screens. The people who worked there bent over their screens, in any place. She was somewhat to proud to concede to them the name of journalist.

She’d read a couple things by Public before, of course. It would have been in bad taste to come to the job interview with no idea of what she was getting herself into. Then again, she’d noted as she flipped through articles, what she was getting herself into seemed also to be in very bad taste. Public printed the sort of articles that were taken home and perused by the sort of people who desperately wanted something exciting, and seemed to prefer that it happened to other people. Isabel had winced as the supermarket clerk scanned the magazine or pamphlet or whatever the thing was anyway. She didn’t like even to seem like one of those people. It wasn’t that her own life was so exciting. She simply couldn’t imagine finding Public more so.

One new celebrity had been seen in an outfit that was glaringly inappropriate, at the grocery store of all places. Was it daringly original or simply exceedingly trashy, the papers wondered? And of course, what was she doing in such an ordinary place to begin with? Another star had left his wife just after her pregnancy was confirmed. The end of an affair? The tabloids queried. This garbage was pumped out, printed up, and sent of to thousands of supermarkets and newsstands throughout the country. There it was eyed as the stores’ patrons lined up for the cash register. A great many people never gave the tabloids and the nonsense within a second thought – except, of course, for the substantial number of Americans who made a great deal of the sensationalist, petty, and entirely fabricated tripe printed in such things.

Now, as Isabel stood in the office, she stared at the work around her. There was a bulletin board on one wall, covered with photographs of scantily-clad women – that, Isabel reflected, was probably part of the work they were doing rather than a distraction from it. Several of the writers were typing away busily and lines of text scrolled down their screens. Several more seemed only to be online, passing the time some other and probably more interesting way. Over the shoulder of one who seemed particularly industrious, Isabel read, “Leah leaves home – is this the end?” She supposed she would have to familiarize herself with celebrities and such, until she was on a first-name basis with various famous strangers as so much of the country was. Someday, she thought with an apprehensive twinge, the words “Jennifer caught out – Alan angry” might actually mean something at all to her.

The grating sound of a forced cough caught her attention. Isabel turned to see a small plump man waiting for her. His eyes were nervous and watery. She shook the red, sweaty hand he offered her, and he said, “Isabel Pearce? I’m the assistant editor, Ed Andrews. Why don’t you come into my office.” He turned and waddled over to a door in the corner, and she followed. Her heart was racing suddenly, though she wasn’t sure why. She needed the job, of course. Hopefully Mr. Andrews would sign her on. It occurred to her, though, that wasn’t why she was so abruptly anxious. As she followed the little man into his office and sat on a rickety plastic chair, she pasted a smile onto her face, a bland expression despite her worry. She was worried that she would get hired. Even so, maybe she’d get lucky. She didn’t think she was suited for the job at all.