A Collection of Shorts
Socializing In A Socially Distant World
Today I left my house for the first time in a long time. I wasn’t going to get groceries. I wasn’t going to work. I was going to get coffee. With a friend. In a cafe. After carefully picking out my post-pandemic debut outfit, I selected a mask that would not clash with the rest of my outfit and got into my car. I arrived before my friend, so I walked towards the entrance of the cafe. I reached out for the handle, then quickly withdrew my hand. Coming to my senses, I extended my index finger to open the door instead. I entered the store and glanced around. Were there others sitting inside? What is the procedure? Do I seat myself? I hadn’t dined-in at a coffee shop in almost a year so I couldn’t quite remember how things worked. Once I gathered some courage, I headed towards an empty table and took a seat.
A few moments later, above the low chatter of conversations and acoustic strumming from the speakers, I heard the bells above the door jingle. My head snapped up from the phone I was pretending to scroll through and locked eyes with my friend. I smiled. Looking back, from her perspective, it probably seemed more like a stare since my face was covered by my mask. I rose to greet her. Then, I commenced the complicated tango of going in for a hug, then stepping back, wondering what her comfort level is. My eyes darted to read hers and tried to telepathically ask “is this okay?”. Her footwork and choreography mirrored my own uncertainty. As if intending to do so the entire time, I waved and pretended to pick off lint from my sweater. I said hello, hoping that my voice would not give away the fact that my heart was racing from trying to analyze the social situation.
We ordered our drinks and sat down. We took off our masks and allowed the warm coffee and conversation to embrace us like the hug we couldn’t complete.
The Change In Your Pocket
Step out of the cafe. Wave goodbye to your friend. Put your hand out and look up. Catch the rain in your palm. Rummage through your bag with one hand and cover the top of your head with the other, as if that will do you any good. Successfully retrieve the umbrella from your tote and balance it on one shoulder. Stand on the street corner. Patiently wait for the little person to light up the box on the pole. Fiddle with the zipper on your coat. Amidst the noise of the traffic and raindrops falling on the pavement, hear a timid, apologetic whisper ask “Could you spare any change?”. Glance to your left. Take in the man drenched in the rain who holds out a 12 ounce Van Houtte coffee cup. Listen to the tinkling of the few dimes and quarters in it. Look away. Focus intently on the pedestrian signal. Will it to change faster. Peer down at your Blundstones. Peek at the man’s battered Keds. They’re red. Or, at least, they were at some point. Pull your coat around you tighter. Notice the holes in his shirt as he shivers ever so slightly. Remember the change you slipped in your pocket after paying for your overpriced coffee. Make up excuses. Think: “He’ll probably use it on drugs”. Think: “I need the change for the bus”. Think: “I worked hard for my money”. Believe you’re right. Wonder why the light still hasn’t changed. Sigh. Let your eyes wander idly. Accidentally lock eyes with the man. He smiles kindly. Stare back blankly. Make assumptions. Think: “He’s smiling because he wants my money”. Think: “How shameless”. Feel the warmth of his smile. Now feel ashamed. Look down at puddles gathering near your feet. Readjust your bag. Notice the weight in your back right pocket. Reach back slowly. Hear the sound of the bird chirping. Snap your head up. See the white man flashing. Hesitate. Observe your heart feeling stretched two ways. Pull your right leg forward. Step onto the street. Walk half way through the intersection. Peep over your shoulder. Hear the tinkling in your back pocket. Keep walking.
She watches as the black carbon eats away the last of the papers over her gas stove. She walks over to her dining table. Absentmindedly stirring the now-cold coffee she had made an hour before, she thinks back to the moments when the table sat two.
The end of the semester was fast approaching and she was swamped with paper after paper. Her fingers flew across the keyboard at 218bpm. Her lips were pursed in concentration, just as they had been for the past three hours. The motion of a chipped red and green mug of steaming coffee being placed to her right broke her focus. She looked across the table where he had taken a seat and smiled gratefully. Despite his own mountain of assignments, he still made time to provide her with some much needed caffeine, which she sipped a little too eagerly. With the roof of her mouth stinging, she resumed her keyboard tap dance.
She refreshed her email over and over again in hopes of catching a glimpse of the name “University of Toronto” or “Western University”. This had been her morning ritual ever since she read on Reddit that people had started receiving their acceptances to the Master of Public Health Program. She sighed in frustration. The Christmas coloured mug appeared to her right again, but she ignored it and the person across from her as she poured over threads of newly accepted students celebrating. She remembered the coffee after 20 minutes of scrolling and cradled the mug in her hands. The lukewarm liquid mediocrely warmed her palms as she watched her tired appearance in its reflection.
She inhales the mild burning scent of the essays and applications that got her nowhere. Just like her time and effort, they disappeared. While consumed by her quest after her dreams, he disappeared too for a reason related to her feelings seeming to have cooled, faded. She stops stirring her coffee and ponders. If coffee can be reheated with just a minute in the microwave, maybe feelings can too. She swallows down the remaining cold coffee and her pride. Placing the chipped mug back on the table, she picks up her phone and dials his number.
A collection of short pieces that experiment with first, second, and third person narration written for my Creative Reading course.