The scent of Windex was beginning to overcome coffee as the barista at the Epiphany Café closed up for the night. I brushed the remains of my third chocolate chip cookie into my eighth mocha, which was only half done, and stirred it to dissolve the chips. I moved slowly, making no noise, hoping she’d overlook me as part of the furniture and not ask me to leave. I had a lot left in me to write, or rewrite, and didn’t want to risk the muse not finding me in a new location. I was also comfortable and didn’t want to hoist myself up from the low slung couch.
I might have succeeded in spending the night had my phone not rang.
“Dad, I thought you were coming over” said Natalie. “Me and Kim have a surprise.”
“Kim and I,” I corrected, in a fatherly kind of way.
The barista turned the sign on the door. Open, it said, to both of us within the Epiphany Café, which meant closed, which meant I had to leave. The more I thought about it, the more confused I got, but it might have been all the coffee.
I decided to take its cue and be as two faced as the sign. “Honey, I can’t wait to see you,” I said. “You know I love surprises.”
“I’m thorry, we’re clothing,” lisped the barista when I thumbed the phone. Her tongue was pierced; as was almost everything else I could see and not see on her.
“I know; I’m going. That was my daughter,” I volunteered, turning into that kind of talkative old man who wants to chat when you’re ready to leave and see your boyfriend. “She’s a certified kindergarten teacher who can’t get a job in this economy, as if there were no children anymore.”
“They’ll me abouth ith. I’m an Englith maither who thud be a litherary agenth by thou.”
“You wanted to be a literary agent, huh?” I said, seeing my chance to stay on the couch awhile longer. “Well, I’m writing a book.”
“What’s the title?” said the barista. At least that’s what I thought she said. It actually sounded like, “Wuthethithel?”
“I don’t know what to call it. It’s about a suicidal mental health counselor who’s lost faith in everything.”
I wondered what her boyfriend looked like, whether he had as much metal on his face, whether their rings and studs ever locked together when they kissed.
“Yeah, well, he finds hope; somehow.” I added.
“You don’t know how ith ends?”
“No, I don’t know how it ends. It’s based on my life and I don’t know how my life ends.”
“Thath not right,” she said. “You don’t have to take it hath ith comes. You can make ith inthew thomething new.”
Like your face, I thought. You didn’t just take your face as it came, you intervened and turned it into your own thing. You could have looked and talked just like everyone else, but you chose to set off metal detectors and have a speech impediment.
“You’re right,” I answered. “I heard someone say once that making art is really very simple: you just imagine something you would like to see in the world, and then you make it. In my case, imagine a story I would like to read, then write it.”
“Would you like to read about a thuithidal mental health countheler?”
“No, not at all; but that’s all I know, and they say write what you know.”
“Thart there then, then write about where youth like to find hope.”
I thought for a while. Where do I keep finding hope, anyway?
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You’re closed. I’ll let you go.”
Maybe that’s what I should call my book, Closed.
I obediently packed my laptop, groaned up out of the couch, got in my car, and left. I did just fine with driving until I got to an intersection and waited for the light to change. At that point, I could’ve taken a left to Kim’s house where she and Natalie were waiting to share their surprise; or I could’ve taken a right to Carol’s where she and I might pick up where we left off. Behind me was the Epiphany Café, the hospital, and further back, the Kansas plans and my garden apartment with no garden in a city with a rotten core. Straight ahead loomed Pike’s Peak and the Front Range, with innumerable ranges and possibilities beyond.
I screeched a U turn and drove back to the café.
The barista was just getting into her car. I pulled up and rolled down my window.
“I got it,” I called. “I got a title. I know where I find hope.”
“You said it. Thanks.”